Needed: A candid jaw-jaw | Daily News

Needed: A candid jaw-jaw


It was reported recently that the government plans to appoint a special Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to look into the recent spate of events that led to religious disharmony and find a permanent solution to issues that have cropped up in the past few months.
On the Independence Day, President Mahinda Rajapaksa also emphasized the urgent need for unity among the communities and religious harmony as vital factors for the development of the country. He cautioned that Divisions among us will strengthen various hostile forces seeking to deny us our freedom.
Beginning from its early history, Sri Lanka as a nation has nurtured four great religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The people from these different religions have lived together in peace and harmony and contributed to the development of the country. Even during the period when the colonial powers were ruling us we have maintained this status quo without widening the gulf among different religious groups.
When the country became independent, however, things began to change. The zealots with vested interests began to exploit the religions (and languages) on narrow partisan considerations thus generating more tensions and misunderstandings in the social fabric of the island. Everything went wrong. Thanks to them, we lost 30 years of growth. Any conflict between Sinhala-Muslim will cause more destruction dragging our country down to the very depths. No sensible person would want it that way.
So it’s time for us stop in our tracks; recognize the problem; consider the root causes; and, seek a solution which will be sensitive to the numerous complexities brought about by the present conflict itself.
If we go back to the world history we find that the spread of religions from one part of the world to the other has led, from times immemorial, to co-existence and dialogue between the followers of a large number of different religions. Perhaps the main difference between the past and the present is that while in the past this phenomenon was not called ‘dialogue,’ it is called so in our time and is consciously pursued. In the past this phenomenon consisted of interaction between religions that gave rise to parallel ideas and institutions in different religious traditions. This at times resulted in various forms of religious unification.
Islam and Buddhism have engaged in a religious interchange in the course of their encounters in Central, South and Southeast Asia. Their early encounters were followed, in some instances, by conversion of Buddhists to Islam as happened in Central and maritime Southeast Asia. Yet there were also other regions where Buddhism and Islam continued to exist side by side for long as happened in India and Sri Lanka and also mainland Southeast Asia.
The point being made here is that there is a long record of Muslim-Buddhist dialogue, though this is at the present either non-existent or not visible. This, in the writer’s view, is largely due to the strong trend of abstract interpretations of religion in the contemporary world.
This in turn is the outcome of ignoring or overlooking the interchanges that took place between these religions in the past, be they between region-based religions such as between Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism in South Asia or between Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Middle East, or between Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam in the Age of the Silk Road and the Age of Commerce in different regions of the world.
Muslims often employ the Quranic expression Ummatan Wasatan to characterize their religion and community. The expression suggests that Islam is a moderate religion and that Muslims are required to be a middle or moderate nation. In practice, Muslims conduct their daily life taking the Prophet Muhammad as a paragon of moderation.
Islam does not teach its followers to be stubborn or act aggressively as this would give a bad image to Muslims and the religion of Islam.
According to Many interpreters of the Qur’an Firmness is part of the teachings of Islam. But this is firmness depends on the context of time and place which must be suitable. Normally firmness in Islam is connected with wars and punishment for crimes that are clearly defined.
Such firmness in Islam is called upon by Islam and is normally carried out in the context of desperate situations, not in areas that are basic in Islamic teachings. In Islam, justice is the most basic condition that must be given attention
The Buddhist position regarding the religious tolerance is well known and ample examples could be quoted from his teachings. On one occasion the Buddha was approached by an extremely wealthy person called Upali. This man was the follower of another religion and he wanted to join the Buddha Sasana but was not sure of how to treat his former teachers. The Buddha clearly stated that he was to treat them with the same respect as before and to continue to support them even if he no longer followed them. Throughout his life the Buddha urged people to respect all religious people in spite of the differences of opinion between them. The Buddha's message was an invitation to all to join the fold of universal brotherhood to work in strength and harmony for the welfare and happiness of mankind. He had no chosen people, and he did not regard himself as a chosen one either.
The writer believes that these concepts can serve as a model worthy of emulation by Muslims and Buddhists in their respective majority or mixed societies. The agreement in the concepts could be the starting-point of a socio-religious interchange and dialogue between Islam and Buddhism. The essential message of Buddhism and Islam to humanity is to avoid extremism of all sorts in order to build mature human beings and peaceful societies.
That is the ideal. The history of religions shows that religious extremism has emerged in most religions. While these extremist segments represent themselves as sources of “original” religions, their historical record is not free from the stain of violence. Hence, reviving the message of reconciliation is an urgent task, especially today when the extremism of religious nationalists and fundamentalists threatens to wreak havoc on society.
This process can be initiated by engaging in the dialogue of life and action at the general community level, leaving the task of more sophisticated dialogue of theology, doctrine, scripture and experience to the specialists.
Initial engagement can address the issues of building ethical values, mutual relationship and trust and active pursuit of common good. The aim is to build interreligious cooperation between religious communities in order to alleviate anguish and pain in the country by spreading the ethics of compassion, peace, harmony and hope. These values lie at the heart of both religions but are not noticed in their interreligious dimension when each religion views itself myopically.
Broadly, the challenge before the followers of all religions in Sri Lanka is to build a religiously pluralistic society that is compassionate and caring and is not bound by or enmeshed in petty politics in the name of religion. Religions have to solve rather than create problems and this requires them to foster good practices. One might ask: is that not the goal of the original propagators of all religions? As far as we are concerned, this is very much the goal of religious engagement.
Both Buddhism and Islam are not static structures but rivers of spirituality which have flowed over the historical landscape for nearly 2,000 years. Both traditions hold that purification of the mind and action of individuals through ethical behavior and moral codes is the first and most important step towards spiritual transformation. In Buddhism this transformation is achieved through the realization of enlightenment, while Muslims seek the same goals via the realization the knowledge of Allah. In truth, the principle we have to formulate is not religious harmony, but harmony among religious people. Whenever harmony among religious people has existed, it has been based on unity despite differences rather than on unity without differences. It is not based on agreeing to agree, but on agreeing to disagree.


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Above facts are for honest well read educated people and to average person with as one may say to all with high moral value. Religion should be interpreted in a state where the individual with good character and morals should. Wearing religious attire with por moral going around creating intolerance should be shunned by public at large and leaders in politics should set examples to society

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