SAPRI clears the air on its ‘Religious Harmony’ program

Saturday, 26 April 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Following is a release from the South Asia Policy & Research Institute (SAPRI) in relation to its ‘Religious Harmony – Building an Inclusive Society’ program The South Asia Policy & Research Institute (SAPRI) has noted that several diverse and speculative views have been expressed with regard to our program for ‘Religious Harmony – Building an Inclusive Society’. We therefore, wish to clarify the reasons that led us to initiate the project. SAPRI is a South Asian organisation which formulates policy and engages in advocacy on subjects of importance to the region. It is a non-political, non-governmental, regional organisation. Its Board is comprised of eminent Sri Lankan and South Asian scholars, academics and professionals. SAPRI, concerned by the recent incidents of religious intolerance in South Asia and recognising the imminent threat to peaceful co-existence between communities, challenges to economic progress, social cohesion and political stability, and also the negative image it would bring to our countries globally, embarked on the project for Religious Harmony. This program is strictly non-political, impartial and intended to further the interests of the people of Sri Lanka, as well as those of South Asia. The main objectives of the program are:
  • to recognise early warning signs of religious tensions and promote action to alleviate these,
  • ascertain the causes for these,
  • evolve measures to address such causes,
  • and make recommendations to transform the expression of religious tensions to harmony among communities.
SAPRI believes that these objectives could be achieved through advocacy at all levels. To this end, SAPRI formed the ‘Forum for Inter-Faith Dialogue’ (FIFAD). Its members comprise the clergy who hold the highest positions in the four major Buddhist Chapters and of the Christian, Islamic and Hindu faiths, as well as experts drawn from amongst former public servants, senior private sector members, professionals, academics, members of civil society organisations and youth representatives. FIFAD commenced work in early July 2013, and finalised its Recommendations on ‘Building Religious Harmony’ in January 2014. These were presented to the country at a public event on 28/01/2014 by the three Anunayakes of three Buddhist Chapters, a former Catholic Archbishop and a serving Bishop and leading clerics, important members of the Anglican Church together with two senior Islamic clerics and one Hindu cleric who are members of FIFAD. This was a unique event where senior clerics representing the four major religions in Sri Lanka, came together to speak publicly about the need for harmony among diverse communities, describing the dangers of discord. They also emphasised the fact that religious harmony had prevailed over the centuries in Sri Lanka and stressed the importance of ensuring that such harmony should be promoted. SAPRI’s ‘Recommendations’ are intended to promote wider discussion among Sri Lankans. SAPRI hopes that the authorities would take these ‘Recommendations’ into consideration for future action and has undertaken advocacy of the ‘Recommendations’ among government and other political leaders, as well as key opinion leaders. SAPRI is encouraged by the positive responses and appreciation it has received from individuals and groups throughout the country. SAPRI reiterates that this program on ‘Building Religious Harmony’ has, as its sole purpose, the promotion of peaceful co-existence and understanding in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious and plural society in order to guarantee peace, durable economic progress and most importantly, a positive image of Sri Lanka globally. The main points of SAPRI’s ‘Recommendations’ are attached herewith. Recommendations to promote religious harmony Main points
  • The recommendations state that recent attacks, by a few organised groups, on diverse places of religious worship pose a serious threat to harmony and co-existence in the country.
  • Hate speech, malicious propaganda and the internet are being used to mislead and incite people.
  • There is presently a public perception that there is a failure of law enforcement authorities to take necessary action against such attacks.
  • The Forum states that this alarming trend, if unchecked, could cause religious conflict and pose a threat to the county’s socio-political stability and its economic development.
  • Finally it is stated that Sri Lanka is primarily a democracy with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual Nation and any inter-religious issues could be resolved through dialogue and consultation, in the spirit of democracy.
  • It states importantly, that the guidelines are intended to bring to the attention of the authorities and the public that there is an urgent need for corrective action to combat emerging trends in religious intolerance.
Action plan
  • The law should be implemented strictly and fully To create committees to report early warning signs to law enforcement authorities and promote early preventive action.
  • To review existing laws applicable to the functioning of religious practices and recommend changes where required.
  • Education is an important factor to build religious and ethnic harmony. It is recommended that school curricula should teach the importance of religious harmony in a pluralist country like ours and promote the appreciation of all religions by every student.
  • The recommendations also look at certain aspects of religions that could cause offence to the sensitivities of other religious communities such as the slaughter of animals, inter-religious marriages, use of religious symbols and conversions.
  • Finally, the recommendations call upon religious leaders, leaders of Government and political parties, the private sector, and civil society to take on the responsibility in their relevant fields, to eliminate tensions and promote harmony, utilising suitable means.