It has been reported that the recent DEVOS conference had focused on religion and its influence on economy and that Islam and Christianity compete each other to gain supremacy in so-called under developed and developing countries. However, it also had noted that secularism, Atheism and Buddhism - a philosophy which does not believe in an omnipotent god are becoming popular, especially among scholars, CEOs and senior administrators, in so-called developed countries.
In Sri Lanka, during the past few weeks, some concern has been raised in certain quarters pertaining to religious harmony. In this regard, while some complain against alleged religious hate campaigns, some others complain about sinister imposition of certain religious practices on others, especially like the ongoing ways and means of ‘Halal’ certification of many consumer items. This is not something peculiar to Sri Lanka but a common issue of concern in many parts of the world. In his new publication – ‘Hard Truths’ to keep Singapore going (Page 228) - Lee Kuan Yew responds to questions posed to him as follows:
Q: Are you saying that the existence of Muslims in Singapore (14% of the population) is the main impediment to racial harmony in Singapore?
No, I am not saying that. I think the Muslim society do not cause any trouble. But they are distinct and separate. The generation that worked with Othman wok Rahim Ishak - that was before the wave came sweeping back, sweeping them that generation integrated well. We drank beer, we went canvassing, we went electioneering, and we ate together. Now they say, are the plates clean? I said “you know same washing machine, Halal, non-halal and so on, I mean they are divisive. They are distinguishing me from you, I am a believer, you are not, nobody doubts the hygiene, and it’s got to do with the religious convictions that this is not something you do.
Q: So what do Muslims need to do to integrate?
Be less strict on Islamic observances and say, ‘okay I will eat with you.’
It is interesting to note that the essence of the above dialog has now become a subject of much discussion in many countries. In France Burka is banned. Foreign funds for mosques and foreign preachers are banned in Singapore. Japan is not allowing separate Muslim customs! All these countries are categorized as pluralistic, democratic and.
Of late, 2012 Sri Lanka census report has become an eye-opener to many. Non-Muslims are disturbed as it had depicted their dwindling figures of population. The Catholic Church has openly advocated against abortion which had led to 288,000 deaths against over 300,000 newborns in the island. The Buddhist clergy also has drawn the attention of its laity over the population explosion of others. As these issues and reactions are quite natural, we have to act and address them much prudently.
A few months ago we met a delegation of Islamic Jamiyathulla Ulama organization which has a hand in issuing Halal certificates to manufactures of thousands of various items and asserted that there is no direct or indirect compulsion to obtain Halal certification. Their argument is that by way of Halal certification, non-Muslims entrepreneurs could penetrate 9.6 percent Islamic population in Sri Lanka and 23 percent Islamic population globally.
However, I have evidence to substantiate allegations that once a boycott campaign had been launched against a popular food chain, which refused to obtain Halal certification while an atmosphere for a promotion campaign had been created for two of its competitive food chains. A Muslim MP once told me pointing to a particular food chain that they would not consume any food or beverage if they are not produced through Halal process. Also, a manufacturer informed me that after having issued Halal certification for his milk products, the promoters of Halal had insisted that he should recruit Muslims to his business. Many restaurant owners have complained to me that Muslim activists are now in the habit of frequenting their restaurant kitchens and insisting that if steps are not taken to stop preparation or mixing pork with other food items in those kitchens, they would stop patronizing their restaurants. Many are of the view that these incidents warrant government intervention before the situation becomes out of control.
It is somewhat amusing to recall that those Muslims who were given refuge by Kandyan Sinhala kings when they were evicted by Constantine de Sa in 1627, they had not asked for Halal food. When the Muslims were chased away from Jaffna and Mannar by the LTTE terrorists, as refugees they settled down in Puttlam where the majority population had been Sinhala. At that time, they had not asked for any Halal food. I had given away thousands of food rations to Muslims in Beruwala affected by Tsunami in 2004 and to Muslims in Kantale affected by attacks of the LTTE in 2006. If those Muslims had not asked for Halal food then, what makes them insist on Halal food now? Is it not injustice towards non-Muslims, if circumstances compel them only to consume food and beverages (I am yet to come across Halal branded western medicine or blood.) that go through Halal process? On the other hand, what would be the situation if Hindus and Buddhists insist on prohibiting preparation of beef in restaurants? What would be the situation if Buddhists insist on providing only goods and services, blessed with pirith chanting in markets? What will happen if Christians want all those who patronize restaurants to pray, prior to consumption of their meals? What would be the reaction of many, if some god fearing devotees try to carry out acts of animal sacrifice everywhere?
There is nothing wrong in Muslims or non-Muslims trying to preserve their respective practices, customs and identities without harming or being a nuisance to others. Towards this end, it is the responsibility of everybody to readjust their practices without trying to blame others on so called hate campaigns.
On the other hand it is very unfortunate that some elements in the Muslim community are trying to radicalize its entire community. According to reliable information, at least four fundamentalist Muslim sects are in operation in our country and it is reported that there had been some clashes between those sects recently culminating in a few killings. There had been certain instances where some interested parties having tried to instigate Buddhists to undermine true Buddhist leaders and project them as saviors of Buddhism. It is also believed in certain quarters that Mozad and CIA are behind these moves. However, it is a fact that these extremists are trying to make use of Geneva caucus for their advantage, which we should not allow at any cost.
Muslim intellectuals should now come forward and read their religious rights contextually. When radio services, television and women franchise were introduced, there had been huge campaigns against those moves in Middle East. However, some men with foresight there had been able to read their religion contextually and as a result the UAE has now emerged as commercial hub. The Muslims in Sri Lanka also should have a proper and wise reading in their religion in the best interest of national unity and harmony.