President Ranil Wickremesinghe invited the Muslim community to join hands with the Social Justice Commission to find solutions for the issues faced by them 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 recently, 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.
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.
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.
Following is the full speech delivered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe:
"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 be 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, there is a big arguement 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. 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 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.
"A Hindu as the Prime Minister of Britain and a Muslim as the Mayor of London'
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 the 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 engage in today 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 did President Sukarno get 400 islands together and form 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”.
Religious dignitaries, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, High Commissioners and Ambassadors, President’s Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor on National Security Sagala Ratnayaka, Members of Parliament and Chief of Defence Staff General Shavendra Silva were also present to commemorate this memorable occasion.