A column By Mass L. Usuf
Let this column begin with a Disclaimer. It is only an analysis and the writer is not holding a brief to defend or protect the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema (ACJU). The ACJU has been functioning as an organisation for nearly 100 years. It was established circa 1924. As such it is not just another mushroom religious body and it consists of erudite persons with Islamic scholarship. It is interesting to note that there is no priesthood as such in Islam. Therefore, overlordship of man over man, in any form, be it religious or otherwise, is never a part of the teachings of Islam.
The ACJU has been targeted in two different ways. Firstly, by some members within the Muslim community. The Muslim bashing is mostly aimed at its leader. In the generic sense no human is perfect. The varying values of imperfection applies to a Leader too. After all a Leader is also a human and logically, cannot be perfect. We have seen how leaders conduct themselves, the levels of efficiency, the extent of corruption and so on. Having said that, it is also important to highlight that every Leader carries certain responsibilities that defines a good leadership. Moreover, a leader is burdened with the task of delivering on the expectations of those who accept him as a leader. Anyway, this is a personal matter and outside the scope of this column.
The second attack is mounted against the organisation itself. This is mainly spearheaded by the extreme right politicians and racist elements with the support of monks in many instances. Their ‘offensives’, unfortunately so called, since they are indeed offensives, are not aimed at achieving some principled objective or to advocate a cause via rational argument. Far from these, the apparent aim is to intimidate, create a fear psychosis, hatred and through this inculcate violence.
ACJU Is Fair Game
Democratic institutions among others are based on the epithet ‘Equality’. This equality is in relation to the citizens of the country. When equality is offended or disturbed by whatever force, it naturally results in conflict. The force that is guilty of violating this principle will continue doing so and those who had been deprived of equality will struggle to reinstate it. The imbalance caused by this inequality reflects on all strata of societal life.
In this context, when examining the effect of the vitriolic diatribe against ACJU, the hallmarks of a divisive society is clearly exposed. In fact, no other religious organisation has been abused in this country in the way ACJU has been battered. Each offensive rains down on ACJU spurious, unsubstantiated and unfounded allegations. The ACJU has been accused at different times as extremists, supporters of terrorism, striving to make Sri Lanka a Muslim country, surreptitiously introducing sharia law and such other fanciful and highly imaginative allegations. These are well timed and choreographed with a careful selection of words and terminologies which appeal to the feelings of the people and combining these with phrases which can easily excite their sensitivities.
The recurrence of this exercise at intervals exposes one more thing and that is the character of the people who engage in this vanity. Such people are not patriots, true nationalists and in the context of monks, the impression is that they have deviated from the teachings of Buddha.
Without any prejudice compare the noise that was made by the media, politicians and monks over the statement of Mr. Harin Fernando, former Member of Parliament about His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. Even the Auxiliary Bishops of Colombo together with the Catholic Clergy of the Archdiocese of Colombo issued a statement expressing their grave concern.
Let us examine another perspective. Whether one likes it or not Mr. Mangala Samaraweera former Member of Parliament is one person who does not hypocritically mix words when he articulates his disgust towards the conduct of certain monks. Irrespective of the veracity of what he says about some notorious monks the media, politicians and monks all have a field day casting aspersion on him and defending the monks.
Empirical observation reveals that most of the times it is the ethno-nationalists, extreme right politicians and politically bankrupt monks who engage in this game. They are providing free entertainment to many who are able to differentiate the chaff from the grain. The danger is that the majority of the people buy into these accusations and develop within them indoctrinated fear. This fear can easily be transformed into developing hate and resulting violence.
Enter The Dragon
Recently Athuraliye Rathana Thero appears to have had a bout of verbal diarrhoea which figuratively stinks. According to the general perception of the public, the government is not interested in him and therefore, he has been marginalised. The talk of the town is that he has passed the political ‘expiry date’ and is now desperately struggling to maintain his presence in the arena. Given the political climate the best choice for him is to throw a few punches at the ACJU. After all, anything against the Muslims is fair game these days especially for the racist monks.
I am reminded of a scene in the picture ‘Enter the Dragon’ (I assume) where an opponent of Bruce Lee, in the tournament ring, holds a wooden board and breaks it with a karate stroke in a display of power. Bruce Lee calmly responded saying, “Wooden boards do not hit back”. Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thero knows very well that his punching bag (ACJU) also will not hit back. Moreover, unlike for His Eminence The Cardinal and for certain monks there is no media, politicians and monks who would come forward to speak on behalf of ACJU.
Polowa Pelena Boru
The fourth precept (sila) in Buddhism involves falsehood “musāvāda,”. More broadly it encompasses all forms of wrongful or harmful speech. As explained by the respected venerables, this would mean speech that is harsh, untruthful, motivated by greed or hatred, or otherwise connected with harm. Misleading arguments, verbal bullying, incitements to violence, rage, outbursts, malicious ridicule, and poorly worded statements that cause pain without benefit.
The recent statements of Rathana Thero against the ACJU which are unfounded or unsubstantiated can be connected with most of the above extensions of the pali word, “musāvāda”. What lies? Or, in Sinhala the common adage, “Polowa pelena boru”. Worst of all coming from the mouth of a monk violating the precept that he utters; wonder how many times for a day. This time the accusation, among several others, is that the ACJU has advised all Muslims to boycott Sampath Bank. Liar! Liar! Pants On Fire. The ACJU had never given any such advice and promptly issued a statement refuting this heinous accusation. See ACJU letter below:
The Most Abused Sila
The extent to which the fourth sila is abused is abominable. Especially, in a country where the five precepts are repeated so many times each day over the radio, on TV, in the temples, in every junction of the roads. And, that too, when the utterers of such lowly abuse are the monks the abomination becomes simply unbearable. It is unpleasant and it is unbecoming of anyone who has enrobed himself to indulge in lies. The monks are supposed to be the paragons of virtue. It is them that the laity looks upon with veneration since they have adopted the path of the buddha. It is the monks who teach the lay people the way of the buddha. When they fail to stand up or do not put into practice what they preach it is disappointing. Of course, this does not include the respectable monks.
The curse of pseudo religious and racist rhetoric most of the times fuelled by a false sense of nationalism are the enemies of this country. They are a threat to national security. These deceivers have to be stopped and they can be stopped only by the civic minded citizens of this country. This means you and me. Thank God, there still remains a large contingent of those who detest the dramatics of these opportunistic and pretentious patriots.
Abandoning false speech
Abandoning divisive speech
Abandoning abusive speech
Abandoning idle chatter
“This is how one is made pure in four ways by verbal action.”
— Anguttara Nikaya 10.176
Is it not time that the law-abiding citizens make the voice of their dissatisfaction be heard over this continuing state of affairs? What moral values are we going to leave behind for our children?