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