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Celebrating Haj according to health regulations



Haj demonstrates equality amongst people

By Dr M Haris Z Deen

For a second year in succession, the Muslims’ Haj rituals will be conducted in a disciplined and orderly manner due to social distancing measures imposed by COVID-19 restrictions.

This, indeed is a novelty, since under normal circumstances crowd control of nearly three million devotees, of all genders and ages assembled in one place and discipline in the performance of the Haj rituals had been impossible if not difficult. We have seen every year before this the number of people crushed to death particularly during the performance of the stone throwing ritual, termed ‘Rami’ in Arabic. It is indeed nice to see the rituals of Tawaf (circumbulating the Kaaba), performing the running in the valley between the Safa and Marwa hillocks and gathering in Mount Arafa in an orderly manner maintaining social distancing. All Praise to Allah.

Be that as it may, at a time when the issue of ‘skin colour’ supremacy has been observed during recent sports events, it is relevant to remember what the Holy Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him) insisted during his last Haj in his last sermon on Mount Arafat that, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”

The equality not only of colour or creed but between people of all stature, whether a king or a subject, rich or poor is demonstrated in the attire worn by all pilgrims of two white pieces of unsewn cloth one wrapped round between the navel and the heel and one upon the shoulders. This is the only attire of a pilgrim whether one is a king or a subject or a rich person or poor. They all have to perform the same rituals to get the benefit of the Haj.

God says in the Qur’an “And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House – for whoever is able to find thereto a way. But whosoever disbelieves – then indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds” (3:97). There is no way that a person who is able to undertake the pilgrimage can pay another person to do it on his behalf however powerful or wealthy he may be. It is an individual duty, thus confirming the equality established in the Haj rituals.

Serious discipline is urged during the performance not only of the Haj but in all matters concerned with Islamic practices. During congregational prayers, it is required to stand shoulder to shoulder and feet with feet from commencement to finish. How then is it possible to maintain social distance in observing the prayer. The principle is derived from the fact that observing the five times daily prayer is obligatory under any circumstance. Whether one stands side by side with another or at a distance does not matter, what is important is that the prayer is performed. Also, whether performed in a congregation or alone, the prayer is a ‘singular’ performance, so is Haj and other rituals. They may be adjusted to conform to existing situations. If that is not the case, how can one’s prayer while seated on a plane be acceptable? Therefore, social distancing during congregational prayers or performing the Haj is not a novelty, it’s need dictated by existing situations.

Haj is one of the pillars upon which Islam is built and is one of the basic foundations upon which Muslims are required to observe the performance of their duties towards Allah. All Muslims who have the means of wealth and good health are required to undertake the journey to Mecca to perform the Haj at least once in their life time. But of course, people with the means to do so undertake the journey many times. In recent times, before COVID struck, it had been estimated that nearly three million Muslims of all ages undertake the pilgrimage. However, since last year restrictions imposed on gatherings meant only a few hundred people were allowed to gather. The limited number of pilgrims are required to follow strict distancing rules and wear the face mask, all supervised by the security forces and other authorities. Thus, instilling strict discipline which as a rule was advised by the Holy Prophet of Islam as follows:

“When you hear that a plague is in a land, do not enter it and if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place,” and in another narration he advised “Do not place a sick patient with a healthy person,”

Thus, the prophet (Peace be on him) taught distancing and other personal hygiene practices and if observed it will prevent, without doubt, the spread of the COVID-19 virus.






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Role of Buddhism in cultivating inter-communal peace and harmony



Buddhism is one religion which has never in its history anywhere in the world engaged in warfare to spread the Dhamma. Its scriptures do not preach violence as a means of conversion of people to Buddhism. World history does not record crusades undertaken for that purpose by Buddhism. This is not to denigrate other religions which have resorted to such means, for one needs to consider the context in which such things had happened before rushing into judgment, but to view everything in the right perspective at the beginning of this discussion.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka is in a position to protect all other religions and whatever cultures those religions may have developed in Sri Lanka, not only because it is the religion of the majority, but also due to its virtues such as religious tolerance, its pervasive compassion, respect for different views and particularly its denunciation of fundamentalism. Buddha in the Brahmajala Sutta (Diga Nikaya) had advised his disciples not to be displeased or generate rancour against anybody who speaks in disparaging language about the Buddha, Dhamma, Sanga.

More important is the Buddha’s opinion on religious fundamentalism. He had preached that one should not have dogmatic attachment to views and ideologies whether they are true or false. Such attachment could lead to the development of an attitude that states; “this view alone is true, all else is falls”. This type of attitude is defined by the Buddha as exclusivism (vide; Dhammasangani) which in religion could lead to religious fundamentalism. Buddha in his famous discourse on the Parable of the Raft says that his Dhamma is not for grasping but for crossing the river of samsara and the raft thereafter must be abandoned (Alagaddupama Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya). Buddha had discouraged religious fundamentalism amongst his disciples for it could lead to conflict and even war. Terrorist violence we experienced recently could have been due to religious fundamentalism.

Buddhism could be the protective religion for other religions not because Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhala Buddhists only. Indeed, it does not. Catholic, Hindu, Muslim religious leaders, have said that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country. To briefly clarify the matter, what one means when one says Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country is that it was Sinhala Buddhists who had built and protected the Sri Lankan civilisation which constitutes a nation. When Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was questioned on this matter he said when one travels by helicopter one could see the ‘Stupa’ and the tanks together, the ‘Weva-dagaba’ concept, everywhere which is the symbol of Buddhist culture side by side. To identify Sri Lanka as Sinhala Buddhist is to make reference and give due recognition to this phenomenon. The good Cardinal had said that everybody in Sri Lanka had grown under the protective culture of Buddhism.

Buddhism could be the catalyst to bring to the surface all the goodness that resides in other religions and discourage evil if any. The Islamic fundamentalists who set off bombs in Catholic and Christian churches may have perhaps referred their scriptures, and disregarding context, focused on the content that recommends violence, and were motivated by it. Buddhist clergy and laity could by word and deed show that non-violence could be a very effective force. They must by their demeanour and action show how emotions could be controlled, and how non-violence work.

Instead if there is violence against fundamentalism as happened in Kalutara and Digana, the fundamentalists will never learn the wretchedness of violence, depravity of killing others and oneself and the importance of living in a Sinhala Buddhist country. They must see and feel the difference in Buddhism and life in a Sinhala Buddhist country. This cannot be achieved by attacking mosques and churches or harassing the minorities. They must feel they belong to Sri Lanka. They must feel that the famous singer late Mohideen Baig was right when he told his son that he will never go hungry as long as he lived among the Sinhalese. They must be made to feel that they belong to Sri Lanka. This is in the hands of the Buddhist clergy and laity.

Other religions on their part must appreciate the benign nature of Buddhism, its precept of non-violence, its ability to foster their religions and allow them to work in peace and harmony. Other religions must make use of these virtues of Buddhism and not abuse them. They must not make unfair and unethical advances, claims, and try to subvert the Buddhist culture that pervades the entire country. Instead it may be prudent to try and subject the cultural aspect of their religions to a process of localization or domestication, for instance in the areas of music, ritual, symbols and architecture. We see this happening in Catholic areas in the Western coast but seldom in the East coast’s Muslim areas. In fact, what we see there is a process of ‘Arabisation’. When we visit Kattankudy we feel as if we have come to the Middle East. This was apparently the experience of MP Prof. Marasinghe recently.

This kind of activity may hurt Buddhist sensitivity. After all Muslims happen to be in the East due to a kind gesture of a Kandyan king. Perhaps this kind of adaptation may be easier for Sinhala Christians as their culture is Sinhala Buddhist for their ancestors belonged to that culture before they were converted, which was often by unethical means and not conviction. Sinhala culture is inherent and visible particularly in the rural Christian folk if not in the urban westernised.

If religious harmony is to prevail unethical proselytizing, conversion without conviction for material benefits, has to be recognized as an evil for everybody. No genuine religious priest would attempt this kind of conversion. Only those who are tools in the hands of a global political power would engage in such unethical work. Stopping unethical conversions would go a long way in achieving religious peace and harmony. Paying lip service to peace while turning a blind eye to these happenings is to court disaster and to strengthen the hands of the extremists and pave the way for violent reaction which has the potential to trigger foreign interference in our internal affairs.

Buddhism seems to be slowly but surely gaining in strength internationally in providing a solution to the problems concerning peace of mind and harmony and control of greed. These changes are happening mainly in Europe and the US. In the US for instance, believers in Buddhism rose by 170 percent during the period from 1900 to 2000. This happened while successive generations moved away from belief in God and associated rituals. The majority comprising 53 percent of believers in Buddhism were white middle class highly educated young Americans and they had converted by conviction, 67 percent of American Buddhists had been raised in a religion other than Buddhism (Pew Foundation Survey, 2015; Russel Heimlich, 2008).

On the other hand the attraction of these groups to Islam and Hinduism is much less. This change had happened despite a concerted effort to prevent it. The main attraction of Buddhism has been its above-mentioned virtues and their final goal of peace achievable via its method of meditation. All this proves the point that Buddhism could play a role in uniting the people under one umbrella. In Sri Lanka it should be done by the priests and laity by word and deed. Whether politics would allow them is a moot point.

N.A. de S. Amaratunga



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Collie Smith – the other ‘Sobers’ that West Indies lost



When I read the article, “Cricket’s greatest is 85 today” by veteran cricket journalist, Rex Clementine of this newspaper on 28th July, I thought of writing the following article about a ‘Great loss’, incurred to Jamaica, West Indies and the world cricket.

The name Collie Smith would be familiar to the majority of cricket fans, fascinated by the history of international cricket of yester years. His full name was O’Neil Gordon “Collie” Smith who was born on 5th May 1935 in Kingston, Jamaica, before he met with an untimely accident and died on 9th September, 1959, in Staffordshire in England.

Following is an account of the accident extracted from the internet.

On September 6, 1959, Collie Smith, Garfield Sobers and Jamaican medium-fast bowler Tom Dewdney, met after their respective Lancashire League games ,and were all set to travel through the night to London to take part in a charity match, the following day. But, fate had different plans. At around 4.45 that morning, Sobers was in the driver’s seat, and it so happened that he was confronted with two dazzling headlights, coming straight towards him, leaving him no time to react. That was all, Sobers says, he could remember about the collision that followed. It was later learnt that the car they were travelling in had run head-on into a 10-ton cattle truck. Once out of the daze, Sobers immediately went to check on Collie, but the latter responded by saying “I’m all right, Maan. Go look after the big boy (Tom).”

Three days later, on September 9, 1959, Collie was declared dead due to a severe damage to his spinal cord. He had lapsed into unconsciousness after the horrific accident, and one of Jamaica’s favourite sons was no more. He was already an accomplished player by then, having scripted terrific centuries against formidable sides, like England and Australia. Sobers, in his autobiography, reckons that Collie would have been among the top players in the world had he not been taken away by that fatal accident. But on that day, the dreams of the Jamaican people and that of Collie’s had indeed come to an abrupt end. 

Following is what Sobers had written about the accident and Collie.

“There should have been four of us making the journey south on that fateful night. We were waiting for Roy Gilchrist, but after an hour or more we gave up and decided to make our way to London without him. Such is the fickle finger of fate. Had we left on time or had we waited for a little longer, who knows what might have happened. But there is no turning the clock back,”

“He was three years older than me and already a very fine cricketer who seemed destined to become even better. He was more than just an accomplished batsman, having scored big 100s against England and Australia. He was also developing into a very good off-spin bowler. I am serious when I say that he had the potential to be a top class all-rounder, probably one of the world’s best.” 

A crowd of 60,000 is believed to have attended Collie’s funeral in Jamaica. That speaks volumes of how popular he was back then. The people believed in his ability. 

His tombstone, in Jamaica’s May Pen cemetery, is engraved with “Keen Cricketer, Unselfish Friend, Worthy Hero, Loyal Disciple and Happy Warrior. A road in Collie’s birthplace is named ‘Collie Smith Drive’ in his memory.

Sobers was found guilty for careless driving and was fined although he pleaded not guilty claiming that he was dazzled by the oncoming headlights.

The following comments found in the internet, are truly interesting.

After the three ‘Ws’ –  Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott – had graced the stage for West Indian cricket, it was perceived that another trio in the form of Sobers, (Joe) Solomon and (Collie) Smith would take the cricketing world by storm. Sadly, the dream was short-lived.

Lalith Fernando


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Ministers at the Olympics “Fiddling while Rome burns”



Olympics opening ceremony in Japan

Thank you for the editorial of 29 July, aptly headlined – “It’s MPs’ Code of Conduct, stupid”! We could also add, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Media Minister and government Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella’s remarks that several Parliamentarians (including himself!) had visited the Olympics where they enjoyed ‘fun and games” with sponsorship from private sector companies, warrants an inquiry by COPE. Such “sponsorship” of Joy Rides by Ministers would be illegal in many countries and is unethical under any circumstances.

Your hard-hitting editorial is summed up in the opening line- “What on earth are our politicians doing at the Tokyo Olympics?” Is the Sports Minister’s presence so essential at the Olympics? And if so why can’t all ministers self-fund this type of visit rather than expecting me and other taxpayers to pay? After all, no Minister is short of cash.

As compared to other countries our Vaccination program has been relatively very good. People in both Indonesia and Thailand are on a waiting list of several months before they can expect even the first Jab! As for the Phillipines,its even worse. This explains why the Sports Minister seems to be claiming kudos , by, as you call it, “monitoring the progress of the Vaccination drive”.

The function of the Sports Ministers of the recent past has not been particularly great- and include as you point out, Olympian Susanthika Jayasinghe, – the “poor lass who had to sprint so fast to escape the randy minister pursuing her.”

Sports Ministers frolicking at the Olympics, in Japan, during both an Economic crisis and Health pandemic at home, reflect their scant regard for the hardships of the public .



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