18 September, 2018


Violence Directed Against The Muslim & Other “Minority” Communities 

By Upatissa  Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

With Hitler, Prabakaran, Dictatorships, LTTE and Sinhala Buddhism cluttering political discourse, and a visible resurgence of indiscipline, things do not portend well for integration, reconciliation and progress. Hypocrisy all round us is dominant. The terror unleashed and suffered by the previous dispensation and the nearly thirty-year period of extreme horror, have apparently not taught us much. The rumblings of imminent disaster are all too real. Incendiary and hateful speech is still prevalent. No sector is innocent. Prompt action is vital.

We marked the end of the Moslems holy month of Ramadan fasting. Eid al Fitr celebrates the occasion with Ifthar Banquets .Our political big-shots rivaled each other in hosting the event at the plushest hotels. The hospitality is not of the host but on State (that is yours and mine) Funds. It should be an opportunity to reflect upon the place of Muslims within the World Order and how it impacts on us.

In so doing, we can only deplore the violence directed some time ago at the Muslim community, beginning with the Beruwela and Darga Town incidents, and surfacing subsequently at Ampara, Digana, Akurana and other places in proximity to Kandy. While condemning this barbaric behavior most vehemently, we may re-visit these events to seek possible reasons that may underlie the violence. Mercifully, the heat has subsided. Complacency cannot be allowed to obscure reality, and the incidents should serve as an opportunity to realistically assess the causes and seek possible remedies. However painful, this is the only rational way to heal the wounds, dispel misconceptions and prevent recurrence. It is simply unwise to ignore the causes for this enmity and pretend that nothing untoward has happened. This will only mean that we trot along to the next disaster.

Signs are that rumblings are still there and could lead to disaster if not addressed urgently and vigorously curbed. If the media is correct, there are dark hints. As usual, politicians are the main culprits. In Jaffna there are moves to prevent alleged settlement of Sinhala persons, in Wilpattu, protected lands are being raped to accommodate Muslims displaced by LTTE terrorists and we are told of similar attempts elsewhere.     

All too often, violence erupts from fears, real or imagined. The inconvenient reality is that perceptions and prejudice often over-ride facts and figures. Popular perceptions are often wrong and supported by questionable “evidence”. While rejecting the plainly absurd – such as the male sterility story, it is only reasonable that other concerns be sensibly addressed. In our context, it must be admitted that certain practices could inflame emotions among misguided zealots, ever ready to exploit an over-heated opportunity. In this matter, a major responsibility lies with the Moslem Leadership. They should, jointly with representatives of the majority community, seek sensible ways to eliminate any provocative factors that may have prompted the resort to violence. It must be admitted that some anxieties and ill-will do exist. This is an attempt to identify some potential flash points – whether justified or not.

It has been pointed out that one of the worst things that a minority wishing to integrate with a majority could do, is to set itself apart by residence (Ghettos), dress, occupation or custom. Thus Moslem ladies who identify themselves by black uniform cloaks, Hindus with ash or pottus on foreheads, while perfectly within their rights, may be seen by misguided extremists as an alien threat. Particularly during periods of heightened emotion, a genuine bonding with the majority would be prudent insurance.

It is worth reflecting on the existence in all religions, the twin factors of philosophy (or content) and ritual (or symbolism). Buddhism labels them as “Prathipatti puja” (respect to  the teachings: spiritual) and “Amisa Puja” (adherence to custom: material). These are not mutually exclusive, but more correctly, symbiotic or even synergistic.  There is remarkable congruence and commonality in the underlying rules of conduct laid down in the different religions that we profess. They are best encapsulated in the universal injunction, “Do unto others as you will that others do unto you”.

As a Buddhist, I feel more at ease being critical of my own. In our tutoring, we often learn to parrot Stanzas (or Gathas), without an understanding of what they mean. I have been made aware that in his final words, addressed to Bhikkhu Ananda, he said “The best homage to the Buddha is to follow the Dhamma” .It is incumbent on the Buddhists to critically examine our present day practices in the light of this advice. The Kalama Suthra was also a brilliant exposition of the true role of custom and teaching. In a remarkable exposition of enlightenment, the Buddha was bold enough to encourage critical evaluation of even his own teachings. There is thus no such concept as “blasphemy”. How much more liberal can anyone get? 

The Mahanayakas spend much of their time advising sundry panjandrums on how to ru(i)n this country, when they would do much better to step out to discipline the hooligans who dishonor the sanctity of The Order and that of the Robe. In their wisdom they must see that they are being dangerously pawned for political advantage.

It is evident that encouragement of ritual practices benefit established Ecclesiastical institutions. But Bhikkhus assuming the Robe of their own will, reject attachment to worldly possessions – except in so far as they provide their modest material needs and thus help develop the virtue of sacrifice. Beyond this, it blurs into avarice.

There is a compelling argument for schools to teach Comparative Religion, leaving the choice to the student on reaching the stage of understanding. This will considerably reduce enmity arising from fears of proselytization, unfair and insulting Evangelism, vandalism of images, statues and places of worship. Hopefully, this will also drive home the point that Common Humanity is much more real than religious label. All religions teach moral conduct, while only the rationale, the path and the goal may differ. Does this matter much and is this difference reason enough to kill each other? 

World opinion

It is a reality that Muslem immigrants fleeing terror have provoked reaction in several parts of the World, and that much seemingly plausible material, rapidly infiltrates the Internet. Examples such as from Japan, the US, Australia, Some European States and elsewhere, often backed by presumably valid data, are often identified as countries seeking to counter “the threat”. Many countries, particularly in Europe are troubled by immigrant influxes and possible future demographic distortions. Demands for Shariah Law, involvements in terror attacks such as 9/11, opening of allegedly indoctrinating Madrassas do not help assimilation into host communities. While followers of Islam are not all terrorists, but a distressingly large proportion of terrorists profess to be Islamists. Extreme radical, militarist groups such as Al Queda, Wahabis, ISIS and other such assemblies are feared specters.

Dress Codes

While the choice of how one wishes to dress is entirely the right of the individual, any that blatantly distinguish one from others can be provocative. It becomes much worse when the garb identifies with militant groups. The perceptible increase in the number of women wearing black full body outer garments that provide only narrow slits for vision, has recently grown hugely. The wisdom in so arousing resentment or fear is a matter for the Muslim leadership to guide. Just as much as a uniform sets apart members of the Armed Forces or the Police as symbols of authority, so also do they make themselves a target for hostile forces.  

The Halal issue and Humane Slaughter

Some time ago, the issue of “Halal” labeling of foods threatened to unleash violence. It was sometimes used in a senseless way – for example on bottles of water, soda, and packets of salt! But, sadly in the case of animals slaughtered for meat, the archaic and cruel practice of slitting the throat and bleeding the animal to a painful death, has escaped attention. The historical reason may have been that the blood in the carcass would hasten spoilage. This would have been of help to serve nomadic desert tribes, before the advent of refrigerated storage and rapid transport. This is an area where Muslim clerics could educate their flock that this practice may be irrelevant in this age when humane methods are available. It is obligatory to be conscious of the feelings of all sentient beings and to refrain from inflicting needless pain. These have more a flavor of barbaric practices than religious compulsions. 

The justification of many practices ( Shariah Law, Muslim marriage and rights of women, female circumcision, ritual Animal Slaughter, Madrassas and loud calls to prayer), is that they are part of Koranic or other teachings. This is an issue for Muslim Clerics and other authorities to sort out among themselves. It has to be realized that religious practices and traditions, like all else have to change with the times. Islam particularly as the youngest of the major religions, has reason to be the most enlightened, adaptive and modernistic.

As Social (and Economic) Threat

Much of the prejudice is unfair but real perceptions and demands should be properly addressed. The major concerns are Demographic Shifts – by high Birth Rates, economic monopoly, tendency to establish communal Ghettos and intolerance of other faiths. All of these are amenable to fair resolution. Here again, it is the responsibility of the Muslim leadership to address these suspicions fairly and provide means for their correction, or grounds for their denial. The Muslim Political Parties are more a problem than a solution. Their tendency to fragment into sub-groups is also unhelpful.  Issues such as Wilpattu naturally inflame feelings (Religious and Conservationist) and it is imperative that the leadership addresses fairly, this festering canker. Discriminatory behavior should be sensitive and subordinate to the national interest. Names that connote minorities (such as Tamil Union, Moors Sports Club, Muslim Congress etc) should change to ones suggesting cohesion, assimilation and unity. The Sinhalese Sports Club should set the lead. These may look like trivialities, but together with others, they would collectively encouraged Unity, integration and friendship.

Although the original intent was to focus on violence directed at the Muslim community, a few remarks applicable generally may not be out of place. There are rumblings in the North and East of our country that bring to mind the dire consequences of ignoring such signs and failing to take timely action to neutralize them. Nearly thirty years of the LTTE insurrection caused dreadful distress and cost to all. Victors should avoid triumphalism and display magnanimity, particularly on the vanquished. The moral compulsion on the majority community is intense. When Mr.Wigneswaran, a former Supreme Court Judge, who has spent his life among the Sinhalese, was chosen to be the Chief Minister of the North, there was immense hope. Sadly, this has been totally betrayed as he has proved to be as bad as the worst, in addition to having done little for the Northern citizenry. Resurgence of criminal groups such as AAVA, and reports from Intelligence sources, must be taken very seriously and resolute action taken to quash such forces. In the long run, this would be most economical both in monetary terms and potential human misery. The visible breakdown of discipline all round, is frightening.

The above comments, although focusing mainly on the current tensions worries of  the Muslims, are equally applicable to others. The majority Sinhala Buddhists community has a special responsibility to be magnanimous as hosts or partners. Properly managed, this country has ample resources for us all.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 10

    I have been telling that we need a comparative religious studies in schools and universities.
    We need to teach all students 4 main religions in Sri Lanka to create a peaceful Sri Lanka ..it is not difficult one .The ministry of education must look into this issue ..
    That is the only way to understand so many different points in culture and traditions.
    Th benefit of such syllabus is much more than we think ..
    Try it and see the result soon in Sri Lanka ..
    I’ve seen it in many countries ..

    • 7

      Yes, comparative religion in schools is imperative, and the dangerous ghettoization of education and HIGHER education must stop.
      Muslim politicians are building Muslim Ghettos in Mannar and Eastern Province with funds from Saudi Arabia and Iran, to consolidate VOTE BANKS in elections. They rely on Mullahs who harrass Muslim women to bring them votes. This religion-politics nexus, same with Sinhala politicians and Saffron robe Thugs is dangerous and must be stopped. Both Islam and Buddhism are backward religions today because of corrupt politicians and monks.
      Also, a massive Iran funded Muslim University/ Maddrassa is being built in Eastern province today. Corrupt Muslim politicians are following the corruption of their Sinhala and Tamil politicians who are as corrupt and are using foreign “aid” funds to build ethnic Ghetto-vote banks.
      This Iranian university-madrassa in Batticaloa must be brought under purview of UGC.

      • 0

        Yes, all that you say about Muslim ghettos and saffron robe nexus with certain Sinhalese politicians can be swallowed, But you fail to mention anything about the Hindutwa saffron robed thugs and their favourite politicians?
        Comparative religious study without including that in the syllabus would only be just a laxative.

    • 0

      From the elementary school level, the many governments we have had should have started a curriculum, that embraces all religions, and teaches children that Sri Lanka is a multi religious nation, everyone belong here, and must accept the differences. The problem is that politicians take advantage of the diversions, and even plunges the knife that divides the people. We should look at other multi religious nations to learn, and realize that if they can live in peace, so can we.

    • 6

      Upatissa Pethiyagoda

      “It has been pointed out that one of the worst things that a minority wishing to integrate with a majority could do, is to set itself apart by residence (Ghettos), dress, occupation or custom. “

      Could you or anyone else explain what you mean by “minority wishing to integrate with a majority”.
      What is the process and what would be the end result and how would that benefit this island?
      Why doesn’t the majority integrate with the minority or integrate with neighbouring majority?
      Why should anyone consider integration as an option?

      “Hindus with ash or pottus on foreheads, while perfectly within their rights, may be seen by misguided extremists as an alien threat. “

      Why should pottus threaten anyone when even Sigiria paintings depict women with pottu and bare breast? On the contrary pottus were used to identify Tamil women before they were raped, attacked or killed during past riots. It sounds you are beginning to blame the victim, it is usually the case in this island.

      Whom are you blaming for high Birth Rates, economic monopoly, tendency to establish communal Ghettos and intolerance of other faiths?

      If anything Buddha, banna, saree, jeans, shirt, trousers, noodles, …. toothpaste, films, … English, motor vehicles, Kataragama Skanda, Pattini, …………. are supposed to be alen are not local.

      What are you trying to tell us?

      • 0

        Moda and Srupod Vedda: Until now, I thought you had some intelligence. You are stupid idiot.I know you are not a pinguththaya, but you need employment too.

    • 3

      Comparative study can only increase jealous among them. Out right ban in schools and Politics(government) and removing the special status to the Buddhism is the only way to reduce anxious among other religions. Thalatha must be removed immediately for playing game on Muslim women’s religious & marriage rights.

  • 6

    Thank you, Dr. Pethiyagoda, for providing a voice of sanity to this discourse.
    However, what is tragic about the current situation is that your words are going to be misconstrued either deliberately or through narrow-minded ignorance and you are going to be accused of bigotry etc. by those on every side of this divide!
    Still, it is so good to hear voices such as yours and those of us of sane and sober mind owe you the obligation of raising our voices in support of the sentiments you have expressed.
    Thank you, again.

    • 1

      That is why Emil, your silence is really disturbing. You used to make much noise before, and all of a sudden you seem to have decided to go quiet.

      If people like you who represent our ‘good old days’ under foreign rule don’t, who will cry out for the return to the 19th century at least, if not to the 15th?

      Waiting eagerly to read your articles here. Now get on with it.

    • 4

      Emil van der Poorten, I happen to see Upatissa Pethiyagoda differently.
      I am disturbed by a streak of majoritarianism in the choice of words he has made.
      * ‘The majority Sinhala Buddhists community has a special responsibility to be magnanimous as hosts’.
      * ‘Victors should avoid triumphalism and display magnanimity, particularly on the vanquished’.
      * ‘Demographic Shifts – by high Birth Rates’.
      * ‘In Jaffna there are moves to prevent alleged settlement of Sinhala persons’.
      – Do we have ‘hosts’ among us. Did the ‘Sinhala Buddhists community ‘, earn that pedestal?
      – ‘Victors’. Who were the rivals? Who was the enemy?
      – ‘Demographic Shifts’. Is there a more disturbing demographic shift than State sponsored settlements?
      – ‘In Jaffna there are moves to prevent settlement of Sinhala persons’. The action by the state is a sinister, wilful attempt of demographic shift.
      I could go on, but suffice to make my point.

  • 7

    But, sadly in the case of animals slaughtered for meat, the archaic and cruel practice of slitting the throat and bleeding the animal.

    Fish is struggling for more than half for survival but if it is cut only 3 second

  • 0

    Police as symbols of authority, so also do they make themselves a target for hostile forces.

    If it is Canada or in western country will be target of Muslim monks to wear the yellow attire. But in India it happened one attack. this not change.

    When we wear half clothes how can the people protect Repellent Products to Protect against Mosquito-Borne Illnesses prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. … Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

    Men are in full dress, same should be followed to young and old.

  • 2

    Why is this man raising issues regarding Minorities? This stupid man is not raising problem facing by Sinhala Minorities in North and East. Recently most of issue raised against minority Sinhalese in North and East. Most of Muslim countries indirectly support extremist terrorists. They kill all other minority people in every country. What is purpose this letter from this stupid monkey now? If they receive any money they betrayed their own nation.

    • 7

      Kumara They kill all other minority people in every country.

      Today CNN news Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that, with hindsight, her government could have better handled the situation in Rakhine state that led to the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims.

  • 2

    There monkeys see only fault is sinhala Buddhists. Every man should have dignity about their family, their village, their area, their nation and their religion. There type of lunatic people want to disgrace own nation. They pick up a blog and write something insulting sinhalayan buddhists. Then they think that they ara radical.

    • 7


      Every man should have dignity about their family, their village, their area, their nation.

      He is referring to shops and businesses and several houses were set on fire and lost the dignity their family, their village, their area, their nation. on fire After hours of rioting and burning, the town of Digana all lost

  • 6

    I don’t blame other than the state and state institutions for all the misery in this land. Both UNP and SLFP who lead the statements violated what is written in the constitution. The fundamental to any successful democracy is rule of law and justice both are misused throughout since 1948. Once government start violating the constitution, people follow.

    • 8

      I think it is the nature of lankens. Be them sinhala, tamils, muslims or others, they would not and have not learnt to keep the words.
      But we call we are civilized. We are not at all civilized folks compared to many other nations in the world today. They dont like to respect to what they pledged after becoming Presidents or PMs or Ministers or MPs.
      And they just stay mum when their senior men openly violate in front of them.
      I think this has lot to do with the average mentality. Those who achieved their academic goals in abroad too become sevile to the system, once they are offered and rained with perks.
      Like for example – the highly educated GLP – today would do anything and everything to most abusive BUNCH of thugs in JO.
      He is shameless. So is too Prof. Rajeeva W or any other like minded highly educated men.
      Dayana Jayathilaka drolled whatever his tongue found right until he is finally appointed as Ambassador to Russia lately.
      His articles posted to CT are fully against MS-RW principles. But when it goes to earn his brought, as if a low level Wimal Weerwanse did it, he just betrayed himself within overnight to agreeing with the govt.
      Can you imagine ?

  • 5

    Religions are divisive and a bloody nuisance and are manipulated by very cruel politicians and others. We could make a better country with out any religion breathing down our throats.UK is a good example where no religion is allowed to breath down on the lives of people and people are respectful to one another and we must inculcate this in our island.
    One can see all conflicts are religious based and we should do without it for the greater good of the people.

  • 7

    “Hindus with ash or pottus on foreheads, while perfectly within their rights, may be seen by misguided extremists as an alien threat.”
    Who cares two hoots for the opinion of misguided extremists? Should Hindus cow down and abandon their cultural practices simply to mollify the misguided extremists?
    And what do you mean by ‘alien threat’? Hindus in Sri Lanka have been wearing ash and pottus on foreheads for the past 300 years at least. Is everything that is not Sinhala Buddhist ‘Alien’ to the author?

    • 4

      Estate Labourer surely must know Hindus in the country have been wearing vibudhi (holy ash) even before the coming of Christianity and Islam – not just 300 years, my friend. Our ladies have been wearing coloured pottu (bindhi) for just as long. Have’nt you noticed even Sinhala ladies in society, including many in the movie/TV world, in beautiful pottu in their foreheads. Doubtless, it was prevalent in that part of Bharat during the time of Prince Siddarth Gautham – widely known by the honorofic Buddha. The ancient custom of Pottu has little to do with reconciliation or nation building.

      Dr. Pethiyagoda’s evidently sincere effort to bring unity to this battered land, however, is deeply acknowledged. The greater role and responsibility to achieve this objective lies with the Sinhala majority and the political powerful Buddhist hierarchy.

      R. Varathan

  • 0

    I saw the BBC cameramen cried and visibly shaken after filming of the struggle of the fishes inside the net on a commercial deepsea trwler for Planet Earth II series and nobody seems to be cared for the fishes including the Dr. Upatissa.
    Life is life and I have no reason to believe the ‘humane killing’ exists and that’s a lie at the first place. Using the captive bolt pistols in abattoirs is banned in some German states, the researches at University of Duisburg is proved to be more painful and slow death to the animals compared to the slaughtering which cut through the pain recepters (nerves) passing to the brain.

  • 2

    Mr Pethiyagoda

    I can’t agree with you more. Politicians have exploited the national sentiment & religion over the years. In deed, the education system has to be refined with a broader perspective but unfortunately it’s all about passing exams, the bottom line being earning money by whatever means. Integrity, civic duty, morals & ethics are not taught in schools, & particularly among the Sinhalese Buddhists, we are taught myths & distorted views of Buddhism. The result is what we see in our intolerant & racist society. The majority of politicians are uneducated but even the so called educated among the yobs are no better when it comes to corruption, abuse of power & even fraud.

    SL needs to overhaul the entire education system so that we will have a better educated next generation but who will ‘bell the cat’?

  • 0

    When you study competative religion you will find linkage with all religion most of the teaching are common no likes to announce due to the loss of benifit

  • 6

    “While the choice of how one wishes to dress is entirely the right of the individual”

    Dr.pethiyagoda.What kind of doctorate did you get with a muddled brain like that.You yourself say it is a fundamental right of an individual and then start to criticise that fundamental right.How does it bother you or any other sinhalese when a woman goes around covered in black.It is none of your business unless you can claim it is visual pollution.Herein lies the hidden arrogance of sinhalese and even after a 26 year old war though much of that arrogance has gone what is left is still dangerous.Do not think that you are all some superior ethnicity to tell others how to dress or whether to wear pottu or ash.Just mind your own damn business at least after prabha’s tutorials.

    • 3

      Shanker, Just leave this dried pumpkin alone. Had the degrees and doctorates had expiry dates, this guy’s one should have expired long back

  • 2

    PEthiagoda: What is your PhD. Is it Tehology or froma Religiious university. How about when girls wear western dreresses such as tight denim pants with so many holes every where on it. Tight transprents pants showing the body shape. What will have happen to the Hostile forces. I think they should get .liquor licence or human rights to hang around liquor shops and to go with any man they meet for the night to sleep have a sleeping place. Just google and see how many women are prostituting their bodies in IRAQ becausee their husbands becme ALQAEDA and ISIS terrorists. Were they showing their legs and the body before that ? “I think you are unemployed idiot.

  • 1

    Upatissa Pethiyagoda ~ “Violence Directed Against The Muslim & Other “Minority” Communities”
    Comment Part 1:
    Thank you for recognising that violence is in fact being directed at Muslims. By ‘other “minority” communities’, we take it you have in mind Tamils and non-Buddhists.
    You started off with the June2014 Aluthgama incident through to follow-ups in Digana etc.
    It will be incomplete if we do not wander along tracking earlier footprints – perhaps from the day of independence. The government at time started this concept of non-Sinhala speakers as second class citizens. The Federal Party was floated and the Tamil speaking Muslims were part of FP. Muslim leaders broke way and came out of the second class status – “Bingo” but too good to be true. The Muslims soon realised that they were also in the disposable category.
    Was the Aluthgama violence an indirect warning, “Potential usurpers note who can give orders to the Armed Services and Police”. The subsequent incidents just to say, ”Look here. We still can call the shots”.
    Upatissa please look at the ‘Jana Balaya Colombata protest’. The home vs home teams agreed that if there is violence the victims will be ‘Us’. Mangala assured, “Police will use rubber bullets aiming below the knee. He was kidding. The Police will not fire at all!
    Food for thoughts Upatissa.

    To be continued – Part II About Hijab, pottu etc.

  • 1

    Upatissa Pethiyagoda ~ “Violence Directed Against The Muslim & Other “Minority” Communities”
    Comment Part II About Hijab.
    All along Muslims had an identity. Some of us remember the short hair cuts, sarong, Fez, circumcision ceremony etc. Muslim ladies drew a distinction by wrapping the saree the other way and covering their heads with the end. When the working in MidEast took off (it is a story on its own) some Muslims returned with the Hijab and used it yet another identity symbol. Hijab is probably easier to wash and dry. It is not a symbol of authority or threat.
    The saffron robe is a symbol of authority. In most parts of Lanka, people prostrate at the very sight! In some parts of Lanka, the saffron robe move about with armed escort. This is threatening.
    Hijab may be found in ‘ghettos’ but the saffrons live in luxury.
    As to pottu, well it is no longr a ghetto thingy. It is worn by Hollywood celebrities and the like. The Sinhala Barathanatyam artistes (taught by Sinhala gurus) wear it.
    Pottu is fashionable but the hijab is not.
    Uppatissa, we are in agreement with you but our comments are not intended to be adversarial.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically shut off on articles after 10 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.

leave a comment