Muslim man, Buddhist elephant (insomuch as that is possible).
Muslims can’t catch a break. Publicly discriminated against in America, bombed or oppressed in the Middle East, and feared in Europe. Even in Sri Lanka, can’t catch a break. In the East, I’ve met Tamils who’ve said they’d rather sell their land to a Sinhalese than a Muslim, and when a candidate there tried to get Muslims and Tamils to run on the same platform, it was trouble. In Colombo – a majority minority city – Muslims growing public face has also led to resentment. So much so that now, in Dambulla, ‘Buddhist’ protesters seem to have succeeded in closing a 50 year old mosque.
It’s a shame. If you visit the Gangaramaya Temple (the part in the Beira Lake) the plaque says it was built by Moosajees, who I presume are Muslim. On the thousand rupee note (unless you get a Mahinda) there’s an elephant with a mahout looking fellow. That man is Umar Lebbai Panicker, a Muslim from Eravur who donated the tusker to the Dalada Maligawa temple.
Muslims are Sri Lankans. They are neighbors and friends. Yet today they are an ethnic minority which, while on the rise economically, is viewed with suspicion by many. Not that Muslims don’t have problems. First off, Y U SPILL WATER ALL OVER THE BATHROOM. Foot washing has a time and a place, and it’s not in the office bathroom. That used to be my major issue. More seriously, in the East people seemed to have issues with Muslims lending money and fertilizer to Tamil farmers and then repossessing the land if the harvest didn’t come in. Or, in Jaffna, with Muslims from outside setting up shops. Neither of these are bad things per se, but it shows the conflicts between Muslims and Tamils.
In the south, one major issue has been loudspeakers. Muslims started doing the call to prayer over loudspeakers and Buddhists retaliated with all night electric pirith and things really got out of control. Then there are the nagging cultural issues. The rising number of women in full hijab (also known as full ninja, perhaps offensively), a visible sign of Wahabbi influence, and a sort of checking out of the community at large. I’m friends with a lot of secularish Muslims, but many Muslims really keep to their own community, which can lead to misunderstanding. I mean, try dating a Muslim girl. Well, you can date a Muslim girl perhaps, but try marrying one. Doesn’t happen, least not without converting, and penis mutilation.
That said, it is important to remember that all communities have our problems if you look at them close enough. I’d venture to say that these are human failings common to us all, manifested in different cultural ways. What discomfits me about the recent protests and mosque closing in Dambulla is A) that it happened B) that this push against public Islam seems sanctioned from the top and C) that it’s brought out a lot of bad blood against Muslim Sri Lankans. I do think the mosque should have stayed open, as it has been for 50 years. When I was at my most Buddhist (in terms of practice) I was in Canada and I found shelter and community among many other religions. Mainly Jewish places, but that was just Montreal. My experience of faith is that I find much more common in spirit with other religious communities than I do to divide.
But this isn’t a religious issue, really. Islam and Sri Lankan Buddhism are often more cultural markers than religious. Still, I think we’ve tread the path of ethnic division before, and IT’S NOT A GOOD IDEA. Thus far, Muslims are the only major community to not stage a violent insurrection, so we should A) give them some respect and B) keep it that way (tho I reject the argument that violence is ever justified by X, I’m just saying). Muslims are the only community that’s widely trilingual, that generally minds their biz, and they’re a credit and boon to Sri Lanka. They’re also my friends and neighbors, so all the hating is really uncouth and uncool.
Seriously people, this is a small island and we all have to live together. Forget the culture conflicts and petty annoyances, Muslims are friends and neighbors and they deserve to be treated the way, what’s the golden rule, do onto Muslims as you would have done onto youse. Would you be happy if your 50 year old temple or church was demolished, especially after a mob prevented you from going in and praying? I think not. Whatever the specifics of the case, it is damn important to emphasize that the Sri Lankan Muslim community is a vital part of Sri Lanka, a respected part of Sri Lanka, and, ultimately, family.
I’m sorry about the Dambulla thing. I hope we’re still cool.