May 11, 2019, 7:04 pm
No! For a Muslim, Islam is the way
by Kumar David
“Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”
– Attributed to Confucius
The government and security apparatus (together with the Sate) can respond to information, seized arms and explosives and intervene in events. However in the long run it is the Muslim community and Muslims alone that can defeat jihadism; that is Wahhabism-Salafism, Islamic State infiltration and false prophets. Only the people can defeat these intrusions; the State is incapable of comprehending doctrine. There has to be a plan of action that Muslims and their leaders organise and execute. There are pronouncements by Muslims that they abhor the massacre, but that’s inadequate now. Reproving is no longer good enough; what is imperative is concrete actions to eradicate the menace. The State can’t excise a tumour implanted in a community, especially a minority community; it will alienate the people. Don’t forget how Sinhala chauvinism and the Sinhala State screwed up the Tamil problem from day one!
Ratnajeevan Hoole argues in “The Bombings, Refugees & Emergency Regulations: The Danger of a Military Dictatorship” (Colombo Telegraph, 4 May 2019), that there are signs that the army is again flexing its muscle as an independent power in Jaffna. The danger that the Easter events have exposed us to is not a sharia-compliant Islamic Sri Lanka since that will never happen; it is the danger of a black-hand using this event as a cloak to embark upon a power garb. Sirisena devalued the stature of the civilian presidency and thereby encouraged undisciplined military brass.
There is an undercurrent of conversation in society that a military adventure is not possible except with the concurrence of a black-hand and the one often mentioned is the authoritarian brotherhood of the recent past. That’s the first suspect, but don’t rule out another though less likely one – no not Sirisena, he has already lost his marbles. I mean the loyal nephew and 20 year Cabinet Minister of the authoritarian tsar of post-independence Lanka, JR. I wish to quote from an e-mail I received last week: “The 80-page acquisition and servicing agreement is like a mutual-defence military agreement between Lanka and the US. This is inviting disaster. One consequence will be a demand for new anti-terrorist legislation seeking to deny rights and freedoms”. The draft of the Counter Terrorism Bill is, I think, not yet available to the public. The e-mail also implies that though a few dozen rootless jihadists running free constitute an immediate menace, since they will all be flushed out soon the more persistent threat is a 430,000 (including police) strong security establishment which may seek power and revenge. Confucius warns, “Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”.
Of course, it is not possible to compare Tamil experiences and the post-independence story of the Muslims in Ceylon/Sri Lanka. The Tamil version starting from disenfranchisement and brutalisation of our Upcountry Tamil people, through Sinhala-Only and 1983, to the rise of the LTTE and civil-war is a long and excruciating tale. The post-1948 story of the Muslims, I dare say is less agonising except for eviction from Jaffna and foul treatment by the LTTE in the East. Those who explain the rise of the LTTE as an outcome of Sinhala injustices and State repression cannot extend this case to the Muslims. What I am getting at is this: even if it is said that LTTE terrorism came from real social problems making it thorny for Tamil people to attempt to takedown the LTTE, for Muslims it is easier to mobilise against jihadism. There is no sympathy for the jihadists among Muslims comparable to the empathy that many Tamils did feel for the LTTE, at least post-1983. In a word, the domestic historical circumstances are much different.
Global links too are very different. The LTTE and its ideology were home grown; the role of Tamil Nadu minimal, support in the diaspora was from Tamils who had fled or immigrated. Jihadism rooted in Wahhabi theology has a different provenance. Wahhabism and Salafism are related; the former a harsh intolerant Saudi version, while less severe Salafism has presence among Muslim elsewhere. Both are high profile in the public eye, but not majority creeds of Muslims outside Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both call for austere religious observances and obedience to Sharia law, but only Wahhabis impose hand chopping, neck severing, and stoning to death of sinful women as punishments.
Wahhabism derives its strength from the alliance King Abdul-Aziz bin Rahman, better known as ibn Saud, founder of the Saudi Kingdom, formed with preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Ibn Saud unified Saudi Arabia through military conquest with British backing as World War 1 ended and the Ottoman Empire collapsed. He found in al-Wahhab’s doctrine an ideological tool to subdue a multitude of tribes and enforced it harshly. Then, petroleum was discovered in 1938 by Standard Oil and Saudi Arabia joined the American global imperialist alliance. Wahhabism’s worldwide funding and influence is rooted in this provenance. The American sorcerer however has now lost control of its Wahhabi apprentice.
I have strayed into this religious diversion because it is important to understand that Wahhabism, the creed of jihadist terrorism, is not indigenous or historically rooted in Lankan Islam. I believe that for this reason Muslims can root it out from their midst and crop the cancer. Others should be positive and helpful but the State must keep its fingers out of community issues and theological disputes; its role must be limited to law and order.
I am not a religious person, nor versed in the philosophy of any opiate. My mother did make an effort to stuff Christianity into my thick skull and Father Yin made a feeble effort in school. Somehow it seems to have all leaked out. I do have an interest in some edifying aspects of the Buddha’s teaching; of Hinduism and its swarming pantheon I know little; of the deeper canons of Islamic doctrine I know less. For this reason I will not comment on how Lanka’s Muslims should address doctrinal issues in combating jihadism; that’s a job able Islamic scholars must meet head-on. The following are a few common-sense non-doctrinal generalities.
The first priority is to Save the Children. Parents must take control and responsibility for what is being stuffed into children’s heads in schools, Muslim schools, madrassas and religious classes. Parents and the community must be certain that hatred, violence, jihadism and the perversions of Wahhabism are not poured down their children’s throats. They must ensure that peace, tolerance and neighbourliness are in the curriculum. They must know the teachers well and examine their credentials. Those who preach hatred and violence must not be allowed to approach children.
The second priority is to Save the Mosque. The Muslim community should establish some kind of Council or Synod, or Councils or Synods in different areas, to monitor who is allowed to preach, how Imams are chosen, and to impose restrictions on the doctrines spread. I doubt if this now falls within the purview of the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama. Muslims who read me – this piece is addressed to those of them who are willing to give me a hearing – will have no difficulty in appreciating the point. The Muslim public is Lanka’s best line of defence against jihadism; some Muslim groups have seen the challenge. Outsiders need to be supportive and follow Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s fine example – but it would be better if the good Cardinal refrained from hints at coalition government as though he were canvassing on behalf of the Rajapaksas.
A third opportunity is for the community to eschew cultural practices that have fallen into disrepute or which erect a barrier between Muslims and others. The first item that comes to mind is the burka, the full face covering; the hijab or headscarf is harmless. Face covering is now banned by law, but a community directive would be far more potent. What about raising the minimum marriage for Muslim girls? Loudspeakers blaring banna from Buddhist temples and booming sermons from mosques should be banned. The muezzin’s call to prayer is not a problem because it is brief. Furthermore, Muslims should not insist on living as a closed community, but visit neighbours’ homes and invite others to theirs. There are a lot of simple things that can be done by all communities to improve relations.
An anti-Muslim crusade in Sri Lanka will make the war against the Tigers look jolly. Who are the Tigers? What power did they actually wield; what their global reach? There are but 70 million measly Tamils in the whole blooming universe but there are over a billion Muslims; about 500 million of them in surrounding countries. Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, in that order, are the most Muslim-populous nations in the world. The Tamils, comparatively, did not have a brass farthing to scratch their backsides with, but the Middle East can pour billions into overpowering perceived enemies of Islam. This apoplectic scenario is irrelevant if Lanka’s Muslims set out to cleanse Islam of the pox and we tether the State to its minimal and essential role. No war against Muslims! Join Muslims against jihadists! This has to be the motto Lanka marches to till our body politic is cleansed.
Finally, I repeat my optimism that Lanka will heal and recover more quickly than Cassandras and prophets of gloom predict. I detect fine-tuned judgement in people’s minds and more caution in jumping to conclusions. This is not July 1983 when Lanka was a JR inspired crazed cannibal; Lanka has learnt its lesson and the mood today is different. Jihadism will not defeat us; it will not overpower the Muslims. It will be eradicated, it has no indigenous roots; its eschatology is of foreign provenance. Those baying for Muslim blood and the rabble rousers will be vanquished. The country will thrive again. You don’t agree? Just you wait; watch this space next year.