In a letter addressed by State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana to Justice Minister Ali Sabry, a copy of which was also handed over to the Head of One Country One Law Task Force (OCOLTF), Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, the professor minister resurrected a so-called fatwa issued by ACJU 42 years ago pertaining to certain unorthodox views on Islamic tenets expressed by Moulavi Rauf from Kattankudy, the largest Muslim enclave in Sri Lanka, which became infamous internationally after the 2019 Easter bombing.
Ceylon Today (5 Jan. 2022) reported the said fatwa as a “sentence to death”, and the professor had asked Minister Sabry to “secure the fundamental rights” of this Moulavi.
ACJU in turn had responded to the allegation and said that it was a non-binding opinion expressed by that apex body when approached by some Muslim religious leaders and their organisations from the same town, because of concern over incidents of violence alleged to have been triggered by Rauf’s views. In that context and within the internally structured institutional mechanism to deal with Muslim religious affairs in Sri Lanka this was a legitimate approach to deal with a religious controversy. ACJU’s opinion on that matter was therefore nowhere near a death sentence as the case was in Shia Iran where Imam Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie in February 1989.
This writer is neither a lover of ACJU nor an apologist for Moulavi Rauf or for that matter any mullah. However, what is worrying in this episode is the timing and the circumstance surrounding this letter and the sinister motive of its author and personalities surrounding him. This letter was addressed in the aftermath of a visit to Kattankudy by Ven. Gnanasara Thera, an ex-prisoner and crusader against Muslim fundamentalism, who is reputed for his provocative anti-Muslim diatribes. He is also promoting himself as a Buddhist champion of Islamic Sufism.
In Kattankudy, this venerable personality was accorded a grand reception in the mosque built by Rauf, and was briefed about troubles that Rauf and his followers had and are still claiming to have with ACJU. Incidentally, Moulavi Rauf was also visited in March 2006 by the Indian diplomat, Nirupama Rao. Whether that was only a courtesy call or more than that, one does not know. It was also a fact that politicians of Kattankudy were also closely involved in the religious controversies between Rauf Moulavi and his opponents.
Be that as it may, Ven. Gnanasara’s quarrel with ACJU goes back to 2013 when Buddhist extremists started protesting against its halal certification program over food exports from Sri Lanka. It was purely a moneymaking exercise by ACJU, which raised the ire of not only food exporters but also local non-Muslim meat consumers. ACJU was forced to discontinue with that practice. However, the organisation’s links with Wahhabi Saudi Arabia still remains an issue for Islamophobes like Gnanasara. Ironically, these Islamophobes seem to have no qualms about the Rajapaksa government begging for funds and petroleum products from that Wahhabi kingdom.
Thus, Gnanasara’s enmity towards ACJU, his apparent love for Sufism and sympathy for Moulavi Rauf had obviously played a role in Jayasumana’s letter to Sabry. When this monk was appointed by President GR to head OCOLTF, Minister Sabry tendered his resignation, which GR refused to accept. Given these developments, it now appears that another attempt is being made to make life in the cabinet more difficult for Sabry.
Apart from that, this mischievous missive, if provokes wider reaction against Muslims from Islamophobes, may serve a useful purpose to the regime, which is desperately looking for some issue that could divert the attention of the masses who are condemning the Government over its record of economic mismanagement.
The appointment of a querulous Gnanasara Thera to handle a job, which legitimately falls within the ministerial purview of Sabry, seems to be a calculated ploy by President GR. The monk is now using a state minister to keep anti-Muslim feelings brewing.
(The writer is attached to the School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia.)