By Zaithoon bin Ahamed/medium.com
It’s been just over a couple of months since the senseless and tragic terror attacks on several churches as well as hotels in Sri Lanka. With our proven record of being resilient, we have, as a nation, rebuilt together and done everything we can to help those directly and indirectly impacted by this vicious attack. Our strong resilience helps us to forget and move forward. It’s harder for some though who have lost their children, loved ones, or will forever bear the scars, whether physically or emotionally, or both. I can only imagine how hard it must be.
The bigger concerns and conversations within my circles, however, have been about Islam, radicalization and the Sri Lankan Muslim community and its long-term effects on the country. Many of my close friends have openly asked me numerous questions — some of which I didn’t have ready answers to. It got me thinking though and also forced me to question myself and do some reflecting. Those who know me personally, professionally, or even as an acquaintance would agree that I’m not even remotely conservative. To some within my community, I might appear as being extremely moderate and thus not qualified to talk about ‘acceptable’ religious practices or share my views. While deploring the behaviours of those radicalized individuals who, through their twisted ideologies, found reasons to create chaos, I was struggling to understand and explain ‘why’ a group of people (supposedly followers of a ‘peaceful’ religion) are different in a wrong way. Then I started to express my views and reasoning for what happened. Many people have shared different views, which has only widened the scale of moderates and conservatives with most now sitting somewhere in the middle.
Much has been written, deliberated, and debated on this topic, so I’m only going to add to the mix — possibly leaning more toward the extremely moderate thinking. I’m not going to deep-dive into the reasons and launch another analysis as to ‘why’ it happened. Rather, I’m going to focus on what we possibly should do as individuals, as a community, and as a nation.
Teach children values, not religion
For anything to be stable and balanced, you need a solid foundation. And it’s no different with people. This comes with instilling good values and living and breathing them from a very young age. Practicing your faith comes later. This is particularly important when we’re living in a multi-ethnic country like ours where values like respect, kindness, tolerance, trust, and collaboration take high priority for all communities to live together peacefully. Unfortunately, we’ve not done enough of this or perhaps taught kids the wrong values. Social skills based on good values are what we need to instill first, instead of scurrying to send children off to religious schools. That will follow suit and be more meaningful when the right foundation has been established.
Education vs insight
The fact that most of these young suicide bombers were well educated (some of them had even attended reputed foreign universities) left many people baffled, including myself. But I think the disconnect here is education versus insight. Education gives you a qualification to validate your skills; however, good values make you an insightful person, which helps you to ‘think’ and do the right thing for yourself, your family, your community, and your country. It makes you a well-rounded person who will look at life with an open mind. By being insightful you gain ‘knowledge,’ and not just a skill or a piece of paper to prove anything. On the flip-side, outstanding skills and a closed mind is a deadly combo, which will only lead to destructive behavior.
Distinguish between culture and religion
I’m sure you’ve all heard the popular phrase ‘in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ The same applies everywhere — and this mainly relates to culture. The culture of a country is applicable to all ethnic groups and your behaviors should be in sync. In my view, this is probably the root of all evil. It’s evident there’s been some importation and imitation of a foreign culture and these are followed blindly in every way, ranging from attire, how we engage with people (especially those from other communities), behaviors, and social skills, among others. The muscle to rightly distinguish between the two comes from being insightful. If your behaviors are different to that of a particular culture, meaning not in a supportive way (be it in an organization or a country), you will only isolate yourself from society and be easy prey to radical movements. Religious faith is personal. Culture unites different religious faiths and this must be upheld, always.
Traditions are OK, if relevant
Many Asian countries and ethnic groups that live within are proud of their heritage and traditions. But it’s also important to understand that while cultures are built around traditions, even cultures must evolve to keep up with the times and be relevant. It drives me crazy when people quote from ancient scriptures and imply these are caste in stone and we must abide and follow.
It’s important to be inquisitively insightful and question everything — just don’t follow blindly. Not everything makes sense sometimes, and not everything is relevant in today’s context. This doesn’t mean you’re questioning religion — faith remains the same, but certain practices and behaviors might not make sense in today’s context. For instance, if we didn’t evolve in the way we live, we should be riding camels and living in a tent in the desert. Same applies to everything else we do, if it doesn’t make sense, chuck it out and move on.
I’m so fortunate to have grown up in a progressive and forward-thinking environment. Our guiding light was my grandmother, who herself grew up in a very conservative environment, but she was open to change. She didn’t go to college and didn’t have a degree, yet she was the most insightful person I’ve known to date. She was traditional, but wasn’t afraid to let go and adopt new things. She was open to questions about whatever she taught us (and I did ask a lot of questions). How I practice my faith is between me and god. My behavior, however, impacts the entire world.
Unfortunately, not many people share this mindset and we had to learn the hard way and at the cost of many lives — I truly hope there will be a change for the better. It’s a mindset change that’s necessary, not the removal of the niqaab!
Religious faith is personal. Culture unites different religious faiths and this must be upheld, always.