Colombo Telegraph

The Choice Is In Our Hands: Life Or Death

By Seyed Alavi Sheriffdeen

Dr. Seyed Alavi Sheriffdeen

Harmony Day is a day initiated towards elimination of Racial Discrimination. Initially this day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1966 in order to remember victims of the mass shooting on peaceful demonstrators in South Africa on 21 March 1960. I uphold the efforts made by “Sri Lanka Invites” similar to this. These humble efforts made in the far land, Australia in the firm hope that one day Sri Lanka will be free of riots, and violence had consumed the lives and assets of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

All of us who have gathered here have some sort of connection to Sri Lanka either by birth or by other relationships.

Ceylon has been a colony of many nations for centuries. It became independent 71 years ago and consequently formed into a beautiful country called Sri Lanka. Each act of violence has led to chain reactions of more violence. History of violence against Muslims in particular goes back to 1915 and continues until today. A simple google search on violence or riots in Sri Lanka brings 168 million references. Why should this be the case?

It has been reported over a half a million people have been killed since independence. Why have we lost these valuable lives to hatred and violence. Why do we continually allow such actions to be carried out, even today?

Harmony day organized by “Sri Lanka Invites”

Every community irrespective of race, religion or language has gone through some sort of attacks based on the hatred of others. Places of worships, devotees in communion with God, schools and properties are included in these attacks. We all know the pain and deep wounds it has left. 

Over the years from 1915 onwards many massacres took place in Sri Lanka targeting particular groups of people. These include: 1985 Anuradhapura massacre of civilians, mainly targeting Sinhalese civilians, 1987 Aranthalawa massacre of Buddhist monks,1984 Kokkilai massacres of Tamil civilians, 1987 Kokkadichcholai massacre of Tamil civilians, 1990 Kattankudy Mosque Massacre of Muslims, 1992 Palliyagodella massacre of Muslims, 1995 Navaly Church bombing of Christians, 2019 Easter Sunday bombings of Christians. 

The perpetrators of all this bloodshed could have been anyone, one who may have worn the masks of any race or religion. Yet it remains certain that the victims were unarmed civilians. Sadly, almost all of them did not know why they have been mercilessly killed in cold blood. Still the same question continues to haunt the minds of mothers who have lost their dear sons or daughters, widows or orphans who lost their husbands and dear father. “For what sin should they have been killed in their worshiping places, schools or while they were at work or home?”

Hence their violence and hatred have no limits. Evil intentions of perpetrators carry no value for human lives. They believe in violence and want to achieve their goals only through violence. In their eyes their selfish benefits are much important and valuable than lives of other human being. It is a sad reality. 

No religion preaches violence against innocents. Unfortunately, there are those who claim that their affiliation to religions do harm others forcing their innocent religion to bear its cost. Evil acts of violence have nothing to do with religious teaching but reflections of ugly intentions of those who perpetrate it.

I do not see those murderers who killed people close to me as people who represent any religion or race, but rather evil terrorists. I will continue to stand against any revenge killing for the life of another human being.

Islamic teachings repeatedly remind us not to harm any human being. From the Islamic point of view until the victim forgives the perpetrator God will NOT forgive him. Even someone gossips on another person, God will not forgive him until the victims forgive him or her. 

God has not instructed us to kill a human being with reward of Paradise. On contrary He has stated in the Holy Quran (5:32): “killing of a person for reasons other than legal retaliation or for stopping corruption in the land is as great a sin as murdering all of mankind. However, to save a life would be as great a virtue as to save all of mankind.”

However, those who read religious writing with literalists reading without understanding the contexts in which it was revealed or written and those who cling to out of context quotes of religious writings or those who interpret and learn religion only through Google gurus have led religious teaching to the brink or precipice. In particular Islamic divine text of the holy Quran and sayings of prophet Muhammad have been misinterpreted by these superficial readers who claim to the be preachers or scholars of Islam. Superficial reading of Islamic religious texts is deadly, and it will definitely lead to wrong conclusions. We have witnessed it in recent time. 

Those who dream to gain entry to Paradise by killing innocents are doing nothing but murder which is considered one of seven major sins in Islam. Killing or even harming any innocents will not be tolerated nor accepted in Islam. There are many Islamic texts, fatwas, religious rulings and authoritative statements against terrorism in Islam in the past and present. Even in Sri Lanka, the Muslim theologians and Muslim community even refused to do religious funerals for those who were involved in the Easter bombings. The Muslim community wholeheartedly condemned this barbaric act and continue to stand against hatred teaching. It will continue to condemn such barbaric acts.  It is an undisputed bold stand.

The Messenger of God, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.”

We do not have much time left to bear the cost of hatred any longer. We shouldn’t let these blessings to leave us, only to regret the missed opportunities. The choice is in our hands: the life or death. We can forget, forgive each other and proceed to build harmonious societies by standing against any injustice or to support killings, racial attacks and injustice against fellow human being by remaining silent and watching it like a never-ending horror movie.

If we act later, our options will not bring any positive outcomes to anyone in Sri Lanka or anywhere in the world.  Our time to act is now. Let’s put our efforts together forget, forgive, proceed to build harmonious societies and stand against any injustice committed against any human being. Our actions will add value to this world for a peaceful and harmonious life.

*Dr Seyed Alavi Sheriffdeen is an Australian teacher currently teaching the VCE subject “Religion and Society” in Victoria, Australia. Harmony day organized by “Sri Lanka Invites” was held on Saturday (20 July 2019) in Melbourne, Australia. Many community representatives participated in the event along with many cultural events. The above is the script of the speech delivered by the author.

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