One of the young Muslim leaders, former Local government and Provincial Councils Minister Faizer Musthapha spoke to Daily Mirror on the viewpoint of the Muslim community about next week’s Presidential poll and other issues relating to Muslims. The excerpts:
Q The Muslim community in Sri Lanka distanced themselves from the Rajapaksa clan after the anti Muslim violence in June 2014 that led to the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015. The antipathy further escalated after anti-Muslim riots in Ampara and Kandy in February 2018. Has the SLPP mended fences with the Muslim community by now?
It is a fact that Muslims had grave problems even before 2014. The Muslim community had been subject to harassment at Grandpass, Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dharga Town in the Kalutara District. The riots against Muslims were in religious and ethnic connotation.
The anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka in June, 2014 had a religious connotation. Private properties as well as business establishments of Muslims were attacked at Aluthgama, Beruwala and Dhargatown in the Kalutara District. Four people were killed and over 80 injured and hospitalized. Hundreds of Muslims were made homeless following attacks on houses, shops, factories, mosques and nurseries, and as a result, 8,000 Muslims were displaced. It is a well known fact that the riots were instigated by an extremist Buddhist organization.
In 2018, once again there were a series of religiously motivated riots targeting Muslims in several parts of Sri Lanka. The attacks originated as isolated incidents in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday terrorist attack beginning from Chilaw and subsequently spreading to several areas in the Northwestern Province.
Mosques, personal properties and businesses of Muslims and Muslim civilians were attacked by Sinhala Buddhist mobs, and at some instances by Christian-majority hooligans. It was reported that nine civilians had been killed in Minuwangoda and Kurunegala Districts, while 159 houses and 196 businesses had been destroyed as a result of these riots.
I too, being a Muslim leader left the UPFA government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in protest and in disgust after 2014.
Gender-based violence under the current government especially after Digana, Kurunegala and April 21 Easter Sunday Attacks was a significant factor for the Muslims to lose their hope on this administration. Don’t forget that Muslims tirelessly worked to bring this government and President Maithripala Sirisena to power in 2015. It is also a fact that the Easter Sunday attacks could have been prevented if the political and bureaucratic hierarchy acted on intelligence feedback given by relevant security agencies on time. As a result of this unforgivable blunder, 259 innocent lives succumbed to extremely painful deaths and another 500 odd civilians injured.
"Gender based violence under the current government especially after Digana, Kurunegala and April 21 Easter Sunday Attacks were a significant factor for the Muslims to lose their hope on this administration"
Q Almost all the suspects who carried out the April 21 terrorist attack on Catholic churches and luxury hotels in Colombo and those arrested on suspicion of involvement with the carnage are Muslims. How do you see this?
Terrorism is a global phenomenon. Terrorists don’t have a religion in real sense because religions don’t profess brutality or savage on innocent lives. It was the LTTE that carried out atrocities against innocent unarmed civilians. But we never consider the Tamil community at large as terrorists. No one must brand the Muslim community of two million civilians in Sri Lanka as terrorists just because a few young Muslim men brainwashed by extremist ideology carried out this heinous attack on April 21. Besides, the mainstream Muslim community has demonstrated since the time of Sinhala Kings their love for peace and reconciliation with other communities. During the whole of 30 years of civil war, the Muslims stood with peace-loving Sinhala and Tamil brethren against terrorism and to promote reconciliation and inter-ethnic harmony. We, the Muslims urge the government to identify, apprehend and expose all those who were involved in the Easter Sunday attacks and bring them before the law. We share the grief and pain of the bomb victims and fight alongside with all God-fearing, law-abiding Sri Lankans against terrorism restore law and order in the country.
Q Do you agree if I suggest that this dastardly terrorist attack by a group of Muslim fundamentalists widened the mistrust further between Sinhalese and Muslims?
Soon after the attack, a heavy mistrust built up on Muslims among the Sinhala and Tamil communities. However, when politicians of the divide failed miserably to pacify the situation and strengthen reconciliation, Archbishop, His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith did a marvellous job in preventing the proliferation of violence and placating highly agitated communities. But unfortunately, there were individuals, politicians and certain organizations hell bent on creating unrest and inter-communal disharmony for their own agenda and these heinous attempts exacerbated the situation and delayed the recovery. It was because of these evil elements the private and commercial properties of Muslims came under attack at Kurunegala. Don’t forget the fact that though branded as extremists, Muslims have never demanded or fought for an inch of soil to create a separate state for themselves in Sri Lanka. Muslim youth fought alongside their Sinhala brethren against separatist terrorism and have always stood for reconciliation and peace.
Q What should the Muslims, in particular and other two major communities, Sinhalese and Tamils must do to strengthen the inter-communal harmony, confidence and friendship among the three communities?
If one looks at developed countries, it is obvious that they have prospered through giving prominence to their national identity but not to their ethnicity. We must act and think as Sri Lankans and must be proud of being Sri Lankans. We must be compassionate and respect each other over our ethnic, religious and cultural differences. As a Muslim politician of the new generation, I never consider religion, culture, race, creed or social status of voters when I serve them adhering to a secular ideology.
"Terrorism is a global phenomenon. Terrorists don’t have a religion in real sense because religions don’t profess brutality or savagery on innocent lives"
Q Certain customs practised by Muslims, such as under age marriages, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) certain dictates on divorces etc., not only violate the common law of the country, but are also breaching human and fundamental rights and the UN Charter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Wearing of full face veils by Muslim women has created many security issues. What are your comments on these negative trends?
The FGM is not a part of the Islamic faith. If some one says that it is a cultural or religious decree, it is total misconception. As regards to underage marriages, there is a provision today in the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1974 but the courts have held otherwise. There is a provision in the Kandyan law also on under age marriages. It is unfortunate that a fuss has been made only on the Muslim marriages. The amendments to the MMDA were submitted a few months ago to the cabinet and approved subsequently. But for some unknown reasons, it has been held up there without the scrutiny of the Attorney General or referring to the Legal Draftsman prior to tabling in Parliament.
The proposed amendments were submitted to the cabinet a few months ago (after the Easter Sunday terrorist attack) and approved. Sadly more than four months has lapsed since then, this government has failed to table the Bill in Parliament. I assure you that I will strive to bring these amendments to Parliament and pass this as a law in Parliament in the shortest possible time once the new government is formed after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory. I hope Muslim voters would consider the importance of legalizing these amendments under a new government before they take a decision on whom they should vote for when all the Muslim Ministers in the incumbent government have failed to perform their duties.
It is the right time for law makers, the civil society, Muslim clergy and political leadership took a collective attempt to introduce amendments to the MMDA and increase the minimum age for marriage to 18. Internal conflicts and religious differences are common to any country. That is why our Constitution has protected the rights of communities through the fundamental rights, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to equality, freedom of speech, assembly, association, occupation, movement and right to equality etc.
Muslim women enjoy freedom and rights in their own way by wearing short dresses or otherwise while others have every right to cover themselves with face veil but it should not confront national security. Though Muslim women have every right to wear how they would like to with or without the veil or covering hair, face or ears, they must be careful not to make their identification difficult, which is also common to any citizen.
Q In 2015, Tamils and Muslims voted en masse to ensure the victory of common Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena. Will there be any change of the voting pattern among Tamil and Muslim voters at this Presidential poll, and if, so how and why?
In 2015, Muslims and Tamils played a lead role for a regime change in the hope that they would have a better future. Whilst many Muslim leaders left the government at that crucial time and at later stages, the Muslim voters today have already decided for whom they should vote at this election. In the present context, 19 Muslim MPs support the government, but I have taken a decision to support Gotabaya. Even though a greater number of Muslim parliamentarians are with the UNF government, the Muslim community cannot forget the fact that they have undergone a lot of hardships under the UNF government. Muslims are living in a kind of insecurity and uncertainty right now. Almost all the Muslim Ministers of the UNF government resigned from their portfolios to protect the interests of the Muslim community but came back to the cabinet for no reason or without any positive change of the situation the Muslims are in. There is no national reconciliation under a weakened National security. I believe Gotabaya Rajapaksa has the ability and skills to restore the national security to its former status where all citizens are protected with no terrorist attacks in any part of the country.