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Politics as usual no remedy for Islamic extremism

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By Rohana R. Wasala

A heated exchange took place in Parliament a couple of days ago (November 26 or 27) about the so-called Batticaloa Sharia University, between Opposition MP Kavinda Jayawardane of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and Minister of Education Prof. G.L. Peiris MP (SLPP), as reported on Hiru TV. Following is a rough and ready verbatim translation of the dialogue with essential clarifications in parentheses (It is subject to the usual limitations of a translation, though):

 KJ:- 

The Easter (Sunday) attacks killed more than 350 of our Catholic people and left more than  

 500 physically disabled to this day. Terrorist Saharan carried out those attacks. 

 Former (Eastern Provincial) Governor Hizbullah had direct relations with this terrorist. Even  the Chairman of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (on the Easter attacks) said, in relation to this governor, that the legal process initiated concerning this university was unlawful. You, as the then Opposition, said before the presidential election, that this Sharia University will be taken   over by the government.

GL:- 

There’s no final decision on that (subject). We will not let it exist as a private institution. I say   this to the Hon. Member very emphatically.

KJ:-  

This university’s curriculum includes Sharia Law as a course component. Unless it is brought under government control, this country’s innocent children will be taught the Sharia with extremist ideologies.

GL:- 

Before 2015, Hon. Member, there was a clear strategy to handle the problem. We did not  allow the Sharia law to sow dissension, hatred on the pretext of teaching various courses.  After 2015, they (the Yahapalana administration) even let foreign lecturers come into the country without checking on their  past; they were given ‘visa on arrival’ (facility) at the airport. We didn’t do so in our time. The Yahapalana government gave carte blanche to anyone (any Tom, Dick or Harry) to come and teach any course, at  any place, at any time. We are reaping what you sowed.

KJ:-  

Please tell the House whether this government is going to allow the teaching of the Sharia Law in this country or not? 

GL:- 

Sharia or anything else, we’ll see whether it is in conformity with the Constitution. 

We will find out who created this. It is a problem that you passed on to us.

KJ:- 

Don’t try to pass the buck. You are in power now. During the presidential election, you said 

clearly that you will not allow extremism to raise its head; that you will not allow Sharia to 

be taught; that those who caused abortions will be taken to court; that Dr Shihabdeen will 

be hanged. But now you’ve forgotten about Shafi Shihabdeen; you’ve forgotten about 

Sharia; you’ve forgotten about the Batticaloa Campus. In regard to the Easter Sunday 

attacks, officials are being hunted; but the persons who taught the bombers the terrorist 

ideology and induced the terrorist mindset (that drove them) are left alone.

GL:- 

All these things were done to obtain the support of certain extremist groups for achieving narrow ends. That is the truth. It is now that the evil consequences (of those actions) are becoming obvious.

(End of the translation)

First of all, I beg that Professor Peiris and Dr Jayawardane please bear with me for taking the liberty of subjecting your Parliamentary conversation to a kind of dispassionate critical analysis, that, I hope, will contribute what little it may to the emerging trend of constructive, though usually hostile, criticism in the social media directed at the speeches and actions of our MPs both inside and outside the House. Personally, I have great respect for both: the senior one is reaching the summit of an illustrious career as a celebrated legal studies academic and as an experienced parliamentarian; the junior one, professionally a medical practitioner like his late father the then UNP’s  nationalist-leaning Dr Jayalath Jayawardane, is just starting what is invariably going to be a distinguished political career, given the potential he has already shown. No personal disrespect, humiliation, or offence towards either is intended by the following opinion, offered for what it is worth.

MP Jayawardane may be exaggerating things on the spur of the moment when he says that more than 350 Catholics were killed in the EasterSunday bombings (Of course, there’s no gainsaying the fact even one killed is too many) and when he talks about somebody’s alleged past threat to hang someone. Be that as it may, as a concerned Sri Lankan, I found the exchange between the two Honourable Members in the august Assembly very depressing in these critical times. My impression was that both speakers were ignorant of, or indifferent to, the crucial matter they were, somewhat implicitly, arguing about: how to deal with the emerging Islamist threat to Sri Lanka, which is behind the simmering controversies, including the Batticaloa Sharia University issue, Hizbulah’s connection with it, and complaints that Dr Shafi Shihabdeen had performed non-consensual tubal sterilisations on Sinhalese mothers during a flaunted record number of caesarean section operations.

To MP Jayawardane’s question whether the government was going to bring the Batticaloa Sharia University under government control, Minister Peiris assured him that though no decision had been arrived at regarding that, it will not be allowed to exist as a private institution. This could mean that the college will not be allowed to continue at all (which is unlikely) or it will be assigned to the state university system. However, this is part of the unimaginably thorny issue of what to do about the madrasas that have mushroomed around the country. Neither speaker seems to have the faintest idea about the bigger picture. Obviously, Peiris is bluffing and Jayawardane is trying to call his bluff, though both of them are equally ignorant of the real problem.

Jayawardane is asking whether the government is going to allow the teaching of the Sharia Law. Actually, it is a non-question. There is no question of allowing or not allowing the teaching of Sharia for it is an essential part of Islam. The Arabic word sharia means the ‘way’. Google says Sharia ‘is more accurately understood as referring to wide-ranging moral and broad ethical principles drawn from the Quran and the practices and sayings (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad’. In my opinion, it parallels the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism. Of course, the two things are like chalk and cheese or apples and oranges. The issue is whether certain aspects of Sharia law (such as death for blasphemy, apostacy, and amputation for stealing) can be implemented in a democratically governed non-Muslim majority country like Sri Lanka. 

Minister Peiris maintains that, before 2015, extremist Islamic was kept under control, and that the present troubles are the result of the wrong attitude of the Yahapalanaya to the problem. I’m afraid this is not totally true. Rishard, Hakeem, Hizbullah, Salley, etc., pursued their careers in those halcyon days, as ‘powerful allies’ of president Mahinda Rajapaksa while underground Islamic extremist activities were going on, despite the vocal agitations of the monks, which fell on deaf ears. The above-named Muslim politicians cannot be described as terrorists or terrorist backers; but it is quite possible, going by what is being revealed during investigations, that they were abused as a protective phalanx by the Jihadists including suicide bomber Zahran Hashim unbeknown to those popular personages. Unfortunately, it looks like the same thing is happening today, despite the availability of young Muslim leaders, both in parliament and outside, who think out of the box as president Gotabaya Rajapaksa correctly insists on doing. MP Jayawardane, probably unknowingly, forced Minister Peiris to admit what is most likely to be the truth, which applies to politicians of both the main parties/their new manifestations: ‘All these things were done to obtain the support of certain extremist groups for achieving narrow ends. That is the truth. It is now that the evil consequences (of those actions) are becoming obvious.’ 

Trying to please veiled opportunists is no way to tackle the Islamist problem because they, like the few mentally unhinged terrorists, are actually in a really insignificant minority. Such a policy can easily demoralize the educated young Muslim leaders who are braving the few lawless terrorists who may be ruling the roost within the community evading detection under the radar of the security agencies. Jihadist extremists use fear as a weapon. Despite this, increasing numbers of young Muslim women are now publicly speaking up against unwarranted impositions on them regarding their dress, choice of marriage partners, socialization with members of the opposite sex, and so on in the name of religion as decided by a few conservative Muslim males. It is a fact that growing numbers of young Muslims and Tamils of both sexes are establishing close political links with their Sinhalese counterparts. 

Incidentally, the spat between state minister of wildlife protection Wimalaweera Dissanayake, SLFP MP, and some officials of the wildlife department, no doubt, brought an unpleasant sense of deja vu to most of us who were familiar with the escapades of a now discredited and defeated former MP from Kelaniya. Whatever the truth at the centre of the episode, Dissanayake clearly failed to behave as he should have. There appears to be some nefarious activity indulged in by some crooks in that locality who may have won the misplaced confidence of the deputy minister. This impression was reinforced by some well-known young activist monks who symbolically pulled down an unauthorised shed built to shelter cows in the forest reserve; the monks complained that criminal elements were continuing their activities in that place rich with ancient archaeological remains in spite of the relevant authorities having been warned about the matter before. Adding insult to injury, MP Roshan Ranasinghe of the SLFP has also castigated the wildlife officers.  This cannot be approved of either. There may be a few of them who are guilty of various offences, but indiscriminately condemning government functionaries is a bad thing. We know how dedicatedly our doctors, nurses, police and army officers execute their duties in trying to control the Covid-19 pandemic situation; they are doing that in the name of the country, most of them inspired by the example of the new president, expecting no public plaudits unlike most politicians. Had Gotabaya not been there, some of these politicians would not have been elected to parliament. They are obstructing the president’s action plan. It is clearly a crime for a politician to demoralize even a single dutiful public servant.    

The Parliament or the House of Representatives is traditionally described as ‘august’ and the elected members who meet there to legislate as honourable. These are formal words that are ceremonially used, but they are not devoid of serious meaning. The augustness of the Parliament as the supreme legislature of the country and the honourableness of the Members of Parliament as the elected legislators are inviolable, though the persons who man the institution from time to time may or may not be really worthy of those epithet Honourable. ‘August’ in this context means dignified, distinguished, imposing, stately, solemn, etc; the opposite qualities include frivolous, silly, undignified, and so on. ‘Honourable’ has the sense of bringing or deserving respect, honest, moral, ethical, principled, righteous, etc.  Antonyms of the word are dishonourable, despicable, crooked, deplorable, and similar negatives. Having said this, I would like to finally add that it is a reason for consolation for us that our MPs do preserve their personal dignity and the solemness of the institution that they man up, with a few exceptions, that too, under pressure of circumstances. Occasional unparliamentary behaviour among members is what prevails in most democracies around the world, and it is due to fallible human nature.

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Opinion

Farce in Galle

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Kusal Mendis picked up a fourth consecutive duck in the first Test against England in Galle on Thursday

In these troubled times of COVID-19, many being house bound, it is no wonder that many watch any sport on TV. Hence the insults that come from diverse quarters for underperforming teams is more than the usual. This morning at our bridge club many have rubbed our noses for the mighty incompetence shown by the Lankan cricketers. I am not a cricket writer but I am an avid spectator and, moreover, as a non-resident Sri Lankan, who gets a momentary kick out of anything that makes Sri Lanka proud.

Why do we waste dollars on foreign coaches when all they deliver is what is currently on display? Our own past cricketers, who will be equal if not better, than the foreign instructors, can surely earn that money.

My second query is why we keep selecting those who fail consistently. Surely without propping up the losers there is no genuine reason to tolerate cavalier play without penalty because the catchment field for players is so great in the country. The lack of motivation to be competitive to perform may be their preoccupation with the lure of money and not the image of the country that you represent. Wonder whether some players have capped their motivation at the level of a Range Rover. If so they should be considerate enough to allow better talent to come in.

Third, if there is pressure as before by the corrupt and the powerful in the selection process then God help Sri Lankan cricket.

Finally, why are we nonchalantly set on this slippery road when Sri Lanka has earned the respect of cricket lovers all over the world? No wonder Mike Vaughan tweeted that, ‘those 46 overs were the most farcical and Nasser Hussein joined in to say, it was abysmal and pathetic. Why Sri Lanka is allowed to play such poorly, as an international test team, was debated at our bridge club. Australian cricket loving folk were suggesting penalties for poor play at the international level must be brought in. Surely it is reasonable, for spectators need to pocket out in rupee terms about 25000 per day, per couple if we go to the stadium.

 

Dr. D. Chandraratna,

Perth

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Opinion

Govt. selling political decision as scientific!

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At time of a pandemic, the issue of creamation or burial is neither religious nor political, but scientific. 

This is in response to the opinion expressed by Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe in The Island of 13 January, on the burial issue.

The writer argues that the issue of cremation, or burial, should not be decided by politics or by religion. In other words, he says it should be decided by science. I do agree with him and add it should be decided by empirical research findings of experts and scientists. Muslims believe that a corpse of a Muslim should be buried, but at a time of a pandemic for them science prevails over their religious beliefs, and they abide by scientific decision. Justice Minister Ali Sabry very clearly and repeatedly said in Parliament. He said, if it was scientifically established that burial would harm the living, he could have never raised the burial issue.

Now the question is whether the decision of the government not to bury the COVID-19-infected bodies is scientific or non scientific. This is the crust of the issue here. The writer’s argument is that the Muslim community is refusing to abide by a scientific decision taken by the government. First of all, is the decision taken by the government scientific?

The writer is a senior don and is very familiar with research works. In research works, credibility of the authors cited counts a lot, and if you cite geologists in a study of virology it will not be accepted at all. For instance, on the burial issue, who will the writer listen to? Virology scientist Prof. Malik Peiris or Geology Prof. Meththika Vidanake? WHO or Health Ministry? A Committee of virologists, microbiologists and immunogists, or a committee of judicial medical officers, general physicians, geologists and one or two microbiologists?, Scientist Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana or Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi? College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka or Minister Keheliya Rambukwella…?

Further, the writer, in his introduction, says, “…the honour of death does not depend on the manner in which the funeral is performed.” This is his personal view, not a universal truth. Yet, I would draw his attention to what William E. Gladstone said on funeral rites, “Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”

I think it is also appropriate to mention the rulings of Bombay High Court of India on burial of COVID-19-infected corpses. While rejecting the petition against burial, Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice SS. Shinde ruled that there was no scientific proof to support the apprehension of the petitioners that novel coronavirus could spread through cadavers, and the right to a decent burial was equal with the right to life guaranteed under the Indian constitution and the court also held the petitioners were rather insensitive to the feelings of others.

The statement of the writer “If the cremation is forbidden by God’s order, what needs to be done, at this moment, is not to change the common law of the country, but to ask for God’s permission,” is childish and makes no sense to me.

The writer considerably quote from the Holy Quran on the burial issue. They are insignificant and irrelevant. 1.8b Muslims living all over the world consider burial an important aspect of their funeral rites. A non Muslim trying to quote from the Holy Quran to convince 1.8b followers to the opposite is futile attempt. Therefore, I leave this part of his argument unanswered

Finally, I would like to say, at a time of pandemic, cremation or burial is not an issue of politics or beliefs but of science as the writer says. But the government is trying to sell a political decision as scientific decision, and it is a pity a senior university don is unable to understand it, let alone the laymen. 

 

M. A. Kaleel 

(The writer is a Retired Senior Class One Officer of a Sri Lanka Executive Service.)

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Opinion

Cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims: 

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The path not taken

The rule that all Covid-19-infected patients, who succumb to the virus, must be cremated was introduced by the GOSL on the 11th of April 2020.

 

The Path Taken

The response of the Muslim community which was traumatized by this new rule had the following timeline:

Initially, pressure was brought  to bear on the Authorities by way of protests, petitions and appeals for the revocation of this order. The Authorities remained unmoved.

Then, attempts were made to circumvent the law, by sick Muslims, not seeking medical assistance in the hope that should they expire, they could then be buried, in accordance with the usual practice. The Authorities responded by introducing a new condition that all deaths, at home, must undergo PCR tests and, if necessary, a post-mortem examination to determine the exact cause of death. This meant that the burial of non-Covid Muslim deaths was delayed by over 24 hours.

Next, the Muslims began advocating a civil disobedience campaign aimed at non-compliance with the stipulated law. The families of Muslims were encouraged not to participate in the process of cremation of their Covid-infected dead by formally identifying and ‘accepting’ such bodies or accepting the ashes. This was attributed to the high costs involved and resulted in the cadavers of dead Muslims rotting away in morgues and ice-rooms for weeks/months. By actively encouraging this act of civil disobedience, the Muslims had deliberately shown the middle finger at Hadith No 401, Vol 2, Book 23 (Sahih Al-Bukhari), which urges Muslims to “Hasten the funeral rites”. So much for the pseudo-piety of such Muslims!

This phase of the Muslim-action also saw the sudden awakening of International Organizations and Foreign Health Professionals to the cremation issue in Sri Lanka – more than six months after the introduction of this new rule. They added their voices to the anti-cremation agitation in Sri Lanka. What is puzzling is the relatively long duration of time (nearly eight months) it took for some of these ‘World-renowned’ qualified personalities to offer their expert opinion on this matter.

A ‘White-Ribbon’ campaign was started through social media which fizzled out after a brief moment in time, but not before providing an opportunity for some members of the Ulema to enjoy their five minutes of fame on social media.

This phase also saw a change of heart amongst a group of minority non-Muslim politicians. These persons who remained unmoved and indifferent to the plight of Muslims being unceremoniously ejected from Jaffna and to the slaughter of 140 Muslims at prayer in a Mosque in Kattankudy, suddenly experienced a major softening of their hearts at the thought of Muslims being cremated. 

After the receipt of two reports by Committees appointed by the Ministry of Health, the Authorities decided in early January 2021 that all Covid-related deaths will continue to be cremated in the best interests of the Country.

Finally, after over nine months had elapsed since the issuance of the cremation order, realization began to sink into the ossified minds of the Muslims. This is best summed up by the recent words of a well-known Muslim activist cum social commentator: “There is no doubt in my mind now that this whole cremation denial is a ploy to radicalize our youth and get them to do something rash. The slightest provocation from Muslims will trigger a mass riot which will destroy the Muslim economy, livelihood, wealth and property. Please talk to your children, the youth around and peers not to fall for their ploy.”

So, it took around nine months for the Muslims to realize that they should avoid creating the “slightest provocation” (Fitna) in response to the cremation order from the Authorities. If only they had chosen instead to heed the advice of the Holy Prophet that Muslims should at all times settle their problems through Consultation (shura) and Consensus (ijma) rather than adopting an aggressive and confrontational stance.

 

The path that should have been taken

The secular leaders of the Muslim community and the Scholars (Ulema) failed their members miserably at a crucial moment in time when the situation called for clear, cool-headed, objective reasoning and analyses  of ground facts rather than being influenced by emotion and religious sentiment. These leaders/scholars should have focussed all their energies towards calming and reassuring the shocked and traumatized members of their community. 

Upon the issuance of the cremation order, the Muslim community should have immediately been advised that according to the Quran and Hadith, it is NOT A SIN for a Muslim to be cremated UNDER COMPULSION. ‘Al-Darurat Tubih Al-Mahzurat’ is a legal maxim in Islamic Jurisprudence that translates as ‘Necessities Overrule Prohibitions’ and that allows a Muslim in extreme circumstances to do something that would normally be haram (forbidden) to save his own or another’s life. This fact should have been extensively publicized through media and sermons and impressed upon the Muslim masses.

Permission should have been obtained from the Authorities for Muslim families to recite prayers as close as possible to the crematorium when a Muslim  was being cremated. – even if it just outside the boundary walls of the crematorium. The cathartic effects of prayers would have contributed immensely towards providing solace and consolation to the family and thereby ameliorated their trauma.

Muslims should have been urged to direct their Zakath (obligatory charity)  to a common fund to assist those families who are unable to meet the costs associated with the cremation process. This would have served to enhance the spirit of brotherhood amongst the Muslims with the ‘Haves’ assisting the ‘Have-nots’ at a moment of crisis within the community.

All Covid-infected Muslims who were cremated after death should have been conferred the status of ‘Shaheed’  or ‘Martyr’, based on the Hadith  “He who dies of plague is a martyr” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, No. 5733). The elevation of their late family member to such a spiritual level would have served to lessen the trauma of cremation.

All the Muslim Cemeteries should have been ordered to allocate a special area for the burial of Muslim ashes. These burial plots should have had permanent markers and headstones (meezans), should not be re-used and be given the same social status as the Muslim War Graves at the Jawatte Muslim Cemetery. This would have served to remind Muslims now and in the future that at a time when our Motherland was facing a national crisis of immense proportions, there were Muslims who were compelled by circumstances to sacrifice their obligations to Islam.

These measures would have gone a long way towards easing the pain and trauma experienced by Muslim families who had a Member cremated due to Covid.

And in the meantime, the Muslim community should have conducted discussions with the relevant Authorities to have the cremation order revoked without any publicity by presenting the views and opinions of qualified Health Professionals on this subject. The Muslims failed to realize the fact that their confrontational approach to bring pressure to bear on the Authorities by getting various International organizations to issue statements decrying the decision to cremate may only serve to harden the stand of the Authorities. 

 

Bisthan Batcha

 

 

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