Reciprocity and not Reconciliation should be the Basis of Peaceful Co-existence between Buddhists and Muslims

Reciprocity is the hallmark of any relationship. However, we have hardly any evidence to prove Islamic reciprocity towards non-Islamic faiths. It has been announced that an international conference is to be held in Sri Lanka in August 2016 sponsored by Islamic nations and Islamic religious organisations to foster peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Buddhists. No peaceful co-existence can come about if incursions are taking place affecting the sensitivities of the majority populace of a country. The magnanimity of wanting peaceful coexistence comes in removing that which are stumbling blocks to peace.

We welcome peace and peaceful co-existence between adherents of different religions. However, we must state that co-existence cannot be one-sided. While preaching peaceful co-existence Muslims and Islamic nations cannot expect to transplant their religions in sacred citadels of Buddhists and expect the Buddhists to keep silent. The oath of peaceful coexistence is and cannot be one-sided and is certainly no one way street for one party only.

We can give as examples with sadness of the incursions taking place with mosques being built close to hallowed Buddhist shrines in specifically Buddhist citadels – Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Kandy, Mihintale, Mahiyangana, Polonnaruwa (former Royal capital), Kelaniya and even in Buddhagaya, Lumbini and Kusinara. There is a new mosque built 60 metres away from the Maha Bodhi Temple premises in Buddhagaya where the Bodhisatwa (Prince Siddhartha) attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree to become the Buddha, 2600 years ago. To decide to build a mosque so close to the most important site of the Buddhists and then use loudspeakers for the daily Azaan knowing very well that these high pitched loud screeching sounds would disturb the tranquility and peaceful environment conducive to meditation of the Buddhist monks and worshippers, must be considered as a direct affront to peace. The failure of the Govt. of India to take steps to remove or re – locate this Mosque or take steps to withdraw the permit given to use loudspeakers is tantamount to a dereliction of duty. It undermines the loud boast of the Indian Govt. to protect Buddhism in its birthplace i.e. Buddha Gaya. The silence of the International Buddhist organizations such as the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) on this critical issue is deafening.
http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=24.695685&lon=84.991495&z=18&m=b

The other contenders for leadership of the Buddhist world such as China or even Nepal (where the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha is located i.e. Lumbini, now being increasingly projected as the Fountainhead of Buddhism) would never allow a Mosque to interfere with the proceedings of a hallowed Buddhist shrine. It is also a lesson for Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka to ensure that Mosques are not allowed to be constructed anywhere near an important Buddhist Temple because once permission is given it would be near impossible to prevent the Trustees of the Mosque from using loudspeakers out of spite and lack of sensitivity to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of a Buddhist Temple. If it can happen in Buddha Gaya it can happen anywhere else including disturbing the proceedings of the Dalada Maligava in Kandy.

The situation boils down to a simple axiom. You can demand only up to what you can and are prepared to concede to the other party. Nothing more. Each and every Muslim in Sri Lanka and the rest of the Islamic world must ask this basic straight forward question.

Islam is recognised officially as a religion in Sri Lanka. Three days in the Calendar year have been declared as public holidays for the benefit of Muslims. Mosques are being allowed to be built at any place in this country purely on the basis of a simple request irrespective of whether there is a sizeable Muslim population to justify the construction of a Mosque. In Kattankudy there are 48 Mosques over and above the needs of a small Muslim community in that small town. Muslim-Muslim rifts have resulted in varying types of mosques emerging. Muslim religious and public figures are regularly honoured via commemorative postage stamps. Can the Muslim world name a single Muslim majority country that has given Buddhists the same accord of reciprocity? Our people cannot even take a Buddha statue, a portrait or postcard of the Buddha or pray in public or even build a temple and in the Holiest place for Muslims i.e. Mecca, non-Muslims cannot even put a foot inside. When was the last time a new Buddhist Temple was allowed to be constructed in a Muslim majority country? Where is the reciprocity?

Sri Lanka is historically a Buddhist country. A land whose identity was closely tied to Buddhism. The cultural landscape was essentially Buddhist. This is fast changing with a planned effort by Abrahamic religions and their followers backed by foreign NGOs and Christian and Muslim countries to remove the Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka.

Ideas that have no cultural roots in Sri Lanka such as Secularism, Pluralism, Multi – culturalism and the like are bandied about with only one sinister aim – to remove Buddhism from public life. All types of efforts are being funded from all corners to realize this evil political objective.

The Theravada Buddhist countries are all facing similar threats. Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos and even a predominantly Hindu country such as Nepal which has Lumbini (birthplace of Prince Siddhartha – the Buddha to be).

An email thread asking “What if Thailand turns into a Christian majority nation” has some interesting responses
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=19628&start=40 and there are success stories. South Korea once a majority Buddhist nation is today under evangelical influence. Maldives expunged its early Buddhist history and is now an Islamic Sharia following country. There are lakhs of Maldivians living, studying and working in Sri Lanka though a Sinhala Buddhist cannot even carry a photo of the Buddha as it gets confiscated and destroyed at the airport check-in counter in the Maldives.

Instead of protesting at the contempt shown to Buddhism and our countrymen, the Govt. of Sri Lanka rests content looking the other side.

We place these demands as a solution to the crisis facing the remaining Buddhist communities and the Buddhist world

1. All Muslim majority nations must endorse and publicly acknowledge and legally accept Buddhism as a global religion. In Europe only two countries Russia and Austria have officially recognised Buddhism as a religion. The rest of Europe and the vast majority of the Islamic world deny as a matter of public policy basic recognition to Buddhism while availing themselves of all the best facilities that Buddhist countries afford to both Christianity and Islam. The contrast in public policy and reciprocity between countries following Abhramic religions and the Eastern Dharmic religions in this respect, is indeed striking.
2. All Muslim majority nations must grant equal status legally and constitutionally to Buddhist places of worship and allow migrant Buddhist communities in the West Asian countries (Middle East) to freely practice Buddhism and construct Buddhist places of worship.
3. All Muslim nations must be sensitive to Buddhist concerns. If the whole of Arabia is regarded as the sacred territory of Islam, Buddhist sacred sites must be equally accepted as no-go areas for mosque construction in any form. All such constructions that have occurred of late must be removed forthwith or re- located including the mosque placed in close proximity (within 60 metres) of the Maha Bodhi Temple in Buddhagaya, India (where Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became the Buddha). The Buddhist Commission Report of 1956 emphatically stressed that no place of worship of a non – Buddhist religion be allowed to be constructed in Sri Lanka. This recommendation is now being honoured in the breach.
4. Muslims must respect the judgment of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka i.e. an interim order delivered in November, 2007 which upheld the grievance of a petitioner that Azan makes ‘Captive listeners of people of other religious faiths and violates the fundamental rights of the general public, such as the right to silence and the right to quiet enjoyment of property’. The Supreme Court adopted the position that a public nuisance cannot be excused on the ground that it causes some convenience or advantage to a few, and directed ‘ that all permits issued by the Police under Section 80(1) of the Police Ordinance (for use of loudspeakers) shall cease to be effective forthwith’. For more details of this highly acclaimed judgment of the Supreme Court to restrict noise pollution in Sri Lanka, see http://www.island.lk/2007/11/10/news9.html Everyone has watches to know the timings to call for prayer. Using loudspeakers to call for prayer in highly congested urban areas is a totally out of date practice that is causing tension and generating huge amount of anger and hatred towards Muslim communities also in India. Azaan is increasing the communal gap. http://www.vijayvaani.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?aid=4018
5. Muslims should not be allowed to use and exploit all the laws and freedoms in nations adopting multiculturalism while denying these same basic freedoms of religious worship to non-Islamic people in Muslim majority nations.
6. Muslim minorities cannot demand eating and drinking habits to be in accordance with their faith when in Muslim majority nations there are no such rights whatsoever afforded to non-Muslims.
7. In Buddhist countries Buddhist values such as non – violence towards all living beings including animals, must be allowed to prevail over the values that cause destruction to innocent lives of harmless animals e.g. animal sacrifice, which the Buddha has condemned without qualification and considered as an hideous and foul practice by Buddhists and other right thinking people all over the world.

A point of view advanced by some Muslims that what is ours is ours and what is not ours is a battleground, is untenable and a recipe for conflict now and in the future between Muslims and non-Muslims.

At another level the minorities in Sri Lanka seem to think that by holding ‘multicultural’ ‘pluralistic’ ‘secular’ ‘peaceful co-existence’ placards they can silence the Sinhala Buddhist majority who they expect to silently watch as every area of Sinhala Buddhist ethos, sacred areas, sacred sites, history, artifacts, rituals are all dislodged and replaced with either Christian or Islamic beliefs and monuments and thereafter expect the Sinhalese to accept defeat and give up Sinhala cultures/traditions and Buddhism and embrace either Islam or Christianity/Catholicism or Evangelicalism. How morally correct is such conduct on the part of extremists in Minority communities?

Even the Muslim Congress leader and current Minister for Water Supply and Drainage is seeking a separate Muslim province in an area that was assigned to the Muslim community by a benevolent Buddhist King i.e. King Senerath in 1626, for the safety of the Muslims who were desperate to escape from a Portuguese Inquisition and Genocide under the command of a Portuguese captain-general named Constantino de Sá de Noronha.

King Senerath never intended the Eastern Province or part of it to be administered as a separate District by the Muslims. That would be the height of ingratitude. http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016/03/17/local/76777

Therefore it is essential that Muslims must be conscious of the existential fears of the Buddhist world given that one thousand years ago a good number of countries that are pre-dominantly Muslim now were Buddhist such as Maldives, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

Only a genuine and sincere effort to understand the Buddhist fears and reservations, and in adjusting Muslim conduct to allay such fears can the process of peaceful co-existence between Buddhists and Muslims be taken forward.

Shenali D. Waduge

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