Religious differences, no reason to wage war - Islamic scholar | Sunday Observer

Religious differences, no reason to wage war - Islamic scholar

Usthaz M.A.M.Mansoor
Usthaz M.A.M.Mansoor

Islam does not cite religious differences as a reason to justify waging wars. According to Islam, Jihad is to struggle against the oppressors, the book ‘Does Al-Qur’an Encourage Violence’ points out.

Authored by Usthaz M.A.M.Mansoor, the book is being promoted to dispel myths about the teachings of Islam and create awareness among communities, following the Easter Sunday tragedy which exposed a dimension of our society that remained hidden even from the larger moderate Muslim community of Sri Lanka.

The Mishkath Centre in Colombo and Al Quran Open University in Akurana established by the author are promoting the book as a means to make the communities aware of moderate views on the teachings in Al Quran and playing a proactive role to counter the misinformation campaign via social media.

The following is an interview the Sunday Observer had with Mansoor who is respected as an Islamic scholar, theologian, author and educator.

Q. What prompted you to author the book ‘Does al-Qur’an Encourage violence’?

The main reason was the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in April last year. After this incident we too came to know that there are hardliners in the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. Hence, we felt the need to address this issue of distorted interpretations of Islam and create awareness among the Muslims islandwide.

Since its launch in October last year many copies of the book have been sold within the Muslim community alone. It would help clear misconceptions and suspicions created among the other communities after the Easter Sunday attack.

We felt the urgent need for a discourse on this topic, to stop Sri Lankan Muslim youth from falling into wrong hands.

Q. Is the feedback to the book from the readers and members of your community up to your expectation?

There was a huge response, the entire community accepted the book. Some Islamic institutions and higher education colleges included it in their reference material. Madrasas and colleges invited us to deliver lectures and elaborate on the book.

In addition, Friday Kutbah sermons in many areas referred to the explanations in the book. The Ulemas and Islamic scholars have joined this dialogue and we have not found anyone openly criticising the contents of the book, instead many were asking for clarifications to explain the subject of Islam and violence.

Q. The so-called radical groups in Sri Lanka, did they accept the interpretations in the book, weren’t you afraid of a backlash?

We did not get any negative comments from the radical groups either. In Kathankudi some Thawheed groups have received this book. It was collectively accepted so we believe, it’s a true message.

The concept of Jihad, though part of Islam, depends on the contextual situation. The subject of Jihad is not something commonly discussed in the classroom. After the attack, the Ulemas insisted that this topic, the Islamic perspective of violence, should be addressed in schools. The book was the response to that call.

Q. But there is a claim that the culture of Jihad and violence is propagated in Madrasas here?

The Madrasa culture has about 100 years of history in Sri Lanka. Throughout these 100 years we have not seen any teachings of violence in these religious schools. Jihad and other means of violence were never promoted in Madrasas.

This development was quite sudden, and we suspect it was not locally developed. The Muslim community needs to be made aware, as to what exactly is the Islamic perspective, in order to stop negative thoughts and ideologies from being spread.

Q. Sri Lankan Muslims were largely a peace-loving moderate community. When do you think extremist views crept into our society?

It may have happened 2-3 years ago. It has no local roots, I suspect foreign influence from Al Qaeda or ISIS for this …. It was spread internationally via social media. Some Sri Lankans went to Syria and other countries and tried to establish links. These extremist groups tried to plant violent ideologies among our youth through Saharan but it was not a complete success. A very few had responded to their call.

Q. It has been nine months since the Easter Sunday attacks. Do you think the Government has been successful in containing the terror cells or are they still posing a threat?

Saharan is no more. Most of the people linked to him have been arrested. To be honest we cannot definitely say his ideology has died with him. There could be people still driven by it.

Therefore, we have launched a de-radicalisation program targetting the entire Muslim community, because any surviving trace of their radical views, could be dangerous.

There can be more than one reason why such attacks take place. The Sri Lankan Muslim community can be divided into three categories - moderate people who are very balanced intellectuals, those not very balanced but follow the mainstream as a tradition. They are not dangerous. The other segment is a small minority group who are rigid in their beliefs.

The latter can be easily recruited for terrorist activities, and influenced through foreign organizations. Since we don’t know who that minority group is we need to de-radicalise the entire community.

I have suggested that the Muslim community be transformed into a civil community. They must take part in national and community activities, along with Islamic religious activities. But the main challenge is the lack of understanding by the Muslims about civil society concepts and lifestyles. We are trying to address this vacuum.

Q. Will this transformation be in the dress-code also, will they agree to look like the traditional Muslims we saw in the past before the Burqa and Abaya were introduced to Sri Lanka ?

This transformation model would not take them back 50-60 years. It is a very modernized concept. According to the Islamic perspective the black Abaya is not an Islamic dress. Islam only says that women should cover their body parts except the face and the hands. A country’s situation, environment, climate and dress preferences would dictate your attire.

In Sri Lanka through the influence of foreign and Arab countries, they understood what is worn in Arab countries as the Islamic dress. But women’s dress code can be the sari, shalwar or any dress which will decently cover the body.

Q. Social media is a major factor in shaping the mindset of the youth. How would you tackle the radicalisation taking through social media?

We did not start the social media campaign in Colombo. But in Akurana, my home town there is a working team who have initiated some activities. For example, we have teamed up 15 social media influences, to train them on how to spread positive content. They will screen the negative writers in the community and the nature of bad content, especially on facebook and whatsapp.

In Akurana they are conducting a research, based on which 15 boys have been selected to be trained to respond to the misconceptions and explain them. It has begun but we need to expand it.

When we make positive content, it will be shared widely.

Q. Do you think the Muslim community financially supported the Easter Sunday attackers?

As far as we know, there is no evidence that it was financially supported by the masses. There were three main groups. The Kanthankudi group led by Saharan had severed ties with the Muslim community for about two years.

The National Thawheed Jamath (NTJ) was somewhat known, but the Mawanella group was named by the security intelligence subsequent to the incident. They had no social recognition and were not supported by the Muslims.

Q. Do you have any idea how many Sri Lankans have left the country to join the Islamic State?

We have no data. The majority of Sri Lankan Muslims are not aware of these radical concepts and ideologies. As far as I know no one has left the country to join IS after the Easter Sunday incident The Mishkath Institute and Al Quran Open College in Akurana, are working together to create awareness on the true teachings of Islam. We propose to engage them towards a moderate lifestyle.

Pic by Sulochana Gamage