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PRESS RELEASE

 

ACHIEVING TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY BETWEEN ISLAM AND BUDDHISM

 

This press release should be read in conjunction with the speech “Islam and Buddhism,”

 

By Dr. Malik S. Khan, Secretary-General and Permanent UN Representative of the World Council of Muslim Communities, joined by Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef, President of the World Council of Muslim Communities

 

Coming from the United States via Saudi Arabia, after performing my Hajj (pilgrimage at the Holy City of Makkah), I arrived at the beautiful Sri Lankan capital of Colombo to attend the General Council session of the World Muslim Congress on 13th November 2011 as well as the five-year plenary of the World Council of Muslim Communities. I have been working for a decade on Tolerance and Solidarity of All Religions. I was given this assignment by the U.S., the United Nations General Assembly President, and Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef of World Muslim Congress on behalf of all Muslims around the world to build the bridges of understanding between the United States and Islam and the same time with all other religions to achieve tolerance and solidarity for all religions, a peace-building initiative which Dr. Nasseef and I have been the pioneer of. We started by providing material for clergy to give sermons on the grass-roots level around the world and went on to hold conferences on the level of ambassadors, NGOs, and finally on the level of heads of state, for which the President of the United States and the King of Saudi Arabia have played major roles throughout the past decade to achieve cordial relationships and bring closer ties among all communities of the world. The Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, H.E. Adel A. Al-Jubeir, also has been facilitating me to achieve this dynamic goal.

At the beautiful Colombo airport, the weather was balmy and the people were cheerful. The customs officials and immigration functionaries were so courteous and respectful that, looking at the American passport in my hand and the Hajj scarf on my head, they gave me a special entrance without even checking my belongings. On my exit, I was received affectionately by my local host, Hussain Hanifa Mohamed, who took me to my hotel, a Ramada Inn.

The opening session of the conference was scheduled to have H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, as Chief Guest. As he was unable to attend, his place was taken by the Prime Minister, H.E. D.M. Jayarathna, who was joined by Members of Parliament at the session. The Prime Minister gave a warm welcome to all delegates and attendees. He delivered a moving speech on the policies of the Sri Lankan government, based on justice and equity, thereby offering equal opportunities to all citizens. In admiring President Rajapaksa for bringing peace to the strife-torn country, he gave the tidings of amicability to all:  Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others. He specially praised the Muslim communities for their cooperation with their Buddhist neighbors, thereby playing a key role for evolving a harmonious society and finding their deserved place in the Administration and the Parliament to reconstruct the country through the government’s democratic practices. So highlighting the process of democracy, as a gesture of goodwill, in the honor of the international guests, he invited them for an elaborate feast at the Prime Minister’s House.

H.E. G.L. Peiris, Member of the Parliament and Minister of External Affairs, then delivered his special address. Knowledgeable of the Islamic Teachings and well-versed in the Holy Quran and the Revered Hadith, he paid his heartiest tribute to the Islamic heritage of his nation and assured of its cordial relation with the Muslim world under the inclusive policies of the President of the Republic, who is also the President of the Buddhist Association co-sponsoring the conference. He believes in giving equal opportunities to all citizens, regardless of differences in thought; they practice what they preach. The content of the speeches can be seen on the websites http://worlddialogue.net and http://iicdr.org.

H.E. Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef, President of World Muslim Congress, on his turn, commended the Honorable Exterior Minister for being so elucidative in covering every aspect of Islam for the august body gathered on this auspicious occasion. In praising the Minister for his outstanding speech on Islam so eloquently given and so dynamically advanced, he reserved his comments just for this aspect. Moved by the Minister’s profound understanding of Islam, he concluded in contrast of values, they are respectful to all. In the game of fairness, while preserving their own well-being, they equally protect others’ integrity. In such a system majority as well as minority enjoy their equitable shares on one plane and equal on the other. In thus endorsing the Exterior Minister as fulfilling his obligations on behalf of his government in enforcing the policies of H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa of fair play, he hoped that these trends would lead to a unified Sri Lanka, prosperous and progressive in its bearing.

During our three days’ conference, we were invited for dinners and receptions to the President’s House, the Prime Minister’s House, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for a cocktail reception by the Exterior Minister, and the Residence of His Honorable Mohamed Hanifa Mohamed, 90-year-old politician, who throughout the 60-year history of Sri Lanka has been Speaker of Parliament and has held many ministerial positions, and is now an elder statesman, highly respected by all communities. His constituency is composed only 8% of Muslims, yet his constituents are all Sri Lankans who always vote to get him elected. Whenever there are disputes amongst communities, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, they bring their differences to him to do justice and establish peace and harmony for them.

At the Prime Minister’s House, a great and gala reception and dinner was given for us, with Members of Parliament present to greet us. We were all received personally by H.E. the Prime Minister, while having an elaborate variety of hors d’oeuvres and foods highlighting Sri Lankan cuisine and taste. We all enjoyed the local gourmet food and courtesy. While we were relishing the elaborate and elegant reception, H.E. President Rajapaksa, to show the affection for his people and to honor the guests with his presence at this gathering, decided of his own accord to come and give us a surprise, though we were scheduled to meet him the next day at a reception at his residence. We all were so pleased and thrilled that immediately we rushed toward the President to greet and embrace him. After shaking hands with everybody individually, he took pictures with all the guests. He started mixing and conversing with all of us and answered individual’s questions. In the beginning, I shook hands with him and said, “Your Excellency, I am presenting you a book I have written and dedicated to H.E. the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” He replied, “Tomorrow come to my residence and present me the book.”

At the end of everybody’s meeting with the President of Sri Lanka, I took my turn and exclaimed, “Your Excellency, Mr. President, you have left a legacy to the citizens of Sri Lanka. Historically they will never forget you. You are the one who has achieved peace and has brought this nation from terror, destruction, explosions and exploitation to a peaceful, loving fraternity. Everybody is so enchanted to enjoy the fruits of freedom and prosperity, and all communities are happy to live in peace and harmony. This is the land where Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus all shake hands with one another, invite their neighbors to exchange gifts among them, and share joy and sorrow on familial grounds. This peace and harmony is second to none.”

The President of Sri Lanka remarked, “Dr. Malik Khan, I am the President of all Sri Lankans – Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and others. I was very grieved to see 100,000 refugees thrown out by the Tamil Tigers. They butchered, slaughtered and uprooted people from their homes. They destroyed their properties, forced people into servitude, and made them wretched against their wills.”

The world record shows the ethnic cleansing of the communities and major calamities, especially against Muslims in the north, in Jaffna and other places, where the LTTE forcibly took over their land and drove them into refugee camps. For thirty long years, they abused a peaceful country and its peaceful citizens. Historically, Sri Lankan people have never done cruelty to anybody, yet they became victims of cruelty. The United Nations should look into the matter of how the Tamil Tigers have abused and done the cleansing of the Muslim and Buddhist Sinhalese communities.

I said to His Excellency, “Democracy in Sri Lanka is second to none, where you have provided to minorities their representation in the government. Muslims are only 8% of the population, but you have bestowed upon them four ministries and many deputy ministries. We Muslims are proud of you, and you really practice what you preach.”

“Your Excellency, your legacy will be of putting an end to thirty years of war and destruction, which cost the country dearly. I remember 35 years ago the Sri Lankan Rupee was worth more than the Indian one, and now it is worth less than half of that. You have done an outstanding job. Your achievement will be remembered throughout the history of Sri Lanka. Your Excellency, we Muslims are proud of you. We feel very much at home to conduct our global parlay in this beloved nation, where we have been so affectionately received and lovingly treated. Also, we are very happy that the Sri Lankans go to work in all Islamic countries, where they are provided with equal benefits and opportunities. This cordial relationship, specially developed during your dynamic leadership, will hopefully continue.

“Your Excellency, we came several times in the past decades to hold our conferences in Sri Lanka and run dialogues between faiths, preaching tolerance and solidarity among all religions, in which Sri Lanka presented as model. In fact, the friendship between the Muslim and Buddhist communities living side by side in peace and harmony shows to the world how to coexist in mutuality and dignity.”

H.E. President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, “Our government is firmly committed to uphold democracy and protection of human rights as its prime duties. Its responsibility is also to free our people from the grip of terrorism and violence. Attempts by any individual or organization to violate and suppress such rights would be thwarted at all costs by our government. We will do our utmost to demonstrate our firm commitment and sincerity in this task.”

I especially noticed that H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa from time to time invites religious communities individually or collectively in a congenial atmosphere at the Presidential Mansion for a free exchange of views on concerned matters and for offer of special assistance in situations of need.

The President, along with his government, has been working assiduously for peace and reconciliation among different groups. Resettlement of refugees displaced by the LTTE is proceeding apace, with construction of houses and schools, provision of security and mine clearing, production of water schemes and utility services, and furnishment of psychological counseling and health assistance for those traumatized by the war. Development of the country and national reconciliation are being enhanced by such means as teaching of English to increase the citizens’ employability abroad, expansion of all infrastructure facilities such as communication and transport, and creation of a unified education system, where children of the different ethnic and religious backgrounds could mix to learn and harmonize their relations.

The President’s Fund (launched in 1978) is a major charity with a range of relief activities, which include help for scholarships and tertiary education, advancement of religion, and recognition and value of service to the nation. It is best known as an oasis of relief for those in need (e.g., medical emergencies beyond one’s reach). The President himself is personally benevolent by nature. He gave eighteen fishermen boats to replace those that were destroyed in August 2007 by fire.

Indeed, he is gracious, not only to his citizens, but also to his visitors. People from all walks of life come to see him, or he of his own accord grants them audience. Among the high dignitaries received by him include the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Louis Arbour, in 2007 at Temple Tree. He also received Nobel Prize Laureate Mr. Mohammed Younas in 2007 at Temple Tree.

We hereby present our humble appreciation, and we pray to the Almighty that these peaceful dialogues continue and these opportunities open all over the globe in all countries to bring peace and harmony to the world and build cordial relationships among all communities of the world through dialogues to solve the lingering international issues so as to bring peaceful coexistence through the attitude of “live and let live” to all communities of the world. We pray for ambassadors of goodwill to take the message across all continents to bring this small world closer as technology has created the global village. We wish to bring humanity together intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. We members of august bodies, with a gesture of goodwill and good wish, intend to run our dialogues through skill, knowledge and attitude from all scriptures and traditions and learn through the experiences of all successful societies of the world. Ameen.