President Ranil Wickremesinghe invited the Muslim Community to join hands with the Social Justice Commission to find solutions for the issues faced by the Muslim Community and urged all communities to unite as true Sri Lankans as the country celebrates its 75th Anniversary of Independence this year.
Addressing the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) 100th Anniversary celebrations, the President stated that any religion should guide their respective community to modernity and adapt to the modern world.
The President emphasized that despite the various religions having different beliefs, no religion promotes hatred.
A commemorative stamp which was issued for the 100th anniversary of the ACJU was presented to the President and a memento was also presented to President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
He pointed out that the past 75 years was spent on the various communities fighting each other and appealed to all Sri Lankans to cast aside all differences and unite as citizens of one Sri Lanka as the country celebrates its 75th Anniversary of Independence.
The religious dignitaries, Hon. Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Hon. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Honorable High Commissioners and Ambassadors, The President’s Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President on National Security Sagala Ratnayake, Honorable Members of Parliament, Secretary, Ministry of Defence. General G.D.H. Kamal Gunaratne (Retd), Chief of Defence Staff General Shavendra Silva were present to commemorate this memorable occasion.
Following is the full speech delivered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe:
First and foremost, I must apologize for jumping the queue. I was due to speak last, but I told the organizers, especially the president, that I cannot do so as I have to go in to swear in two new ministers. And I don’t think they are going to wait till I finish this whole meeting. I would especially listen to the speech of the president of the association. I must commend him for the ideas that he expressed. The ACJU is commemorating its hundredth year, the centenary.
You might remember the start in 1922 when the world was undergoing a vast transformation after World War One, which included the abolition of the caliphate. And there was in India a big movement to restore the caliphate. But in Sri Lanka, you also form the ACJU at the same time as to what was going to be the single Muslim thought and not theology which is the debate that has gone on.
So today you are still faced with some of the issues that were there at that time. Firstly, we are in a different world with about 150 nations that were not there in 1922. We are in a different century with the development of science and technology and the development of political rights. It is in this background that we have to look at the future of Muslims in Sri Lanka.
Firstly, not only Islam, but all religions are looking at what is the essence of religion, what is the pure meaning of religion and how we connect with the modern world. Now, this is an issue that all of us face, but it does not mean that religion, can go back to the past. The essence of religion must be applied to the past, the present and the future.
A good example is Buddhism. When Lord Buddha preached Buddhism on the banks of the Ganges, there was no hydraulic civilization. But when it came to Sri Lanka, we were able to build a hydraulic civilization, which has one of its foundations, Buddhism. We accepted hydraulic civilization because it was not there in the time of Gautama the Buddha, but we can adapt it to that civilization.
Similarly, all of us must live in the present and look at the future. Past is useful to look at what is the essence of our religion because no religion is a religion of hate. It can’t be a religion of hate and it must have compassion. And especially for Islam or those who preach otherwise, a religion which at that time, the last of the great religions, which acknowledge the same God as the Jews and the Christians, cannot be by any means a religion of hate.
The recognition of Moses and the recognition of Christ and the recognition of the Prophet doesn’t mean it to the religion of hate. It was an advancement. What Islam did, what Prophet Muhammad did, was to carry that message further. So we must not make any religion a religion of hate. But look at the essence of how we can live together and how we can each look at the religion of others.
Each religion will try and must preach its religion to everyone the believers and the nonbelievers. But preaching to nonbelievers doesn’t mean that they are the enemies of any religion and religion itself is now going through many, many disputes. You find not only in Islam, it is a big arguing and discussion that’s going on in Islam as to what is future, but even in the other religions, you look at the Holy Catholic Church, the teachings of the Holy Father are being challenged by some of the more conservative members of the Catholic Church.
Similarly, you’ll find the Church of England today undergoing that debate on whether to recognize how to treat gay marriages. So all religions have issues whether it’s Hinduism or Buddhism, we are discussing what it is. So we are all undergoing that, but we must not depart from our basic principles. And it’s not a religion of hate it’s a religion of compassion for how we are to find what we call the ultimate purpose of religion. Where does it end?
So we must in Islam also, as well as in Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, stick to those principles in searching for the essence of our religion. We feel religion has been commercialized, yes religion has been used for purposes of war, for purposes of hate, but, take it out and see what is the essence of it, what is pure religion?
It doesn’t mean we are to go back and you have to start wars on it. Secondly, religion must adapt itself and guide modernity. For those who say Islam must go back to Saudi Arabia or the time of the birth of the Prophet, then what do you say to the golden age of Islamic civilization which had Baghdad as its capital? Look at all the contributions it has made to us. Astronomy, medicine and look at the kingdoms, the Muslim kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula or Spain, which helped to civilize Europe. We talk about that. Look at Suleiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman Empire. Are you going to disown him? Even in our region, Emperor Akbar, and how he tried to get regions together? Followed by his, grandson who talked about the confluence of the two oceans.
We talk of it as a confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, and we call it the Indo-Pacific. But that is not what he said. The confluence of two oceans that the prince said was a confluence of Hinduism and Islam at that stage. So even what he said has been brought into geopolitics in another way to take on the conflict, but that in essence.
Are you going to accept modernity and go ahead? And religions have to do that. There is no way in which you can change, and you must accept the fact that even in religion, even in Islam it started in Saudi Arabia, but the largest numbers are in South Asia and Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, Pakistan, India, in Bangladesh. The large numbers that are there are south of the Sahara and the numbers are that are going to Europe, to the west and the USA.
And you see even now you can see the differences, the clash that occurs, if you look at us in Asia, in India, in the Indian subcontinent, Muslims Hindus, Buddhists, and then what you get you to get the Europeans and more Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. We have now accepted Western civilization. And the best example is that you have a Hindu as a prime minister of Britain and a Muslim as the primary and the lord mayor of London and they represent the cultures of the West, not of our cultures on which Hindus and Muslims are brought up. So these are facts that we have to today engage in and look at what is modernity, what is the modern state Where are we going? We have to remember in Turkey that Kemal Ataturk’s modernization. We have to remember what Gamal Nassar did in Egypt.
Now, are those to be rejected? How President Sukarno got together 400 islands and formed Indonesia? Keeping in mind the achievements of Borobudur and the Ramayana. So are you going to reject all that? We have to accept this and go ahead. So modernity is important and in Sri Lanka, I would say that you must have centres of modern thinking among the Muslims.
The best would be the university that we have established in the majority Muslim area, the southeastern area. And I am happy that Madam Ashraf got a plaque for her own achievements as a woman. She must get it. But I must also acknowledge the role played by the late Minister Ashraf in establishing the University.
What is that going to be? It should be a modern university. It should be a more modern unit with all thoughts. Do you want to have a modern university that we, the government, will back? If you try to confine it only to the Muslims, you might suffer the same fate as the Buddhists and Pali University faced. So keep that in mind.
So modernity is in essence, what we have to accept and we have to go ahead. I see even here the Muslim community is undergoing those changes, discussing those changes. The MMDA is one of the main issues, a dispute that goes on in a very civilized manner where those who are for it and against it will argue and want to meet on monogamous or whether you could have pluralistic marriages.
In that, I am not going to interfere. That’s a matter for the Muslim community. But one I must say is don’t go back and don’t indulge in any activity that is harmful to Muslims. The other day, I saw some Muslim children demonstrating on the MMDA, which is not on. But that is really violating the law about the care of children. If the adults want to demonstrate that’s another matter but not children, they should be kept out of it.
That is a really negative assessment of Muslims, don’t allow that. That’s all that I have to say. Now, you have done your hundredth year. We are facing our 75th year after most of our time has been spent fighting each other. I think now is the time for reconciliation, and coexistence. And so we have now started by talking to the Tamils, the Sri Lankan Tamils, to look at what are the issues, and how we move towards reconciliation.
And that first step has been taken and we are meeting the party leaders again. We have made a lot of progress in the discussions. I don’t know why Mr Mano Coalition is standing at me because we will also start a discussion on how we integrate the hill country Tamils with the rest of the society. We have to accept they have come on lately.
The other ethnic groups and religious groups are integrated into it. They haven’t gotten the benefits of that integration. We are to integrate fully, and the third one is I want to have a discussion with the Muslim community about the problems you’ll face. What are the issues you face now? I think a good example is the 2018 Digana riots. We have to talk about it and we have to talk about the 2019 Easter bombs. All those need to be discussed and we have to talk about what led to this, and what are the issues. The issues that the Muslims in Colombo face are quite different from the issues that are faced by Muslims southeast of Sri Lanka, or the Mannar Muslims.
And how does it relate to what we are talking about? the Tamils here, the up-country Tamils, Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese. So let us discuss those and come up with your grievance, the social backwardness that you feel. There are so many issues. I think it is time. Once we do this it will be the third reconciliation act.
And that’s not all. We’ll have a discussion among the Sinhalese also. Some groups are affected. Some may be affected by caste. Some are hemmed in. Society doesn’t accept them. So there are many, many differences there. Among the problems among the Sinhalese. This is why I want to establish the Social Justice Commission, which will also look at these long-standing issues. So therefore, I would ask the ACJU, which had been very forthright in discussing the issues, to join with the Muslim group and let us, as the third phase of it, discuss the issues of the Muslim community.
So one by one we resolve one group and go to the other. I have not taken up those discussions together, because each one discusses the problem and one wants us to give priority to them. So we won’t resolve any issue. I thought it was different. We go one by one. So in the 75th year, we will all look at becoming Sri Lankans and how we live in our country.
And then look at the next 25 years. What are we going to do in the next 25 years? One institute we are starting is the institute of history which can discuss all these issues. There is no need to shout about the past from public platforms. Then there are other institutes, the institute of government and public policy. All these are necessary for us to have a new economy to go ahead.
And let us be strong, let us be strong as a nation. Let social justice prevail. Let ethnic harmony prevail. And let us have a new economy which will enable us to be a very competitive economy, making us prosperous so in turn that the ACJU’s 25 billion, I hope by that time will become 100 billion. Thank you for inviting me”.
The message delivered by the President of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulema (ACJU) Ash-Shaikh Mufti M.I.M. Rizvi:
Our motherland, Sri Lanka, is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. The progress and the prosperity of our country depends upon good, harmonious relations among all our communities. History bears evidence that our nation has been nourished with healthy relationships for centuries, among Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The all-encompassing warmth, kindness, love and respect from visionaries who worked to minimize sectarian conflicts has been a cornerstone of truly successful nations. It is a responsibility upon every patriotic citizen of our Motherland to engage in efforts to strengthen relationships among each other regardless of caste, race and religion.
It is noteworthy that one of the first Constitutions in the History with regard to Religious Rites was introduced by Our Holy Prophet in the Holy City of Medina, which made ACJU to recognize the paramount importance of working with the government and other faith leaders to regulate the religious space and build moderation, tolerance and coexistence.
With contemporary challenges in the world around us, the need for initiatives which build bridges among communities, increased in Sri Lanka in the recent days. Accordingly, working hand-in-hand with our dedicated leaders in the country remains a foremost priority.
The success and the prosperity of mankind depends heavily on the strengthening of good qualities, and the upholding of humanity and brotherhood. Based on the Qur’an and teachings of Prophet Muhammad there are four stages to maintain coexistence within communities. They are introducing ourselves to one another, Building better understanding between each other, Creating a state of tolerance between each other and Extending support in the state of cooperation in the agreeable subjects. Islam encourages education and entrusts the responsibility of educating those who are under our guardianship.
The mandate of the ACJU, has been to mentor the youth into becoming valuable assets for Sri Lanka. Such assets, which the country can be proud of, will beam a light around the globe of truthful, caring, loving, respectful and dignified citizens.
Under the theme of ‘Education for All’, the ACJU, conducted spiritual and academic programs, and extended possible assistance to underprivileged students while facilitating essential infrastructure facilities in order to create an effective learning environment. Over the past few years, nearly 38,000 students from 40 Schools have benefitted from this program across the country.
According to the Divine message of the Holy Quran, saving one single life is equivalent to saving the entire humanity. In recent years, many religious, social organizations, political movements and institutions have had to deal with radicalization, extremism and various forms of violence. Individuals have utilized religion, social injustice, financial hardships, ethnicity, etc. to justify unacceptable behavior.
To that end, the ACJU has taken upon itself to help citizens in overcoming these mental, psychological, emotional and spiritual disorders. The support of volunteers and mental health professionals has been invaluable, and we hope to continue building on this framework. Our past collaborations with government entities during times of strife, I believe has been a model for the world.
For six decades the national war heroes sacrificed themselves to protect the sovereignty of our Motherland. All patriotic citizens, regardless of their racial or religious differences, contributed in all possible means in support of this national cause.
It is an undeniable fact that the Muslims played a vital role in Mutur in 2006, in eliminating the terrorists by assisting Security Forces during the War. Furthermore, ACJU is one of the first bodies in the world, which issued a joint declaration against ISIS and extremism in 2015.
We also engaged in significant efforts in counter-radicalization programs for youngsters, such as publishing the booklet ‘Don’t Be Extreme’. Moreover, we compiled the exegesis of the Holy Quran in Sinhala and booklets clarifying misconceptions on Islamic teachings in order to give its correct understanding to the brethren of our beloved country, Sri Lanka.
With regard to sustainable development, Islam encourages assistance towards humanity as it declares that ‘All creations are one family’, showing kindness to the creations secures the Divine Mercy of the Almighty and it is also stated that the best amongst us are those who are beneficial to humanity. The ACJU has carried out nearly Rs. 1 Billion in social services projects over the last two decades.
We facilitated humanitarian assistance during the national crisis situations such as the Tsunami disaster up to the recent flash floods, and the crisis in Mutur in 2006 up to the unfortunate Easter Attacks. It is significant to note that during the crucial pandemic period, the ACJU played a vital role in collaborating with the related authorities and extending possible support whenever necessary.
In 2002, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama initiated the process of issuing halal certifications for the meat suppliers of the Parliament of Sri Lanka on their request. After a period of time, this initiative created a process of Halal certification, which generated millions of US Dollars in export revenue to the country. PMD