By Hameed Abdul Karim –
Reading the preamble of Mr. Udaya Gammanpila’s article titled ‘Halalization and end of Sri Lanka food culture’ (‘Ceylon Today’ 24 February, 2013) I got the impression that he was beginning to turn a new leaf in his approach to Muslims and Christian communities living in Sri Lanka, though the title kept nagging at the back of my mind telling me such a transformation was not possible.
All that soppy babble about how it was unnecessary for the Norwegians to teach us religious amity was intended to take another shot at the Muslims via the halaal bogey. If we are to take the word of this self confessed Sinhala nationalist it were the Muslims who shattered the bonhomie that existed between all communities in the country by insisting that their food be ‘halaal’.
Much has been written about the halaal controversy created by the Bodu Bala Sena and hijacked by the JHU fearing they might lose the little support they are left with. That is assuming the BBS is not an extension of the JHU like the Shiv Sena is an extension of the Hindu racist party the BJP. No more need to be said about ‘halalization’ now that the Jamiyyathul Ulama has handed the ‘halaal business’ over to the government to do as it pleases thus taking the wind off the sails of the BBS and the JHU. But don’t be surprised if these racist groups come up with some other ‘grievance’ to grumble about. And if they do then those of us, who include decent peace loving Sinhala Buddhists, will need no further proof of the halaal issue being only a pretext for a sinister plot. And this plot could be taking over the reins of government like did the BJP in India.
Jamiyyathul Ulama Equals Prabhakaran?
Be that as it may, I think it was grossly unfair for Mr. Gammanpila to compare the Jamiyyathul Ulama with Velupillai Prabhakaran claiming that the former is more dangerous than the latter because the Jamiyyathul Ulama is making an attempt at social segregation and not territorial segregation. This is absolutely ludicrous and can be seen as a subtle attempt to create hate among rural Sinhala Buddhists against Muslims. The bulk of the urban Sinhala Buddhists don’t care a hoot for the scare mongering of the likes of Mr. Gammanpila. This is patently obvious when you see them patronising Muslim owned restaurants on Galle Road on any given day.
Once again we have a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist selling his supremacist ideas to all and sundry. And poor King Senarath pops up again. Mr. Gammanpila tells us that the good king came forward to accept the Muslims that the Portuguese had expelled from Colombo. Here again you begin to get the feeling that it was King Senarath’s magnanimity and charitable bent of mind that prompted him to come to the assistance of the displaced Muslims. But the fact is that King Senarath needed the Muslims to cultivate his lands so that he could be assured of a regular supply of food while he waged war on his fellow Sinhala Buddhists. To the good king Senarath the Portuguese’s expulsion of Muslims was a godsend.
Mr. Gammanpila says that the good Sinhala Buddhists of that time gave these Muslims accommodation in temples and gave them food. But don’t you think it’s rather comical when he says that ‘no Muslim demanded halaal food at that time’? Well, how would he know? Was he there? Maybe, the food was vegetarian with a little bit of fish or ‘karowala’ (dry fish) thrown in for taste. If that was the case then the food would be halaal! So if I get a similar Sinhala ‘buth’ (meal) parcel with or without the ‘dharma chakra’ I would gladly eat it. Same goes for a ‘saiva sapadu’ even with the ‘thrishool’, because these foods, being vegetarian, are halaal for Muslims. Frankly, I think Mr. Gammanpila has still not grasped the actual meaning of the words ‘halaal’ or ‘haraam’. Then again maybe he doesn’t want to on account of his political agenda.
Muslims in Sinhala Armies
Muslims were not lotus eaters during the times of the kings. In fact they were among the best of fighters in Sinhala Buddhist armies to a point where the historian Qyeroz bitterly complains that in all revolts against foreign occupation the ‘Muslims were always on the side of the enemy who happened to be Sinhala Buddhists. Today sections of the descendants of those Sinhala Buddhists consider us Muslims as the ‘enemy’ or ‘outsiders’ or ‘tourists’ or ‘creepers’. Look at how they are treating us. What a travesty of history and justice. There is not even a trace of gratitude for what the Muslims have done for Sri Lanka in history and up to current times. All along we have stood by our faith in Islam whilst Sinhala Buddhist kings and noblemen changed their faiths for posts and privileges. No Muslim did that. We don’t need a pat on the back for standing firm in our faith, but give us some respect. King Dharmapala changed his faith and became Don Juan and became a vassal of Portugal.
When the tsunami hit us the whole nation was plunged into grief. We moved around like zombies, struck by lightning, with devastated looks on our faces. Thousands perished in the disaster and people from all the communities here and around the world came together in one grand display of humanity to console and help those affected. In short it was a humanitarian crisis. So for Mr. Gammanpila to add a sectarian and racial tinge to this humanitarian crisis by bragging that he and his JHU housed Muslims in temples and gave them food goes beyond all decencies. He said the Muslims didn’t ask for halaal food then why are they asking for that now. If the food was vegetarian then, like I said before, it is halaal for Muslims. Unless of course Mr. Gammanpila and his band of merry man had prepared beef curry and fried chicken!
Many were those of other faiths who banded together as groups to help the affected people. None of them identified themselves with sectarian labels as does the overtly self righteous Udaya Gammanpila of the JHU. Millions of dollars poured into the country (some of it went into the pockets of corrupt politicians). Muslims too joined in with men and money helping all communities without any sectarian bias. My religious upbringing and modesty prevent me from elaborating.
What Halaal Found
Something good happened during all the halaal controversy. During a routine check it was discovered that a chemical called ‘L-Cyesteine’ was used by bakers as a taste enhancer for bread and pastry products. What was not known even to the bakers was that this chemical is mainly sourced from human hair, duck feathers or, according to a manager from the products’ Chinese company, hog hair’. This was stated by Mufthi Rizwi of the ACJU in an interview with a weekend paper. Nobody I know would want this ingredient used in bakery products unless of course he or she is an out and out cannibal! In this instance all right thinking people should thank the ACJU for exposing the unsavoury substances that went to make L-Cyesteine.
Hero and Victim
All through his article the self righteous Mr. Gammanpila plays a triple role, that of the good Samaritan, hero and victim. Good Samaritan when he publicised his charity towards the Muslim tsunami victims. Hero of the Sinhala Buddhists, doing his best to save Sinhala Buddhism which according to him and his fellow travelers’ reasoning is facing an imminent threat from Christianity and Islam. But it is fast becoming clear that all these tantrums and propaganda are only pretexts to gain political advantage. This is the identical way India’s BJP operated before they won an election and formed a government of their own. The BJP had its Barbri Masjid campaign. The BBS has, with the full backing of the JHU, has its Barbri Masjid in Daftar Jailani in Balangoda. The BBS has ordered the destruction of Daftar Jailani by the 31st of March. Will President Mahinda Rajapaksa invite the BBS to tea the same way Rajiv Gandhi invited the BJP when they threatened to destroy the Barbri Masjid? Or would he, unlike Gandhi, read the riot act to them?
The JHU’s plan is to relegate Muslims and all minorities to subordinate roles in society like Tonto was to the Lone Ranger. Since the day the BBS and JHU created the halaal controversy Mr. Gammanpila like others in the extremist groups have played the role of victims of Muslim ‘fundamentalism’. Like as if to say ‘we are very good people but since the Muslims want halaal food we have to take a stand and stop this nonsense’. Muslims have always consumed only halaal food since the advent of Islam and never indulged in haraam business like running casinos or bars. The JHU had supported, in violation of Buddha’s teachings which they claim to protect and foster, the establishment of casinos and new bars in parliament over and over again. So instead of playing the victim for political propagandist purposes, Mr. Gammanpila should address issues like alcoholism and gambling among Sinhala Buddhists, not to mention the other evils like child rape and murder that is everyday news these days.
Keep Your Kiribath
Burghers, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims who have strong bonds of friendship and brotherhood will continue to exchange their delicacies with one another on their ‘festival’ days. And come April I can expect my friends sending me delicious Kiribath, kavun, kokis and kolikutu bananas. And we shall continue this centuries old tradition every year and for all years to come, God willing. Mr. Gammanpila says that he wouldn’t want his milk rice to end up in a dust bin so he won’t be sending this Kerala delicacy to his Muslims friends. Well, Mr. Udaya Gammanpila, you can keep your Kiribath to yourself. There will be a lot of Kiribath going around for days and I am going to wallop as much as I can.