In this festive season-with the Holy Prophet Mohamed’s Birthday being marked on Monday, Uduwap Poya yesterday and the ongoing Christmas season – it may be the best time to focus on the need to deepen inter-religious dialogue and unity in diversity. It is based on the hallowed precept that while we respect and practise our own faith, we also respect the faiths and beliefs of others.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking at various ceremonies on Sunday, emphasized the need for inter-religious and inter-racial unity in diversity. The President, addressing temple ceremonies in Athurugiriya and Nugegoda, reassured that the constitutional provision giving the foremost place to Buddhism would not be changed in any way. On the contrary the place of Buddhism would be strengthened with extra resources for pirivena education and State sponsorship for the international Vesak Day to be celebrated here in May next year.
The President also outlined the National Government’s policy of giving the due place and full freedom to those who practised other religions including Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. On Monday both the President and the Prime Minister paid glowing tributes and made specific references to the positive contributions made by Islam and those who practise it for the upliftment of the noblest virtues and values in Sri Lanka and all over the world.
Premier Wickremesinghe, speaking at the Global Energy Parliament’s (GEP) annual sessions held at the Temple Trees Banquet Hall on Sunday, outlined the amazing contributions that could be made when all religions worked together in vital fields such as environmental protection, healthcare and education. The GEP, started by the Swami Isa Foundation in India, was co-hosted this year by the Inter-faith coalition for peace in Sri Lanka, the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka and the National Christian Council.
The GEP sessions, attended by more than 1,000 delegates from various countries, adopted several resolutions which will be given to the Sri Lanka Government and world bodies including the United Nations. For instance, healthcare experts spoke of the rich values in Sri Lanka’s native medicine or ayurveda which has remedies for diseases which the western allopathic system cannot cure. Some 2,800 years ago, long before any western allopathic system took shape, the Lord Buddha had said there were powerful medicinal properties in hundreds if not thousands of herbs.
For religious unity a vital factor is racial or cultural unity. The President, the Prime Minister and National Government leaders are stressing this in their policy statements. On Sunday, President Sirisena said there was a vital need to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources in all provinces including the Northern and Eastern Provinces. He said this was the National Government’s policy to bring about social justice and development justice. The need was not only for the devolution of power, but also the devolution of resources. The President said that hitherto he believed there had been too much emphasis on the development of the Western Province and too little on others, especially the North-East. He said there was an urgent need for a structural change, and the National Government would go ahead with it though some extremist groups might try to stir up racial or religious tension.
Analysts say important lessons need to be taken from what is happening in the United States today. US President-elect Donald Trump’s policies are seen by most analysts as being extremist if not eccentric with the consequences as unpredictable as the business tycoon himself. For instance Mr. Trump is threatening to change the one-China policy which different US administrations have faithfully followed for the past four decades. Mr. Trump’s pronouncements during the past two weeks provoked a Chinese Communist Party-sponsored Newspaper to accuse him of acting like a spoilt child. With largely white supremacist populism going global – mainly as a result of the elections in the US and the referendums in Birtain and Italy – orthodox extremism is threatening the world order. Some experts believe that if Mr. Trump further provokes China, it might even invade Taiwan with disastrous consequences.
In such a scenario, Sri Lanka’s National Government needs to get tough if extremist elements on either side try to abuse the new freedoms we have won. Rights are linked to responsibilities. Those who fail in their responsibilities, forfeit their rights.