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Sri Lanka: Damaging Buddha Statues --- Some Reflections


by A patriotic Lankan





A few days ago, this unfortunate incident took place in Mawanella. The entire Sri Lankan Muslim community has already condemned this incident. This is an isolated incident. It is very sad to see some extremists try to generalise this incident as if the entire Muslim community is responsible for damaging this statue. Making any generalization on this issue is wrong. Whoever has done this must be punished in accordance with the law of land. Islam does not permit any one to hurt religious sentiment of any community. We should not be judgemental on this issue. Let the Sri Lankan Police and intelligence service investigate it thoroughly and find the culprits on this case. We, the Muslim community in Sri Lanka must corporate with police and intelligence service to find the people who did this barbaric act. It is in the greater interest of Muslim community to identify any extremist group that operates in Sri Lanka. Broadly speaking Sri Lankan Muslim community is matured enough to know the dangers of religious extremism. Religious extremism has done a greater damage to many Muslim countries. There is no doubt that this form of religious extremism comes from Wahabi theological and dogmatic doctrines.





                
 Unfortunately, neither Sri Lankan
intelligence service nor Sri Lankan police service can detect or identify this
type of Muslim extremism. They can not open the minds and hearts of Muslim
youths to know who extremists are and who aren’t. Because, faith is something
to do with human minds and human hearts. The phenomenon of extremism is very
much subtle issue. Today, thousands of Muslim youths have been radicalised with
Wahhabism and Salafism all over the world. Sri Lankan Muslim youths too have
been exposed to this international socio-religious phenomenon.  We are living in this virtual world of social
network and mass communication so, youths can be easily brain washed,
indoctrinated and misguided. So, it is a duty of Sri Lankan Muslim community
and Sri Lankan government to protect these Muslim youths from becoming victims
of this religious extremism.





                Recently,
President Donald Trump said that it was the former President Barak Obama who
created ISIS. It is an open secret now that ISIS is a creation of US political
establishment for its geopolitical needs. Unfortunately, the creation of ISIS
brought utter destruction and disaster for the Muslim world. Muslim youths have
been brain washed to fight for them in Muslim countries. Unfortunately, many
Muslim youth around the world become victims of this dirty trick. This shows
how wrong foreign policies of some western countries affect innocent youths
around the world. This is a dirty trick. They made Afghani boys to fight
Russian forces for their geopolitics. As a result of this, thousands of Afghani
youths did in 30 years wars in Afghanistan. They are still dying. Even some
youths from our country too tapped in this dirty political game.





                       I feel that these 5
youths are innocent boys in their 20s and they have been wrongly brain washed
with extreme ideologies. This is not to justify what they have done. This is
not to support their action. What they have done is wrong. There is no doubt
about it. Even many Afghani clerics and educated people think what Taliban did
for Bamiyan statue is utterly wrong. They feel guilty for what their countrymen
did for this historical monument. They feel that Afghanistan lost one of its historical
treasures. They argue that Egypt, Morocco, Palestine and many other countries
are earning a large percentage of their revenues from tourists who visit them
annually. Afghanistan could have developed this historical area of Bamiyan
statue to attract millions of Buddhist tourists from Asian countries and yet,
radical Taliban did not see it in that way. This tells us how radicalism could
destroy prosperity of any nation.





                  
Saudi government has now realised the danger of Salafism and Wahhabism.
It has decided to destroy books that are written by Muslim radicals. It is not
in the interest of Saudi government and Saudi people to support any form of
religious extremism. A wrong religious extremism has already damaged Saudi
economy. Saudi has a golden opportunity to develop its tourism industries. How
many holy sites are in Saudi Arabia now? We have had hundreds of historical
places in Saudi Arabia.  Due to wrong
Wahhabi and Salafi ideological influence, Saudi government has destroyed many
historical places. It is said many historical places in Makkah and Media have
been destroyed. Graves and houses of many companions have been destroyed by
Saudi government. Why do they do it. because, they are under influence of
puritan Wahhabism and Salafism.  Saudi
had a golden opportunity to protect these sites and build its tourism sector.
But it has failed to do it. 1.5 billion Muslims may have been encouraged to
visit these places many times.  





                
It is a duty and responsibility of Saudi government to stop exporting a radical
form of Islam to the world.  Thousands of
Muslim students come to Saudi each year from different parts of the world. It
is reported that more than 300 Sri Lankan Muslim students are studying in Saudi
Arabia right now. These students must be educated in moderate form of
Islam.  They must not be brain washed and
indoctrinated with Wahhabism and Salafism to preach a radical form of Islam in
Sri Lankan soil. It is high time now that Sri Lankan government too guide those
students on this matter. I do not say we should not send them to any country
for education. It is a basic human right of each Sri Lankan student. It is good
for Sri Lankan economy that we have more educated people in Sri Lanka. Today,
Arabic language skills is an assert for Sri Lankan tourism industries. Yet,
these students must not become victims of religious extremism. It is a duty of
Sri Lankan higher education ministry to pay attention to these issues. 





          
Moreover, Sri Lankan education ministry must start teaching comparative
religious studies in Sri Lankan schools. US, UK and many western countries have
incorporated a comparative religious education in their national curriculum for
schools. Yet, we do not have such a system. What do Muslim children know about
Buddhism? Nothing but pictures of Buddhist temples. What do Sinhalese children
know about Islam? Nothing but pictures of Muslim mosques. Likewise, what do
Hindu or Christian children know about other religions? Nothing but all about
symbols of other religions. Sri Lankan communities have been living in
water-tight compartment. In this modern world of globalization and social
networks. Children learn quicker than parents and their teachers. If we do not
teach them right things in our schools, they will learn wrong things from
internets and social net works so, they must be educated about different
cultures.





                 There is no point in merely blaming these
young youths for damaging these statues. Our education system has failed on
them. Education in Sri Lanka does not have any mechanism to educate our
children on comparative religious studies.  We must examine what made them to do this? Why
did they do it? what is the role of our school education in creating peace and
social harmony in a multicultural society? I think it is high time to amend Sri
Lankan religious studies.





           Sri
Lanka is a Buddhist country. There is no second thought about it. it is a
reality.  More than 75% of its population
are Buddhists and yet, the rest 25% population share diffident faith and
cultures.so, children of other faith must know religious sensitiveness of the
majority. So, there must be some educational mechanisms to educate children on
other people’s faith and cultures. It does not mean we are going to convert
children from one religion into another. All what we say is children must be
educated in all faith to understand each other’s religious sentiments and
culture. Yes, it is a common sense to know all about this and yet, now children
are brain washed with different ideologies through social networks and mass
media. So, it is a duty of Sri Lankan education ministry to incorporate a new
syllabus in religious education. So that next generations will learn to respect
one another in religious matters. I hope that this message reaches out to
Ministry of Education to make some amendment in RE syllabus in Sri Lanka. More
importantly, policy makers in NIE should think about this issue seriously.





          Finally, I would like to say here that
some Muslim organizations have rushed to give some hasty religious verdicts on
this issue. They have pleaded law enforcement agents to give these youths
severe punishment in accordance with the law of land. This is a judgemental statement
and they have indeed, passed a verdict before judges examine this case. These
youths are innocent until they are found guilty by court. These so-called
Muslim organizations have no right to intimidate the families of these Muslim
youths or shout at them. Sri Lanka is a democratic country with one of best
judiciaries in Asia, and let the judges do their job. I’m sure that they will
treat this case impartially considering all emotional, psychological,
political, legal and religious implications of this case. Sri Lankan judges are
clear enough to know political and legal stratagem of so-called radicalism, and
extremism.





             It is entirely for judges to study this case
and its circumstantial causes. Why these Muslim organizations come into hasty
conclusions? Why do they create fear in minds of Muslim community? I was told
that police officials who are enquiring this case are shocked to see how these
youths are radicalised in this manner. They felt sympathy and empathy for these
youths and their families. If Sri Lankan police show sympathy and empathy upon
these youths why Muslim organizations do not read this case objectively. We all
know that social networks do a lot of brain washing these days.  We all know how books written by some radicals
have done greater damage to minds and hearts of Muslim youths? So, we should
take all into consideration in this case before we pass on hasty judgement on
this case.





    I strongly
condemn this and yet, equally I ask these questions too. How Muslim mosques
have been ransacked by Buddhist extremists in the past? How many times Almighty
Allah has been mocked by some Buddhist extremists? How many copies of holy
Qur’an were destroyed by these extremists in many Muslim mosques? How many
Buddhist organizations spoke about these injustices and aggressions? As equal
citizens of Sri Lanka we too have rights to ask these questions. Until now all
those who inflicted harm and damage to Muslim properties have not been
punished. Why this discrimination and double standard in application of law in
this land. This is, indeed, a prejudice and a clear cut racial and religious
discrimination. Why media hype on this case but not in any previous cases of
racial attacks. We can not have one type of justice for the majority community
and another type for minority community. We must have unconditional justice to
all. Justice is equal to all. Wrong is wrong even if it is done mighty people
or weak people. Sri Lankan judiciary has had a long tradition of maintaining
the rule of law and justice equally to all and yet, recently some political
influence has damaged this tradition.





             Yet, I request judiciary to
investigate this incident thoroughly so that they would know how did these
youths are brain washed? Who thought them radical ideas? What made them to act
like this violently. This is a unique case in Sri Lankan history. When Kandyan
kings gave shelter to feeling Muslims from Portuguese onslaught they would not
have thought Muslim children would do something like this. This is an unforgettable
historical mistake. Islamic teaching will never accept such a behaviour. In one
thousand years of Sri Lankan Muslim history no Muslim dared to do such a nasty
thing in the past. Yet, I firmly believe that these youths might have been
radicalised with bad ideology. This group has become like a religious cult. We
do not need to generalise this issue. These youths may need medical help. They
may need some psychological therapy, advice and guidance. They must be
rehabilitated and educated on moderation in Islam.





             They may have been emotionally overwhelmed when they did this. They have done this early morning at 3am. No sound person will wake up in that morning to do this. In short, I think this is an exceptional incident and these youths have been motivated with some extra religious zeal and emotion. So, we should not generalise. This is a wake-up call for the Muslim community to rethink about their religious education.  It is a wake-up call for the Muslim parents to take care of their teenage boys. It is a wake-up call for Sri Lankan government to redesign its religious education syllabus. It is a wake-up call for NIE officials to come up with some broader religious education policies in Sri Lanka. Let us take some good lessons from this bad incident and make sure we avoid such an unwanted thing in the future. May peace and harmony prevail in Sri Lanka.


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