Moulavis in Leadership series

Important Training Resource for Muslims

 

After two years in intense development, the Moulavis in Leadership series of 6 modules has been released. The series invites Muslim clerics to critically reflect on their stance on pertinent issues of our times – based on scholarly re-interpretations of the Qu’ran and Hadith. The set of modules are available for use. There is no copyright but please acknowledge the author, Dave Andrews, and Bridging Lanka.

1.   Being Muslim in the Modern World

The first module seeks to frame being Muslim in the modern world in terms of practicing a Bismillah spirituality of compassion, mercy and grace. 

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2.   Engaging the Modern World as a Muslim

This module invites Muslims to respond constructively to the criticisms of Buddhists: an attitude of religious superiority, militant politics and the oppression of women.

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3. Reading the Qu’ran in the Modern World

Module three introduces Muslims to a contemporary hermeneutical approach to interpreting the Qur'an that avoids the pitfalls of a fundamentalist Salafi approach to their scriptures.

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4. Developing Partnerships in the Modern World

Module four encourages Muslims to develop the capacity to create partnerships with people of other religions, particularly with Christians.

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5. Understanding Muslim Views about Music

Module five encourage Muslims to consider how best to rethink about music, particularly modern music which is basically banned by Salafis in Sri Lanka.

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6. Caring for Animals in Allah’s World

Module six continues to encourage Muslims to reconsider their negative view of certain animals particularly donkeys and dogs which are treated terribly in Sri Lanka.

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“Simply excellent!” says Dr Adis Duderija, Senior Lecturer in Study of Islam and Society at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, regarding this series of workshop booklets.

(L to R) Dr Adis Duderija, Dave Andrews (the author), Jeremy Liyanage

The Author

Dave Andrews is the author of the Moulavis in Leadership series. Dave is an Australian social activist, community worker, founder of the Waiters’ Union - an inner city Christian community network in Brisbane working with Australia’s Indigenous peoples, refugees and people with disabilities, member of the Australian Muslim Advocates for the Rights of All Humanity, and author of Bismillah, Ramadan and The Jihad Of Jesus. He is an international interfaith contributor who has spoken at the Masjid Al Farooq in Kuraby, Logan, Australia, the Islamic Center of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, the Omar Moschee in Wiesbaden, Germany, the Muslim Training College in Cambridge, England and in the grand London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, London, UK.

The Hard Yards

These training materials were vetted by a group of Sri Lankan Muslim leaders including from All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and organised by A.B.M. Ashraff, the former Director of the Dept of Muslim Religious & Cultural Affairs, in consultation with Sheikh Nuruddeen Lemu, the Director of Research at the Dawah Institute of Nigeria, Islamic Education Trust, Minna in Nigeria. As a result, Mr Ashraff was so enthusiastic about the materials that he conducted Module one, Being Muslim in the Modern World himself in Sri Lanka. In addition, Sheikh Nuruddeen Lemu appreciated the materials so much he asked permission to use some of the modules at his Dawah Institute in Nigeria. 

Relational Free-fall

Since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, relations between Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka have deteriorated markedly. In early 2017, Bridging Lanka’s directors became gravely concerned about waves of anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping across Sri Lanka, generating much hate speech fuelled by impunity and an aggressive social media. We were convinced that if a major response to quell this anti-Muslim push was not forthcoming, serious consequences would ensue.

Taking the Pulse

In July 2017, Sri Lanka’s South Asia Policy & Research Institute teamed up with Bridging Lanka to ‘take the pulse’ of the Muslim community in the face of sustained verbal and physical attacks. Some thirty Muslim clerics gathered to voice the challenges they faced. A plethora of issues surfaced including, a diminishing morale among Moulavis – low levels of education, low salary and disrespect from Muslim followers; the tag of ‘Muslims as terrorists’, concerted violence by Bodhu Bala Sena members and for how long could they keep silent in the face of such aggression, and the question of why women are being so controlled in Muslim societies.

Bridging Lanka Responds

Then our worst predictions came to pass with the anti-Muslim violence across 14 towns in Kandy district, with its epicentre in Digana. Bridging Lanka commenced working with both communities, concentrating its efforts on the conflict epicentre of Digana. Part of this ‘social cohesion’ response was the development of the Moulavis in Leadership workshop material to address constructively the legitimate criticisms of the Muslim community by the Sinhala Buddhists. 

Towards Religious Harmony

This and a number of other social cohesion initiatives were commenced and funded by a Direct Aid Program grant from the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka. We are most grateful for this timely contribution. The project, Towards Religious Harmony, aimed to (a) better understand the causal factors leading to an alarming increase in violence against Sri Lanka’s minority religious communities, particularly Muslim; (b) identify grounded approaches to reducing attacks against person, property and places of worship; and (c) trial realistic civil society responses that would foster respectful and harmonious inter-religious interaction and social cohesion. 

Pure Buddhism in Deed

While Muslim homes, businesses and mosques were burnt and looted across many towns in Kandy district, the Muslims in the village of Ambala were of a different heart and mind. They expressed heart-felt gratitude to their Sinhala Buddhist neighbours for protecting them during a period of communal violence a year earlier, in March 2018. Bridging Lanka worked closely with the Ambala Muslim community to help them action their desire to publicly acknowledge a local Buddhist monks’ heroic determination to ensure non-violence and thus saving an entire Muslim community. Over 450 attended this special event at which Muslim and Buddhist hearts touched. 

Nurturing an Interfaith Ethos

As part of the Towards Religious Harmony initiative, Bridging Lanka worked with three local principals and youth workers to develop a three day residential program for Buddhist, Muslim and Tamil students in Dunuwila, Kandy District. To nurture religious understanding and respect, a trial was developed starting with 30 students: 10 with leadership potential, 10 trouble makers, and 10 students exhibiting racist attitudes. All permissions were gained, a workshop program developed and logistics arranged.  This trial was to be the fore-runner of an ongoing residential program.

Unholy Premonition

Our research strongly suggested more inter-religious and ethnic interaction. Our closely-connected Buddhist monk from Ambala suggested a youth sports festival to celebrate the 2019 Sri Lankan New Year. The Peace Collective was formed by Sinhala and Muslim community leaders to head this project. The event was held on 20th April, with 400+ in attendance – one day before the Easter bombings! An hour into the games we had an unexpected visit from the local police responding to a complaint that Bridging Lanka was planning some terrorist activity. These allegations were calmly dismissed by our Buddhist monk. The event continued unhindered. The event strengthened our connections and foothold in the region and was featured in local newspapers. 

School program up in smoke

A week before the training program was scheduled to start, Sri Lankan society was ripped apart by the Easter bombings which occurred simultaneously at churches and hotels in multiple locations. More than 200 dead including tourists and over 500 seriously injured.  The country returned to a war-footing. Alas the Easter bombings skittled any plans for any inter-religious  activity. Rolling terrorist alerts, heavily armed checkpoints and official curtailment of island-wide travel would mean that this type of program would not be conducted any time soon.  The targeting of Christians in multiple locations by a small, radical Muslim outfit was a new phenomenon., raising even  more questions.


Manoeuvring around obstacles

As an alternative to the cancelled inter-religious program, the principal of Dunuwila High School suggested bringing his mainly Buddhist students to the North for an inter-cultural immersion experience. Bridging Lanka designed a two day program for the 60 students, 10 teachers and parents and 3 Buddhist monks from the Ambala/Teldeniya area of Kandy. Added to this cohort were our Muslim young people from Digana and local Tamil Catholic and Hindu youth from Mannar.

Reconciliation Rhythms

The local Rhythm of the Heart band of young Tamils rocked Cafe Arokkiya and connected Tamils, Buddhists and Muslims together in an unimaginable way. All differences melted as people were fused through food, music and dance, laying a foundation for increased social cohesion. The time together was so electric that the out-of-town-ers invited the band to play in Kandy, ensuring fragile relations thicken. Kavi, one of the band members caught a larger vision that night about his music, that it could be used for reconciliation, beyond mere entertainment. 

Youth Nation Digana

A youth collective, Youth Nation Digana was formed to ‘hold’ our reconciliation gains. Young people, mainly local Muslims gathered each month to learn skills in community development work, make connection with Buddhist young people and Buddhist monks, and also respond to community need such as distributing dry food rations during the height of the Covid devastation.

The Power of Truth Told Gently

Youth Nation Digana members met, prepared questions and then went to interview the chief monk at the Digana Buddhist temple. The monk answered all questions in an honest and open way, even if the answers were critical of the Muslim community, from where most of our youth hail. He raised issues that, in his opinion, created conflict between the Sinhala-Buddhist and Muslim communities -  the practise of Sharia law when a ‘one country one law’ already exists; Muslims the main drug dealers and ruining youth; the social isolationist tendencies of Muslims, and Muslim political parties instead of joining broad-based national ones.

The young people took no offence because of the gentle spirit in which the criticisms were conveyed. After the interview most of them deemed it a fantastic experience. For many, this was their first meeting with a Buddhist monk. Initially they were anxious and nervous about talking face to face with a senior clergy of the majority community but the monk’s amicable style won them all over – a small but significant step towards positive inter-religious relations.

Finding Pathways for Interaction

The Youth Nation Digana (YND) group came up with novel ways to bridge ethnic and religious divides. Some of the YND Muslim members invited their Buddhist classmates to come to our office on a regular basis to study together for engineering exams. Informal interaction over cups of tea and chicken fried rice commenced to normalise relations across the divides which had been severely broadened in the aftermath of the Digana communal violence.

Reaching Out

In spite of lockdowns and restrictive curfew conditions, members of YND sprang into action in response to the Covid-19 situation. Dry food rations were distributed to needy families especially widows, female heads of households and 'daily wage' earners suffering without work. Members purchased, assembled and distributed the food parcels to Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim families alike - 21 Sinhalese families in Medadumbara Division, 10 Tamil families in Maberiyatenna and 19 Muslim families in Hijrapura, Kumbukkandura and Ambagahalanda villages.