The High Road | Sunday Observer

The High Road

After the horrific events of Easter Sunday, the universal principles of harmonious co-existence and reconciliation espoused by my late father, Judge CG Weeramantry, reverberate with deep relevance. This is an opportune moment in time to pause and reflect on some of his ideas.

A central thread in my father’s writing was bridge-building. He was referring not to physical bridges but to bridges of understanding. To him, these metaphorical structures facilitated much needed pathways toward peace and justice. An essential component of these bridges comprised an understanding of religion. In the world’s great religions, my father saw common elements that formed a universal wisdom and vision, transcending nationality, race and culture.

In the difficult circumstances facing the nation at present, a crucial aspect of this understanding is the need for non-Muslims to grasp the true message of mainstream Islam. In his book Islamic Jurisprudence: Some International Perspectives, my father expressed his concern that “Islamic law and institutions are the subject of a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding, which needed to be corrected in the interests of international harmony.” He went on to highlight the necessity for the non-Islamic world to “become familiar with the basic essentials of this great body of jurisprudence. An important barrier to international understanding is the widespread lack of information regarding Islam.

“Lack of information leads to misunderstandings and prejudices which in their turn lead to bitterness. Out of bitterness come tensions, national and international. … The cause of international harmony urgently requires that bridges of appreciation be built between the non-Islamic and the Islamic worlds.

“Each has too much to offer the other for either section of mankind to discount the other’s contribution as unimportant to its intellectual heritage or to its daily concerns.”

I expect that my father would have emphasised that the real teachings of Islam play no part in the massacre of innocents on Easter Sunday and that its followers should not be tainted or prejudged by those monstrous acts.

He would have drawn attention to the wise virtues of the Prophet Mohammed, as he did in An Invitation to the Law:

“The strength of the Prophet’s personality, the fervour with which he preached his message of equality, kindness and love and his opposition to discriminations based on aristocracy, race or colour are well reflected in his farewell sermon [at Mount Arafat] to his people – an outstanding human rights document insufficiently known outside of the Islamic world.”

He would also have noted that the Islamic faith contains notions of caring, human dignity, fairness, equality, individual freedom, tolerance and the presumption of innocence as he did in his book Islamic Jurisprudence.

As a part of his stress on inter-faith understanding, he would also have referred to Christianity, particularly given the deliberate targeting of churches.

In The Lord’s Prayer: Bridge to a Better World, he discusses the Prayer’s call for forgiveness and observes that the world “is torn with disputes arising from wrongs done in the past, and grievances carried into the future.

As long as the wrongs linger unforgiven, they keep resentment alive, and resentment feeds upon itself. It leads to reprisals, and the reprisals to new resentments. Unless that vicious spiral is broken, the lack of forgiveness has soon turned itself into hatred.

The international tensions that swirl around us are largely the result of attitudes of hatred that have simmered long in silent resentment, before being translated into action.”

These thoughts have deep stores of relevance to all Sri Lankans at this juncture. Pertinently, they formed an integral part of the message of the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, who – in a televised mass after Easter Sunday – prayed that “in this country there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division.”

This line of thinking also resonates in the appeals of Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religious leaders in this country for calm and tolerance in the wake of the bombings.

I should also mention that in an unpublished manuscript he was writing before he passed away, my father reflected on Christ’s teachings and observed that “the humanitarian conduct taught by Christ extends to every single person with whom we come in contact – even to one’s enemies.”

He adds that the teachings of Christ provide the high road: “Unprecedented problems beset us everywhere, and answers to them must be urgently sought. Christ’s teachings are a rich repository of such answers but are sadly neglected, with lip-service being paid to them without an effort to translate them into practice.”

Even though he urged the world to take a higher road that is indeed difficult to traverse in times of trouble and uncertainty, he was also pragmatic.

As he acknowledged in Towards One World, “my efforts [at bridge-building] are indeed infinitesimal compared to the totality of effort required. Yet I am convinced that every individual contribution can help eventually to tilt the scales in favour of a better future for all.”

This message can be extended to present day Sri Lanka. The way forward for reconciliation is in every Sri Lankan’s hands.

As my father would have stressed, there are solutions to the way forward contained within the religions directly affected by the Easter Sunday massacres. Those faiths and the humane principles behind them should not be ignored.

While he is not with us any more to provide a beacon of light in these times of hardship and healing, his writings provide solace and a much needed moral compass. If his work is in any small way used to motivate or move toward peace and reconciliation in the current situation, he would have been immensely satisfied.