By Soraya M. Deen –
One of the greatest challenges facing Sri Lankans today is how to manage and curb the increased hostilities between Muslims and the majority Buddhists. While tensions between the two communities has been a perennial issue facing the country, it is now rising in epic proportions. Since the Easter attacks of April 23rd, 2019, this tension has widened and deepened, and now at a grave threshold of being manipulated as a political tool.
It is going to be a difficult but a necessary and crucial task to take deliberate steps to build trust, strengthen understanding and sustain solidarity. The collaborative work done so far by the majority in the two communities must be escalated and be highlighted. Moderate, progressive, secular Sri Lankan Muslims have a crucial role to play in facing this problem head on while promoting a real and honest dialogue—free of political correctness and comforting lies—about the true nature of Radical Islamism.
Marwaan Macan Markar in the Asian Review of April 24th states that, “Sri Lanka’s radicalized Muslims have long ties to the Islamic State and early signs were that Sri Lankan Muslims were being recruited into IS since 2014. According to reports at least 32 Sri Lankan Muslims have joined IS.
It’s real, let’s wake up….
In the past two years I spent months working and travelling across the Island. I met women from across the country. Of grave concern to me was the lack of heart centered communication, connection, and collaboration among majority Buddhists and the minority Muslims. It was at an all-time low. The Muslim communities were recovering from a series of racist and religious attacks that targeted them whilst some of the majority Buddhists were seeking to establish power.
What was evident was that some Sinhala Buddhist nationalists were exploiting global trends in blaming and shaming Muslims for all terror. Today sadly they will find legitimacy in their claims. A small fraction of relatively uneducated, zealous religionists Muslims, were retreating into shells of social isolation. They were choosing religious identity over national identity, and found partial solace in the task of purifying Islam. This small group of Islamists reflected the splintering of the Muslim community. It was becoming clear that we were slowly becoming our own enemies.
My family was one of the first causalities. We had conversations we never had growing up. We engaged in severe debate and dispute over the practice of Islam, and the need to revive Islam and its glorious past. A majority of my cousins were now wearing the burqa and hijab and wanted me to do so as well. On many occasions they would carry a shawl in their hand bags in case I changed my mind. Often they questioned my allegiance to the faith and traditions.
Sri Lankan Muslims and moderate Muslims all over the world are experiencing a crisis in faith. There are no counter-Islamism movements focusing on the threat of the puritan version of Islam. I questioned the rapid disintegration of the Muslim communities, particularly the Muslim women from the mainstream in Sri Lanka, and the enforcement of the veil, niqab and the burqa. The Hijab I felt was becoming a symbol of Islam. I paid a heavy price for speaking out. Photo shopped photographs of me and my 15 year old daughter in sleeveless attire were circulated through WhatsApp. My brother forwarded posts that referred to me as an infidel and Zionist American. They claimed a severe punishment awaits me. I thought that the tentacles of Islamism and Islamists seemed to have a well secured home in Sri Lanka.
IS links to the mass scale tragedy that took the lives of over 260 people on Easter Sunday is now confirmed. The fact that all the suicide bombers were Muslims, opens a whole new can of worms, new levels of accountability, new levels of retrospection for the now fractured Muslim communities in Sri Lanka as well as Muslims globally.
Let’s make no mistake that the new threat of terrorism in Lanka stems from Islamism and Islamists who want to promote a political ideology. They truly believe that Islam should govern the whole world. They believe and borrow verses from the scripture and the Hadiths of the prophet, and reinterpret them to gain legitimacy for their political goals and those of salvation. Even though there is no consensus between the Islamic texts, the scholars and the practices, a dangerous trend has emerged to solve all social, political and economic issues with Sunnah, Sharia and the scripture.
Which end of the triangle are you?
A triangle is a polygon with three edges and three vertices. It is one of the basic shapes in geometry. Triangles play a very important role in the areas of mathematics.
An Egyptian Muslim scholar talking about extremism likened the Muslim communities predicament to a Triangle
“One edge of the triangle he says is the Muslims glorious past.
Muslims claim this path to be one of perfection and absolute bliss.
Yes, the path was good but it had its fair share of positives and negatives.
The second edge of the triangle he says is the belief held by most Muslims, that the glorious past must be restored. The golden age, when people walked like the prophet in long beards with winged angels. Most, a vast majority of Muslims belong here. Even my dear cousins, totally nonviolent, but who have started to wear the burka fall into this category.
The third edge of the that black triangle he explains is the belief held by some Muslims, that this past must be restored even if it requires the use of violence, coercion, cruelty, brutality, bombs or swords.
We Muslims can get rid of this triangle only when we accept that there is no need to restore that past. It is gone. We must live our lives in our times and in our world, according to our renewed understanding of religion.
He concludes by saying, – ISIS and Al Qaeda will never go.”
Robin Simcox, a Margaret Thatcher Fellow specializing in terrorism and national security analysis, in his article on IS- “The Threat of Islamist Terrorism in Europe” observes as follows – “The potency of these groups is enhanced by their ongoing ability to inspire small cells of radicalized supporters living in the West to carry out attacks on their behalf. The vast majority of plots in the West emanate from such supporters, who have claimed affiliation with a terrorist group without ever having traveled to popular safe havens.”
Emergency first aid ….
Even though no studies have been done vis-a-vis about how Sri Lankans view the Sri Lankan Muslims before and after the tragic event of Easter Sunday, a compelling research shows how American view American Muslims after 9/11. A study done by the Pew Research Center on Muslims and Islam found that 49 percent of Americans find U.S. Muslims anti-American. About a quarter say there is a fair amount of support (24 percent) for extremism among U.S. Muslims; and 11 percent say there is a great deal of support.
In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday tragedy, I connected with over 25 of my non-Muslim friends. I asked them, “What can we Muslims do to account for this tragedy?” Every person I called acknowledged my concern. The majority said, the face cover and black Abaya was a huge divider. And that it must not be allowed. They said, “There must be one law for all. If no one is permitted to conceal their identity, the Muslims must also comply with the law.” Second they said, “Muslims must stop teaching the youth that infidels must be killed and that there is reward in heaven.”
Islam desperately needs a revaluation and Sri Lankan Muslims must lead the way in openly calling for reform that is social and religious. We must candidly and honestly admit and acknowledge that some challenging verses in our scripture have given doctrinal legitimacy to violent extremism and our failure to recognize this fact and educate the community on the contextual realities has legitimized the violence. We are sadly at the very edge of a serious dilemma – reform or face rejection.
Our continued refusal and unwillingness to acknowledge this phenomenon has frozen much of our faith to a 7th century dogma. Our rush to blame, shame and obstruct the very few who call for reform and change undermines well established rules of Fiqh and Ijithihad, wherein every we recognize is the human attempt to understand divine law which can be fallible and changeable. We must win the ideological battle of ideas against this movement because this is more important than military victories on the battlefield. Failure will stifle the voices of a vast majority of Muslims everywhere who genuinely support reform and acknowledge the dangers of political Islam.
Let’s mobilize …
Sri Lankan Muslims must take an inventory of failures so we can prepare for success. We must agitate one another. Our better might not be our best. We don’t have the luxury of compromises and sensitivities. Stand up and call out Imams who preach hate and exclusivity. If we want Islam to be treated with respect and equality, we must acknowledge that we do not have a monopoly over Gods word. All theology is contextual. We don’t ride camels and encounter sand dunes in Sri Lanka. We ride cars and buses and reach out to our Buddhist, Tamil or Christian neighbors in times of need.
Throughout history we know fully well that inaction, indifference and the silence of those of us who should have acted and not acted, makes it impossible for good to triumph.
All religions are a set of ideas and must be open for critique. Sadly, in the Muslim world we believe that Islam is above and beyond critique — that Islam, and only a group of Muslims, have everything to teach the world but nothing to learn from it. This is quite contrary to the great mosque at Cordoba, in A.D. 785, a thriving cultural and intellectual center. It was a center for learning that attracted Jewish scholars, philosophers, poets and scientists. Non-Muslims played an important part in the intellectual life of Cordoba. True and lasting commitments to preserve intellect through and across lines of faith took root here. In a globally connected pluralistic world we Muslims have an obligation and duty to lead that charge.
We must carefully, candidly, and collaboratively address the causes of radical Islam. And we must share some responsibility for the global trends in all terror committed by Islamists. Crucial to reform is the need to engage and empower Muslim women in religious leadership while promoting gender equality in our mosques. We must teach our youth a new brand of Islam, one that is compatible to Sri Lankan values and culture and not that of the Middle East.
Bawa Muhaydeen a Sri Lankan Sufi mystic who migrated to Philadelphia once said, “Muslim are in a state of ignorance. That is why they give so much sorrow to the world.”
Only free speech and an open and honest discussion on campus, in the media, and in our daily lives as citizens about the threat posed by Islamic radicalism will allow moderate voices to come to the forefront to expose and drown out radicals.
Soraya Deen is a lawyer, community organizer and an award winning international activist. She focuses on countering violent extremism by educating and empowering women to action. She is the founder of the Muslim Women Speakers Movement and the President and co-founder of the Interfaith Solidarity Network, one of the largest interfaith organizations in Los Angeles.