President calls all communities to cast aside differences and unite as people of one Sri Lanka | Daily News

President calls all communities to cast aside differences and unite as people of one Sri Lanka

President Ranil Wickremesinghe being presented a memento by All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulema (ACJU) President Ash-Shaikh Mufti M.I.M. Rizvi yesterday. (Pictures by Sulochana Gamage)
President Ranil Wickremesinghe being presented a memento by All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulema (ACJU) President Ash-Shaikh Mufti M.I.M. Rizvi yesterday. (Pictures by Sulochana Gamage)

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 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, Prime  Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, Former President  Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga,   High Commissioners and Ambassadors,  The President’s Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President on National Security Sagala  Ratnayake, 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 of ACJU,  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,  Christ and   the Prophet doesn’t mean it to a 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 arguement and discussion that is 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 will 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  is  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 is 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, 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 towards 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 and 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 today to 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, discuss 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 is 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 is 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 independence and 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 Mano’s 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 bomb blasts. 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 in 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 is not all. We will  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 that are 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 of independence, 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”.

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