| by Dr Rifai Naleemi
( February 23, London,m Sri Lanka Guardian) This is a short review to the launching ceremony of the Holy Quran translation in Sinhalese language at BMICH last week in Srilanka. This historical event was graced by large numbers of dignitaries and delegates from Muslim and Singhalese communities. Prime minster D. B Jayaratne was a chief guest at this ceremony. Professor Jayantha Seneviratne, department of social science at Kelaniya University and Dr M.A.M Shukri were main speakers at this ceremony. This translation project was lead and guided by A.LM Ibrahim, former Lecturer at University of Peradeniya and presently director Tanweer Academy and Aisha Siddiqa College, Mawenalla. Inter Religious Cooperation Association chairman Ven Dr Pallakende Rathanasara Thera and some Singhalese and Muslim politicians also participated in this historical occasion.
Launching of Singhalese translation of the Holy Quran at BMICH is an historical event In Srilanka Muslim history. We have been living in this beautiful Island for more than 1400 years and yet this is the first time Srilanka Muslim community introduces their divine Holy book to Singhalese community in their own native language. A large percentage of Singhalese people know about religion of Islam through their interaction with Muslim community in Srilanka and Abroad. Sometimes they may have learned about Islam though mass media not in its pristine form. Sometimes they may have heard about Islam through Muslim friends who do not really practice Islam at all in their life and a few of them may have read the Holy Quran at some points. Even if they have read it they may have read it in in English language translation. This is the first time in Srilankan History that Singhalese community is blessed with Singhalese translation of Holy Quran in their own native language. Reading a book in a secondary language is not same like reading in a mother tongue. In this sense, I think that Singhalese people will benefit a lot from this translation. They could themselves read what Almighty Allah has revealed to the beloved prophet Mohamed in His final Revelation. They could not directly read divine words enshrined in the Holy Quran in their native language. Moreover, lots of Muslim children continue their higher education in colleges and universities in Singhalese medium. I think that they could immensely benefits from this translation work.
The Holy Quran has been preserved letters by letters; words by words and sentences by sentences by divine Will. All Mighty Allah says that “We have indeed, revealed the reminder (Quran) and we shall be its preservers”. No book has been preserved in its pristine form as the Holy Quran has been preserved and no single letter has been altered or changed since its revelation. It has been preserved by two ways. It has been transmitted and preserved by oral transmission by millions of Quran memorizers in Islamic history and it has also been preserved by mean of written documentation. No book gets such means of protection in the world as this Holy book gets. Millions of children have memorized this Holy Quran and still are memorizing this Quran daily though they may not know the meaning of what they read. It is miraculous that children at age of 7 or 8 are able memorize entre Holy Quran within two to three years’ time.
Singhalese community now have opportunities to read the final message of Islam enshrined in the Holy Quran rather than asking someone or looking at some Muslims to know about Islam. it would be more viable and appropriate to read the message of Islam through its fountain and primary sources. Some dedicated Muslim scholars and intellectuals have spent many years in translating the Holy Quran into Singhalese language. The Holy Quran is divine communication with humanity. Though it was initially revealed to Prophet Muhammad it message is a universal message. Each and every human being could feel that Holy Quran addresses to him or her directly. If anyone from Singhalese community reads it with purity of heart and mind away from all sorts of prejudice he or she definitely can benefit from it and indeed, can get guidance for his or her problems. He or she could feel that Almighty Allah directly speaks to him or her in this holy book. He/she would not feel that this Holy book was revealed to solve the problems of Arabs alone fourteen hundred years ago rather he/ she will feel that this book addresses humanity at large and its message is a universal message.
By launching this Holy Quran translation Srilanka Muslim community has fulfilled one of its collective obligations in this Island. Historically speaking Srilanka Muslim community and Singhalese community have been living side by side in peace and harmony for centuries. Muslim interaction with Singhalese community is a unique historical fact and most of Muslim villages and towns are geographically encircled and surrounded by Singhalese community. Muslim community in Srilanka interacts with Singhalese people very closely than any other communities. We have a history of more than one thousand year of communal harmony and co-existence in Srilanka. Muslims have immensely contributed for the socio-economic development and security of this Island for many centuries. This communal interaction is so unique in that thousands of Muslim people interact with millions of Singhalese people daily in markets, streets, modes of transports, factories, government departments, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities and in other places.
Most of Muslim people in Srilanka fluently speak Singhalese language and more than 40% of Muslim students in down South study in Singhalese medium instruction. Most of Muslim traders engage in business activities with Singhalese people daily and some Muslim retailers travel village to village in Singhalese regions for their daily business activities. Singhalese builders, carpenters, farmers, officials and other business people travel to Muslim villages for their daily works and business. Moreover, Muslims people in Srilanka have some intercultural interaction with Singhalese and Tamil communities. For instance, in our food all three communities share same staple food and share some common traditions and customs. Though we Srilanka communities share some common values, customs and traditions between us it is an irony that each community in Srilanka has been living in water-tight compartments for many centuries without knowing each other’s way of life, culture and faith.
To be honest most of Buddhist people do not know what main teachings and practices Islam are and what exactly Muslim people believe in and they may have seen and passed by hundreds of mosques in Srilanka yet, most of them do have any clue how exactly Muslims perform their religious rites. Same applies to Muslim community in Srilanka most of them have no clue whatsoever what exactly Buddhist religious philosophies and rituals are and likewise, Hindu community has been living side by side with Muslim community in Srilanka as well for centuries yet they too do not know what exactly Islam stands for and how Muslim people perform their religious residuals and rites. Prof Jayantha Senevirate of Kelaniya University rightly pointed this point in his speech on this occasion of launching the Quran Translation in Singhalese language “Several ethnic groups have been living in the country for years, but they have not aware about others religions and cultural affairs”. It is high time to open up learning process of other people ways of life, cultures, religion and traditions. This is not to make communal hatred and resentments rather to make people know and appreciate other people’s way of life and this should in return enhance tolerance and communal harmony between different groups of totally different religious ideologies.
It is imperative that each community understands and appreciates other community’s traditions, customs and way of life. In our modern world of information technology people of different culture, religions, ethnicities, languages, colours and nationalities come closer than ever before. Some schools in western world make it mandatory that children should learn at least six different religions not to indoctrinate children into other people’s religious faith and practice rather to make them understand different religious belief systems and practices so that in this global village of modern world every one could live in peace and harmony. Understanding other religious faith and practices is different from believing in them and practicing them. People would not appreciate and respect other people culture, religious practice unless they understand them and know what other people exactly believe in and practice. Educationalists and policy makers should consider how to incorporate comparative religious education in our schools and universities. We have separate departments for the study of different religions in our universities in Srilanka yet we do not have any department for comparative religious studies in Srilanka. This is despite of the fact that four major world religions are practiced in Srilanka: Namely Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Today, interfaith dialogues and discussions are taking place every day in every part of world and it is not to compel people into other people religions rather it is to enhance mutual understanding between people of different faiths and cultures. Of course, religious conversation is a contentious and sensitive subject in Srilankan context. We are discussing here about religious tolerance and mutual understating between different religious groups and hence we vehemently reject all sort of forceful indoctrination into any faith and Islam does not approve such indoctrination at all.
As we have noted earlier we closely interact with other communities in Srilanka. Muslim people meet Singhalese and Tamil people daily in all walks of life. We live like next door neighborours. We invite them to our wedding parties and we share with them our food. We make for them special Muslim food and sweet items such as Biryani and wattalapam. We give them gifts in special occasions such as birthday and wedding parties. We rent them out our rooms and houses. We employ them in our business places yet we have been reluctant to tell them the peaceful divine message of Islam. Most of us do not have good habits of presenting a copy of Holy Quran to our Non-Muslim brothers in humanity. Though Holy Quran was translated into Tamil some decades ago and we have never introduced Tamil community into divine message of this Holy Quran.
It is moral duty of each and every Srilanka Muslim people to reach out other people with the message of Islam in a peaceful and comprehensive way before other community get to know distorted form of Islam through newspapers and mass media. To be honest if we ask Non-Muslim brothers in Srilanka what do you know about Islam? If we ask them some basic questions about Islam most of them would not be able to reply. It is not their faults and mistakes rather it is our faults and irresponsibility that we have greatly failed to convey them some basic message of Islam. All what they know about Islam today is that Muslims are terrorists, Muslim are extremists, Muslims kill each other, Muslims chop hands of thieves, Muslims beheads murders, Muslims kill cows in festival times, Muslim ladies do not go to work … likewise similar issues will come up.. These are same of issues that Non- Muslim brothers have come to know about Islam and Muslims though mass media and newspapers today. We have greatly failed to convey true meaning and inner dimensions of Islam to Non-Muslims in today’s world.
Most beautiful principles, fundamental teachings and doctrines of Islam are grossly misunderstood today by Non-Muslims. Scientific and simplistic aspects of Islamic theologies, beautiful Islamic way of life, comprehensive world view of Islam, compassionate social justice system of Islam, universal brotherhood and equality of Islamic teachings, dynamic economic system of Islam and great contributions of Muslims to human civilizations are today wrongly understood or grossly misunderstood today by Millions of Non-Muslim brothers in humanity . Dr Shukri in his key note speech so precisely articulated the fundamental principles and doctrines of Islamic teachings with his thought provoking presentation. His speech was indeed a precise introductory presentation to Islam in historical, sociological, theological perspectives. He covered most fundamental teachings of Islam concisely in his short speech. His speech should have made a great impression in the hearts and minds of Non-Muslims that Islam is indeed a beautiful religion that promotes peace and harmony and yet some aspects of Islamic teachings are hijacked by some extremists and equally misunderstood by Non-Muslims as well.
It is high time that at least intellectuals and high raking clerics from both sides should engage in interfaith dialogues and discussions so that all communities could come close than before and so that we all could enhance mutual understanding between our communities. I know well discussion on religious matters is very much sensitive issue in our traditional societies unlike western liberal societies yet, constructive dialogues and academic discussions shall bring communities closer than before. We all should engage in such discussion with open minds without any prejudice or conspiracy theories behind us. After all, humanity is one and our universal brotherhood should unite us to help and support common good causes that promote universal human values and goodness.
I’m very much pleased to note that launching ceremony of Singhalese translation of Holy Quran was graced by some leading scholars, clerics and politicians in Srilanka. Prime minister and Buddhaasana & Religious affair minster D.M Jayaratne, Inter-Religious-Cooperation Association’s Chairman, Ven. Dr Pallakende Rathanasara Thera and some other leading intellectuals graced this occasion. This projected was initiated and guided by Moulavi Ibrahim former Lecturer in Islamic studies at University of Peradeniya and director of Tanweer academy in Thihariya. Undoubtedly this translation project is one of the monumental achievements in Srilankan Muslim history and this day is an historical day for the entire Srilankan Muslim community and no doubt that people who are engaged in this project will be rewarded immensely in the day of judgment and this same Quran will be interceding for all these people in that day that when no one could intercede in front of Almighty Allah.
What a graceful and noble task is this? May Allah accept this brilliant work? This one project alone may be worthy of more than thousands of optional prayers and devotion we make in our lifetime. Of course, establishment of Tanweer academy is one more millstone in Sirlankan Muslim history and yet it will take sometimes that Muslim and Singhalese community to benefit from the product s of this academy. Yet, with this Quran translation project every Non-Muslim Singhalese people could benefit if anyone of them wishes or want to read it and understand its meanings. I hope and Pray that Tanweer academy will produce some excellent Islamic scholars who could translate some of primary source materials of Islam into Singhalese languages and it is unfortunate that we Muslims have failed to translate some primary materials of Islam into Singhalese language though we have been living in this Island for centuries. Indeed, we all should have this guilty feeling that we have failed in this religious duty and I pray that graduates of Tanweer academy will inshallalah accomplish some of these primary religious duties.
When we are dealing with inter-faith dialogues and discussions with other religious communities we Muslims should have a clear understanding of the concept of pluralistic society in Quran. Does Quran accommodate pluralistic society? Or in other word, does Islam accommodate difference of religions? Although, Holy Quran declares the oneness of divine message and it calls people to obey One and Only God, it never, ever compel and force people to believe in this truth and thus, Quran gives religious freedom to choose the way of life everyone likes. Quran openly declares that “There is no compulsion in Religion” According to shiekh Ghannushi Iman is all about freedom of choice to believe and this verse has given full religious freedom. The Quran clearly acknowledges that unifying all human beings around this truth is impossible task and it is not what God intended. The Quran says “If it has been your God’s will, he verily would have made mankind one nation, yet, they continue to differing except him whom your Lord has mercy and for that He did create them. 11; 118/119/ Moreover, Allah says “People will have different religion and ways. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one community: 5: 48 in one more place Allah tells the prophet that most people will not believe “even if you are eager that they should” 12: 103.
Thus, people will differ one another until the Day of Judgment in the matters of religion, therefore, Islam in dealing with other religious people emphasizes on the importance of mutual understanding, tolerance and compassion. Moreover, the duty of the prophet was not to force or compel people into religion rather it was his duty to teach them and warn them and it is Allah Almighty who guide people and judge people on the Day of Judgment according their intention and faith. This prophetic approach is most appropriate and viable approach for us as Srilankan Muslims. We all live as minority among majority non-Muslim communities. Our methodology in reaching out with the message of Islam should be that of our prophetic approach and method. Allah instructed Him to reach out to people and He did his best and when his appeal was rejected by people prophet was so concerned and sympathetic towards people who rejected his call. That is what exactly we should do it now as well. Allah almighty has blessed people with sound intellect and freedom of choice. So we should reach out with message of Islam in an excellent and convincing way so that people could really appreciate and be at least sympathetic with our call.
While I was writing this a friend of mine told me why is such amusement with Singhalese translation of Holy Quran? The Quran is being translated into Tamil decades ago. Yet, we have failed to reach out 70 million Tamil speaking Hindu and Christian community with message of Quran despite of fact Tamil is mother toque of all these three communities. This question struck me well. Mere translation projects alone are not sufficient enough and with such translation projects we should also have some dynamic programs to reach us to Tamil speaking Hindu and Singhalese speaking Buddhist communities. Quran Tamil translation has been with us for many decades. May be a few Tamil speaking Christians or Hindu people are made aware of such translation or they have not been reached out with message of Quran at all. Only a limited numbers of people have time and interest in reading. May be students of comparative religions or clerics, academics and professionals will spend times on reading and yet large percentage of ordinary people will be left out unless we have alternative mechanism to reach out them with message of Quran.