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Sunday, 20 November 2011

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‘Wisdom in Qu’ran, Hadiths has perpetual validity’

I consider it a great privilege to have been invited to share some thoughts with you on this significant occasion. The World Muslim Congress (Motamar) is one of the most respected organisations in the world today. It has a crucial role to perform: To bring to the notice of the world community the whole reservoir of wisdom that is contained in the Islamic scriptures, and the contribution that has been made by renowned Islamic scholars throughout the centuries to the development of political and social thought.

This organisation has a long and proud history. Motamar - the World Muslim Congress - was established in 1926. In 1978, it had the singular honour of being given Observer status by the United Nations Organisation.

The Council meets once in five years, and it is a matter of deep satisfaction to us that you have chosen Colombo as the venue of your deliberations at a particularly significant juncture in the contemporary history of the world.

We welcome the decision and we welcome you most cordially to our shores. We have no doubt that the deliberations that we are embarking upon today will enrich our collective insights with regard to the many problems confronting the world at this time.

In some of the discussions that took place among nations during the last six weeks, there has been a great deal of emphasis on problems which are crying out for solutions; issues that are currently receiving the sustained attention of the global community.

The discussions that took place in the General Assembly of the United Nations in September this year, the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Perth, Western Australia, and the deliberations of SAARC, which concluded in Addu City in the Maldives, where President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a very distinguished contribution. The President of Sri Lanka was present in all those fora: And on each of these occasions the world community had to address very pressing problems, such as the consequences of terrorism, global warming, degradation of the environment, the current financial crisis, which is today affecting more and more countries in the world including some developed economies and matters connected with investment that is required for the production of energy through environment friendly-sources.

Practical solutions

I would like to say on this occasion that the Islamic scriptures, the whole corpus of Islamic religious, spiritual and political thought, have a singular contribution to make to the emergence of practical solutions to all of these problems. The wisdom that is contained in the Qur’an and the Hadiths is not confined to any particular civilisation, or any particular period in history. These are thoughts that have perpetual validity. They are crucially relevant in the troubled world in which we live today.

We can turn to these texts for guidance today, in working out practical solutions to problems that have arisen in each of our countries. These texts will shed considerable light on the way forward; the trajectory that we must follow to arrive at solutions that will serve the cause of humanity today.

For example, there is the beautiful passage in the Qur’an, where the followers of the Prophet are asking him, “we have no difficulty as long as you are with us, if we have a problem and if we are not sure what to do we can always come to you and we can benefit from your wisdom. But what happens when you are no longer with us, when we can no longer come to you and ask for your advice?”

The answer of the Prophet is exceedingly illuminating and vitally relevant today. He said, “engage in discussion among yourselves, let there be an exchange of views, a clash of opinions and carry out that discussion in a spirit of openness and candour. From the clash of all these opinions, there will emerge a certain consensus, and you can take that consensus as reflecting the advice that I would have given you, had I been personally present with you.

This is the concept of Mazura in Islam: participatory democracy. Democracy originated in ancient Athens and it has had a convoluted history through the centuries. If we want to encapsulate the essential spirit of democracy, of representative government, there is no better illustration of the approach that is required to achieve that objective than this illuminating passage which is contained in the Qur’an. It is vitally relevant for us today, as we grapple with vexed problems and search for pragmatic solutions.

Misrepresentations

There are some misrepresentations of Islam. I do not accept the analysis presented in the famous work by Samuel Huntington – The Clash of Civilizations. There he analyses contemporary history in terms of a conflict between Christianity and Islam. Far from that being the case, I believe that Islam has been a religion that has upheld the values of tolerance and co-existence.

There are passages in the Qur’an and the Hadiths which emphasise the reality that no distinction ought to be made between believers and non-believers. We are all members of humanity, who are entitled to compassionate treatment, to understanding. It preaches the spirit of tolerance and the need to exist in harmony with those who profess other faiths. This goes to the very root of the value system that is enshrined in Islamic doctrine.

There are also many other concepts which are integral to modern law and philosophy, which have their genesis and their avenues of development in Islamic thought. There are many such passages in the Hadiths. One striking passage is that, if a person works for you, you are under an obligation to compensate that person ‘before the sweat dries on his skin’. This is a very enlightened approach to the relationship between employer and employee. It is, in fact, the pith and substance of modern labour law.

This obligation to compensate those who have served you does not depend on any coercive legal obligation; it is not dependent on being taken to court or on a court order compelling compensation. But it is an obligation that fastens upon your own conscience. It is a moral obligation. There is no duress or coercive force of law. You must do it of your own free will, spontaneously and voluntarily. This is the spirit of the doctrine contained in the Islamic scriptures.

Human nature

Another passage strikes me, as a non-Muslim, as very eloquent and a very perceptive comment on human nature. Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne made some reference to distinguished Muslim leaders who have served this country. He mentioned the name of Sir Razik Fareed.

Several years ago, I was invited to deliver a memorial oration in honour of Sir Razik Fareed. That was the time when I studied the Muslim scriptures – the Qur’an, the Hadiths and other sources. Some of the passages which I read at that time have remained in my memory very vividly since then.

I will share this passage with you now, “If you are having a delectable dish prepared in your home, and for some reason you cannot share it with your neighbour, then the advice that you are given is to please ensure that the aroma from this dish does not reach the nostrils of your neighbour. Either, share it with your neighbour, in a spirit of brotherhood and fraternity, which of course is the ideal course of action, or, adopt precautions to ensure that the aroma emanating from this delectable dish does not reach the nostrils of your neighbour”.

It is a beautiful passage. It is a comment on human envy, jealousy; powerful human motivations. Therefore, if you are giving your children a delectable dish that your neighbour is not able to give his own children, then there would be animosity developing between the two households. This animosity will be aggravated over time.

Therefore, avoid this source of tension. Do not try to deal with the problem after it has arisen, pre-empt or prevent the problem. It is a very practical passage. It reflects a complete understanding of, and consonance with, the basic tenets of human nature.

As a non-Muslim that was my reaction to this beautiful passage, which I think gives us excellent advice for the world in which we live today. This is why I feel that the Islamic scriptures contain a whole accumulation of wisdom which will serve us well at this time.

Close connections

Further, Prime Minister Jayaratne referred to the close connection between the ancient Kings of our country and the service that was rendered to the cause of Islam. There has been brotherhood; there has been collaboration and co-existence over the centuries.

There are also certain points of contact, certain similarities between the Islamic and Buddhist doctrines. An example is the first passage I quoted which emphasized democracy and discussion as a basis of all governance. There is a passage in the Buddhist scriptures where Gautama the Buddha advises the Lichchavi princes. At that time they were having a quarrel which they could not resolve. The Buddha advised the warring princes: “Meet in harmony, discuss in harmony and disperse in harmony; meet peacefully, discuss peacefully, and disperse peacefully”.

Moreover, the concept of Ramadan, and the doctrine in the Islamic scriptures which requires you to share a certain portion of your wealth, emphasises that rights are always accompanied by obligations. There is reciprocity between rights and obligations.

There is no absolute ownership. As the owner of land, I cannot do with my land as I wish. There are overriding obligations which I owe to society in general. In fact, the legal concept of the Trust originates from Islamic texts. I am the owner, but I am under a trust to use that property for the common well-being of the society, of which I am a part.

This has immediate similarities with the Buddhist doctrine. The arrival of Buddhism on this island was in the time of King Devanampiyatissa in the Anuradhapura period. And Arahath Mahinda, the son of Emperor Dharmasoka, brought Buddhism to our country. He arrived in Mihintale, as King Devanampiyatissa was about to aim his arrow at a deer.

Arahat Mahinda addressing King Devanampiyatissa said, “Oh King, mighty as you are, you are not the owner of the universe, the hills, the valleys, the rivers, the forests. You are only a trustee. And you are under a duty to hand over these assets to those who come after you – the future generations – in the pristine purity in which you inherited those assets from your forefathers”.

Obligation to society

So we see that Islamic doctrine and Buddhist doctrine recognised this overriding obligation to society – that private property, private rights are not absolute or unqualified.

On this significant occasion where your Council is meeting after five years in the capital city of our country, I want to share a thought that I have also shared over the last four months with many rulers of the Gulf, whom I had the privilege of visiting.

In April this year, I visited the Sultanate of Oman, and I had the particular privilege of a very productive discussion with the Foreign Minister of the Sultanate of Oman, who I think is the longest serving Foreign Minister in the world. He has held the position of Foreign Minister for 37 years. A man of great wisdom! I really enjoyed my conversation with the Foreign Minister of the Sultanate of Oman.

Then, about a month later, I visited the State of Qatar, and I had meetings with the rulers of Qatar. Much more recently, in the last three weeks I visited the UAE, and the State of Kuwait. I met the Foreign Ministers of both countries, and the Prime Minister of Kuwait, and we discussed how all this wisdom which we are inheriting can be used in a practical way to find solutions to the problems that we are facing in the modern world.

Do not think that there is only one culture in the world. All our cultures have made very vigorous contributions to the development of social, political and legal thought. There is a duty devolving on all of us to uphold these values; to expound them to the world, and to underline the relevance of these values to the task of finding solutions to contemporary problems.

Asian summit

The rulers of Kuwait indicated that they would like in the course of the new year 2012, to organise in Kuwait city, an Asian summit, to which they propose to invite the Heads of State of all Asian countries.

There is in existence today, an organisation called the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD). It is a unique organisation. Currently, it consists of 34 countries, which brings under one umbrella the whole of Asia – North and South, East and West – and all the countries of the Gulf, the Gulf Cooperation Council, all the Islamic countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It also brings into its ranks, some of the most influential, most powerful countries in this region, such as Russia, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. The Government of Sri Lanka will participate vigorously in these proceedings. President Rajapaksa told me to convey to the government of Kuwait, that Sri Lanka welcomes this initiative, and we look forward to participating in this initiative. The importance of it has to do with Asian identity.

An Asian identity will be enriched and nurtured by the philosophy of Islam, and the philosophy of all the other religions, which had their birth and their development in the continent of Asia. Therefore, it is an inspiring undertaking in which we must all participate.

Sri Lanka is emerging from a painful conflict, which spanned three entire decades. We have now found our way out of the woods. We are rebuilding the economy of this country. We are addressing the tasks of reintegration and national reconciliation.

As the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, it is a matter of deep pride and satisfaction to me to have accompanied the President, as I said, to New York, to Perth and to the Maldives, and to see for myself, the increasing understanding the world is showing towards Sri Lanka.

Int’l community

What do we mean by the international community? I think that there must be clarity of thought with regard to that. In Perth, Western Australia, we had 15 countries taking the floor one after the other to say in the strongest possible terms that they understand Sri Lanka; they support Sri Lanka; they wish us well; they will stand by us through thick and thin, as they did in one of the darkest hours of our country. It was both, a humbling and strengthening moment.

This is the international community. The international community consists of the vast majority of nations in the modern world, who are reflecting a point of view that is entirely consistent with the wisdom of the past: the ideas, thoughts, philosophy that has been developed in the Islamic scriptures and in the other scriptures that represent the great religions of the world.

It is in that spirit that I address you in all humility on this occasion. And I would like to leave you with this thought on which to ponder: we are the heirs to a great legacy – an unparalleled and unsurpassed legacy; a living legacy. It is not something that belongs only to history. It is part of the present. It is part of the future. It is therefore, the collective duty of us all to uphold these values which we have inherited from past generations; to make them relevant to the world in which we live. And that is why I say in all honesty and sincerity, that this meeting of the World Muslim Congress (Motamar), which you are holding in Sri Lanka today, is a momentous event which has enormous practical significance.

I would therefore, warmly congratulate M.H. Mohammad, who has played a pioneering role in organising this meeting. I wish this meeting well. We hope very much, that apart from your deliberations, you will have some time to enjoy the scenic beauty of our country, the warmth and hospitality of our people, the vibrancy of our culture, and that it will tempt you to visit us again and again, and to forge lasting links with Sri Lanka.

The address delivered by Minister of External Affairs, Professor G.L. Peiris to the World Muslim Congress in Colombo

 

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