By Izeth Hussain –
In the second part of this series of articles on SL Muslims at the cross-roads I dealt with the bizarre case of a Muslim who reportedly made outrageous statements against Buddhism at a public meeting. He had reportedly stated that in worshipping the Triple Gem the Buddhists are worshipping stones, that Buddhism encourages cannibalism, that the Buddha himself had once eaten human flesh, and that the Buddha had spoken about Allah. His statements were reportedly recorded in a video which has been in circulation since June 2013. My initial reaction, as well as those of my Muslim contacts, was one of total incredulity because it seemed to us impossible that any Muslim in his right mind would have made such statements. It seemed to us further that the video was probably inauthentic, just a piece of anti-Muslim propagandist garbage.
But it turns out to be authentic, and had been put across on MTV about a couple of weeks earlier. According to my informants, the person who made those statements was the President of a group that calls itself the Tawheed Jamaat, about which I must make a very important clarification. It is quite unlike the Tawheed Jamaat of South India which is very powerful with a huge membership, and boasts in Zainul-Abdeen a theologian of high caliber, according to a friend who is capable of making informed judgments on Islamic theology. The local Tawheed Jamaat, on the other hand, is small and relatively insignificant. It cannot be regarded as representative of mainstream Sunni Islam in Sri Lanka, nor for that matter of Wahabi Islam. Undue importance should not therefore be given to the utterances of its leader.
It appears that the members of the Tawheed Jamaat had been irked, just like many other Muslims, by the ignorant denigration of Islam that has been going on in Sri Lanka, inspired partly by the Islamophobic idiocies of the West. That had led to the issue of a challenge to the BBS for a public debate on religion – there is an authentic video on that challenge also. It was in that context that the Tawheed Jamaat representative had made absurd observations on Buddhism based on wrong interpretations of obscure Buddhist texts – or so I am told. The upshot was that he was arrested, brought to trial, apologized, and released. Evidently the apology meant that he repudiated his absurd charges against Buddhism.
What importance should be given to this episode? I think none whatever because it is just too ridiculous to be taken seriously. As I have pointed out above the Tawheed Jamaat has no representative capacity worth speaking about. How many of the more than one and a half million SL Muslims share the views about Buddhism expressed by the TJ representative – that Buddhism encourages cannibalism, that the Buddha ate human flesh and so on? I believe that none, none whatever, share those views because the TJ representative himself, by his apology, repudiated those views. It would therefore be totally absurd for anyone to draw any conclusions from those statements about Muslim extremists and Islamic fundamentalism. I am making this point because there seems to be something sinister about the revival of that offensive video. It was originally issued in June 2013, it was seen by thousands, but it evidently failed to make much of an impact. It is possible that it has been revived – shown on MTV and so on – with the objective of rousing mass anti-Muslim hatred.
One point about this episode cannot be ignored. Those absurdly offensive statements hurt the Buddhists, and therefore it was meet and proper that the perpetrator was subjected to action under the law. But what about all the offensive statements about Islam that hurt the Muslims deeply? Why were the perpetrators not subjected to action under the law? I refer to the most outrageous of all the insults to Islam in Sri Lanka: the demonstration in which Allah was imaged as a pig and burnt in effigy. The police performed their accustomed role of passive spectators. I believe they did a little more than that by restraining horrified Muslims who could have got out of hand – and perhaps that was wise. But why was there no legal action thereafter?
That leads to a crucially important question: what really is the strategy of the Sinhalese Buddhist State towards the SL Muslims? It was earlier expected that the anti-Muslim campaign would culminate in another gory July ’83 holocaust, this time against the Muslims. That is not the general expectation today, not because it is thought that the Government has developed moral scruples but because it fears the possible international repercussions. But other horrors can be perpetrated against the Muslims that are just as horrible as July ’83, possibly in the long run even more horrible. I have in mind the fact that the Sinhalese State seems to be in the grip of a fierce hierarchical drive aimed at establishing the Sinhalese Buddhists firmly and securely at the apex and relegating the Muslims to the position of outcastes. That seems to be the significance of the double standards to which I pointed above: punitive legal action against the Muslim but none against the Sinhalese. It is true that the culture of impunity applies to the Sinhalese as well, but not so consistently as against the Muslims, as shown during the anti-Muslim campaign of the last two years.
It should be beyond dispute that the Muslim strategy of political quietism has proved to be utterly disastrous: polishing the boot of Sinhala power has only earned good hard kicks on the backside. Just as well maybe, because the strategy of political quietism was essentially self-seeking, not aimed at the national good inclusive of the good of the Muslims. I have advocated a two-pronged strategy: struggle for the impartial application of the rule of law to all, and dialogue on the issues that have been bedeviling Sinhalese-Muslim relations for decades. The first, the struggle for the rule of law has a very particular importance. It has been a besetting vice of Muslims in the decadent phases of Islamic civilization to withdraw into themselves, to go into a self-imposed ghetto and limit their interaction with the others to the bare minimum. That goes against the greatest Sri Lankan need of the present hour: the need for national integration. In struggling for the rule of law our Muslims will be making common cause with the Sinhalese and the Tamils in a common struggle for the national good.
There is one point in particular that our Muslims must bear in mind. Under the brutal and stupid rule of the 1977 Jay Gang the SL civil society was practically dead, not much more animate than a door-mat. In recent years it has been becoming vibrant in unexpected ways. It is not so vibrant, not so vital, as in India and the West but it certainly counts in the affairs of the nation. The SL Muslims can therefore make their struggle to live in peace and dignity part of the national struggle for a better Sri Lanka. I have in mind the splendid statement of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka against the BBS and in support of the Muslims (Island of May 22). Let the Muslims invoke the blessings of Allah on the heads of the BASL members, and let their names be inscribed in gold in the memories of the Muslims.