By Melani Manel Perera
"Rethinking, reinterpreting and understanding"
Islam in the context of Sri Lankan society;
protecting young people who are vulnerable; carrying out a careful self-assessment of
their mistakes, with the understanding that "extremism cannot be defeated
overnight". These are the key steps
in a long interview with Maulvi Laffir Madani, 58, teacher of Islamic theology
in Colombo, president of the Hashimi Foundation and treasurer of the
Inter-Religious Peace Foundation.
The Muslim intellectual carries out a profound examination of conscience
in the aftermath of the terrorist massacres in Sri Lanka, and invites the
entire Muslim community of the country to take responsibility for its own
mistakes: first of all, that "good-natured" attitude of when one
attends conferences and promises to commit oneself to peace, while in reality
one thinks only of "I am better".
The following are extensive excerpts from an interview given to AsiaNews.
One month on, what are your impressions?
We were shocked and we still are. I believe there is a heavy responsibility on
our shoulders. Perhaps in the beginning
we did not understand the gravity of the situation and among Muslims there are
leaders, political leaders, and activists with great responsibilities. At the same time we must be very cautious,
because the solution to extremism is not another extremism. The whole nation is responsible. As the Cardinal [Malcolm Ranjith, ed.] often
says, we must fight together to emerge from this.
How does your community interpret the attack on churches?
There is a Persian poet named Saadi who says that the human
being is like a body: if one part is wounded, you will also feel pain in other
parts. When we meet a Christian, we feel
a kind of guilt. We know we are not
involved, we dissociate ourselves [from the bombers] and we repeat that they
were influenced: yet they were part of our community. We cannot deny this. The contempt that others show us is
justifiable. We cannot say "I have
nothing to do with it, it was them".
We cannot escape, we must accept reality. We know, however, that there are different
examples: like the Muslims who for centuries protected the statues of Buddha
carved in stone in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, until they were destroyed [by the
Taliban in 2001, ed].
How are your relations with Christians?
From the theological point of view, we worship the same God.
The Quran clearly says so. I could cite
innumerable passages from the Quran which speaks of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph,
Moses and Jesus. You are not a perfect Muslim if you do not worship all these
prophets. They are part of the Islamic
faith. We also venerate Mary, the virgin
mother of Jesus. The Koran also admits mixed marriages. We can eat [similar foods], especially
slaughtered animals. If Christians
slaughter animals, we can feed on them.
It is Halal ["allowed", ed].
Obviously there are many differences, such as between Judaism and
Christianity. But basically we are
religions revealed by God. With Christians we have never had problems.
You spoke of One God: why then did Muslim extremists
These extremists do not accept others just like they do not accept
us Muslims. They have reached such a
level of "exclusivity" that they believe they are the only Muslims,
that they alone possess rights to this world, they alone are representatives of
God and soldiers of God, the only ones to understand God's message. All this
makes no sense, it is madness. They
don't know where they are going or what they are doing. Occasionally similar groups emerge: first the
Taliban in Afghanistan who killed Muslims saying they were not Muslims because
they had too long beards and women because they did not cover themselves
But how can we live this way? Life is living. If you stay in the world, live with others
according to your freedom, you cannot put yourself in a corner and reject
another human being. This is a wrong
ideology. There are 1.3 billion Muslims
in the world: how many of them feel the same way? The Koran does not even say once about
killing Christians. In Sri Lanka, Islam
has existed for 1,300 years and no Muslim has ever arisen to kill other people. These groups are misinterpreting the Koran or
want to use it for their own evil purposes.
There are too many speeches, too many interpretations. I myself have read the texts of the Taliban
and members of Boko Haram that target Christians in Nigeria. Then there is Al Shabab in Somalia and
Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
All of these have a different purpose. It has nothing to do with religion: religion
is simply exploited. This radicalization has been a long process lasting 30-40
years and now it is reaping the benefits.
Unfortunately, they also reached our threshold.
How are you as Muslims trying to avoid radicalism?
I have to be honest, and maybe some Muslims will not
agree. We must seriously address the
issue. As I have already said, we must
re-evaluate ourselves, understand what went wrong. Otherwise, reconciliation programs will not
make sense. I've been working with a
group of people for 20 years and when the bombs went off we were working
between Jaffna, Hambantota, Colombo and Batticaloa to create harmony. However, I feel that we are not completley
sincere, at least on our side. Not all
those who work for reconciliation and the peace process do their work
sincerely. We want immediate results, we
get them and then we forget them. We sit
around the same table, smile at each other, affirm that we are one. But we are not being honest. Not all of us of course. Sometimes we tend to be too focused on
projects. When the project is completed,
the files are closed, the results obtained, we believe that everything is over.
We must really begin to understand each other, not just
looking for the faults in the other.
Many people have the "I am better than you" mentality. This approach is very dangerous. There is a lot to do. We must reintroduce the sense of humanity in
Islam, the sense of peace, the fraternity of which we speak. Where is fraternity when we affirm that
others are not Muslims and we are?
We must especially pay attention to young people, not allow
them to be fascinated by the propaganda of the Islamic State and other
groups. We must teach them that it is
not paradise, but only an act of evil.
When you take drugs, it's like living in another world. I believe that these people also use
drugs. It is our task to prevent young
people from being diverted by sermons of radical elements. It is not too late. We can still save lives and our young people,
we can rehabilitate them and reintroduce them into society. We cannot simply ignore them by saying that
they are not Muslims and that is why we do not want to bury them in our
cemeteries. Dissociating from these
people is right, but we cannot deny the fact that extremism exists. However, I do not know how much the Muslim community
is able to combat it. A big problem
comes from the fact that extremism is already in society, but it is not
recognized as such.
How are Muslims thinking of creating new opportunities
Muslim society is still in shock. We must understand what went wrong and
recognize the signals. Creating a
suicide bomber is not easy, fighting is not easy. It takes a lot of money. It is not easy to say that Muslims can
eradicate extremism overnight. The ingredients
of extremism are still present among Muslims.
We must no longer allow them to repeat [similar tragedies]. We must protect our young people because they
are vulnerable. The Islamic community
must carry out a serious self-evaluation, rethink, reinterpret and understand
[Islam] in the social context of Sri Lanka.