Wednesday, 23rd April 2014

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That ‘Halal Controversy’

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Certain sections of the Sinhala Buddhist population are up in arms against what they call ‘Islaamikaranaya’ (Islamization) or ‘Halalkaranaya’ (Halal-ism).  The more virulent elements of this group have indulged in the most distasteful of anti-Islam hatemongering especially in social media sites such as Facebook.  

The initial objection has been to non-Muslims being forced to play participant to a Muslim religious dictate pertaining to meat, i.e. the slaughtering of animals as per Islamic doctrine.  One can argue that if it’s meat that is desired then the ‘how’ of slaughter should not really matter.    It is not that non-Buddhists consuming Halal meat are automatically converted to Islam, after all.  On the other hand, perceived intrusions (there have been instances, we note, of Muslims legitimately and systematically purchasing properties to turn formerly ‘Sinhala’ villages into Muslim-dominated entities) can act as cultural trigger where those who talk the religion but may not practice it preying on natural social fears.  

The Buddhist response would be to treat things with compassion, drawing on the principles of tolerance and empathy.  If wisdom is also employed, as Buddhism recomends, then the wise thing would be stop eating meat altogether.  Consumption of meat is not necessarily forbidden, but since animal turns to mean only consequent to slaughter, and since slaughter does not sit with the Buddha Vacana (May All Beings Be Happy), then abstinence is a choice that takes a culturally unpalatable situation and turns it into a reason for walking closer to prescribed path.  

The attacks on Muslims and Islam, and especially the vilification on sites such as Facebook are quite antithetical to Buddhist teachings of tolerance and equanimity.  They have been quite rightly condemned.  Some of the condemnation of course comes from those who have an axe to grind with Buddhism and Buddhists, ever ready to vilify but extremely reluctant to point error in other religions, their churches or followers.  Such people use the erroneous and misleading blanket descriptive ‘Sinhala Buddhists’  which is as bad as conflating Tamils and the LTTE.  The criticism, however, remains valid.

If these so-called ‘Buddhist’ groups are in error in their vilifying thrusts, so too, sadly, are some of their detractors, many of whom believe that only the majority community needs to be rebuked fearing perhaps that if other communities are found fault with it amounts to being racist, chauvinistic, religiously intolerant etc.  

A classic case is that of the furor over allegation of Tamil versions of the Law College Examination being leaked.  Now this is a competitive examination and the facts certainly raise questions that compromise the integrity of the examination in ways that are far more serious than a leaking of an Ordinary Level examination.  And yet, this has been a touch-me-not issue for almost all commentators who have intervened in the ‘Halal Controversy’.  

If Sri Lanka is to be a nation of less paranoid communities it is imperative that each individual and each community looks within.  Sinhalese and Buddhists have shown exemplary tolerance in years gone by.  In Europe the only ‘religious’ holidays are Christian and in countries dominated by Muslims there is even less recognition of other faiths.  The intolerance of the Swiss is a well concealed fact that came out when a referendum was held about mosques.  There’s nothing in Sri Lanka akin to the issuance of Fatwas as are common in Muslim countries.  These are good things to think about.  

In the end though, deeper reflection on faith and an abiding by the relevant doctrine would make for better engagement with religious others.  In the end all human beings, regardless of faith, share the same will to live and the same apprehension about death.  If a symbol of co-existence is required, take any mosque in any part of the island and the chances are there is a Bo sapling coming out of some crevice.  It doesn’t say anything about either faith, but the togetherness is a lesson that can be learnt.  

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