Today we see the coming together of the Muslim community representing various professions and organisations, from diverse backgrounds. Steps taken by the Muslim Council to unite and organise such a gathering is noteworthy. This gathering epitomises how and why we should focus on what brings us together as one, building on our similarities.
Our children and grandchildren can go abroad for employment and earn a good income. But they will have to live as second class citizens. This is our motherland. This is where we were born and live with pride as equal citizens. Although our religious beliefs differ, we belong to one nation, the Sri Lankan nation.
" I wish to quote a past speech D.S. Senanayake made at that time at a meeting held at Palm Court on September 6, 1946. He said: Irrespective of whether we be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Eurasian we are one single nation, the Sri Lankan nation. Long live the Lankan nation!"
I am reminded of a statement made by late D.S. Senanayake when he led our freedom struggle during its final stages. He said when we as Sri Lankans demanded independence; the colonial rulers told him “You are a divided nation. If independence is granted you will resort to bickering and try to kill
Truly, we were divided at that time into Sinhala Maha Sabha, Muslim League, Tamil Congress, Indian Congress, Burgher Union, National Congress, Malay League and the Moors Association etc.
Past leaders including D.S. Senanayake brought them together to one single camp as far as possible and showed the colonial rulers that we are a united nation. I wish to quote a past speech D.S. Senanayake made at that time at a meeting held at Palm Court on September 6, 1946. He said: “Irrespective of whether we be Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Eurasian we are one single nation, the Sri Lankan nation. Long live the Lankan nation!”
"More than those committing wrong, those who see such wrongs and tolerate them in silence are committing a worse crime” this is a saying we have heard very often. Therefore it is the duty and responsibility of all, to rise up with determination to uphold justice and truth."
Today, I am reminded of the dreams dreamt by our leaders who joined hands for the cause of independence at that time. In addition to the quote from D.S. Senanayake, I wish to recall a statement made by T.B. Jayah, a Muslim leader at that time when the Sri Lankan Society was facing a decisive moment. He made this statement in the State Council at a time when some minority community leaders demanded 50-50.
He said “Independence of the motherland is more important than any other thing. I am saying this with the concurrence of all Muslim MPs in this house and discussions with all Muslim organisations throughout the country. We are prepared to go to any length for the cause of independence. On this decisive moment the Muslim community does not intend to place any preconditions for independence. We have our grievances and problems. After gaining independence we can discuss and resolve them with our Sinhala brethren who are our elder brothers”.
This is the path shown by our past leaders. T.B. Jayah’s speech is a beacon which will lighten the path the Muslim community should charter in the future. A. Ratnayake who rose to speak after T.B. Jayah said he too represented a minority community and Jayah had set a great example to all representatives of minority communities in the State Council through his speech. But what has happened to the dreams dreamt by Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim leaders then.
Our society entertained dreams both at the time of gaining independence and at the end of a long drawn out war. I am reminded of the historic speech “I have a dream” made by American leader Martin Luther King. Our society also dreamt that our country would march along a clear path towards prosperity and a united society where everyone could live with a sense of pride. What is happening to those dreams today?
Some people argue that these incidents are created for political gain. Others say it is for commercial gain or created by international elements with hidden agendas. Whoever is responsible for these incidents would only damage the country’s stability and spoil our international image. Today we live in an interconnected global village where we cannot live in isolation. All sections of society should understand this.
"We all have been given a responsibility regarding the future of our society. We have a responsibility to create a society where people can live with satisfaction and pride"
Mahatma Gandhi once said “We should not lose faith in humanism. Humanism is like an ocean. The ocean never gets spoiled or dirty just because some of its waters are muddied or spoiled”. Wicked actions of a few need not weaken us. We should not allow our hopes and aspirations about our country’s future to get spoilt or dissipated. Ours is a very fortunate country nurtured by four main religions in the world. We should stabilise our hopes and aspirations by the guidance offered by these religions.
We should neutrally investigate the displeasing experiences and painful realities we have faced during the post-independence era. Why have we faced such a sorrowful fate? We can line them up as killings, disappearances, torture, property damage and making of refugees. These are things we as a society should never have faced. We are a country which has seen the end of one separatist war. The country has faced an ethnic separatist war as well as a class struggle for division.There should be an end to the sufferings we have undergone on account of them. We should put a stop to such happenings immediately. For this to happen we should free ourselves from separatist attitudes, separatist thoughts, separatist views and separatist feelings.We who are living in the Sri Lankan society should never think separately as ‘you’ and ‘me’. We should all think as one entity as ‘we’. Without thinking separately we should join hands and rise up as one to defeat separatist forces. When we take the incidents in the post-independence era into account we should think how our past independence leaders had the determination and courage to forge unity in diversity. Didn’t they have the dedication to maintain mutual understanding and respect? These are the questions we have to remind ourselves today. The path we have taken in the post-independence era should be investigated with an open mind. This is essential for us to ensure a better future. Singapore which dreamt of becoming another Sri Lanka in the 1960’s has today become a leading economic and social giant in Asia, making an achievement beyond its expectations. Compare where we are to where they are today.
Founder of modern Singapore Prime Minister Le Kwan Yew after his retirement echoed that “Sri Lanka’s tragedy is the result of communal politics.” He changed the future of his country for the better by implementing a firm political will aimed at unity in diversity by uniting a society which fought as Chinese and Malays under the banner of “one country one nation”.
How far are we united as human beings? How far are we united with a sense of brotherhood? This should be the initial criterion used to judge our development progress. It is through such unity that we could promote sustainable development in a country. Such unity cannot be destroyed through gun shots or bombs. What our society needs to do today is to march towards such an esteemed goal. We need a Sri Lankan Society that builds on our diversity and a society that puts ‘we’ first.
We can see that various forces are trying to drive our society towards a problematic situation. Sinful operations are being made to create clashes in our society, by sowing the seeds of separatism. We ought to defeat such attempts.
“More than those committing wrong, those who see such wrongs and tolerate them in silence are committing a worse crime” this is a saying we have heard very often. Therefore it is the duty and responsibility of all, to rise up with determination to uphold justice and truth.
We all have been given a responsibility regarding the future of our society. We have a responsibility to create a society where people can live with satisfaction and pride. What is the type of society should we ensure for our future generation? Is it a society engaged in enmity divided on grounds of language, race, religion or caste or a united society without enmity and hatred? Is it a society where you should live in fear and suspicious about neighbours? Or is it a society where everyone can live as equal citizens with bright hopes, mutual understanding and mutual respect? Is it in a society engaged in fighting wittingly or unwittingly as cats paws manipulated by outside forces? Or in a society where we could stand up as proud Sri Lankans against any outside force? This is what should engage our thinking.
Finally I wish to conclude my speech by quoting from the Holy Quran, Dhammapada, Bhagvath Gita and the Holy Bible.
The quotation from the Holy Quran is prominently displayed at the entrance to the Law Faculty at the Harvard University. In essence it says, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God (The One) even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, God is a Better Protector to both (than you). Surah An-Nisa, Chapter 4, Verse 135. We should make means of the guidance offered by our religion to gain strength and stand up for justice and truth. The Dhammapada stated thus: “Nathang Kammang Kathang Sadhu – Yang Kathwa Anuthappathi, YassaAssumukoRodang – Vipakang Patisevathi” “If you feel happy and contended on reflecting upon a certain deed, repeat such deed, if you repent on reflecting upon a certain deed, avoid performing such deed again.”
The Holy Bible says’ - “What is the use if you do good only to those who do good for you”. The Bhagvath Gita says something similar too, “Man should fulfil his responsibility without thinking of the gains or losses of it”.
All this shows that there are many differences as well as similarities in the religions we profess. What we eat and dress may be different according to our religion. A Christian priest’s dress will be different from that of a Kurukkal, Mowlavior a Bhikkhu. Similarly the dress of a Christian sister will differ from that of a Danasilmatha or a devoted Muslim lady. We should understand such differences and offer respect to them.