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Halal is my priority

2013 Oct 31

by Niranjala Ariyawansha



General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, in an interview with Ceylon Today, said the halal issue is more serious than casinos, and vowed to continue the fight against the halal certification.




Why have you started to raise the halal issue again now?



A: We made a promise before 25,000 people who had gathered in front of the Temple of Tooth in Kandy on 13 March that we will suspend the halal struggle. The reason was because the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) and the Inter Faith Solidarity Foundation (IFSF) held a joint media conference and said they would discontinue with the process of halal certification However, they have not kept their part of the promise. On 26 February 2013, the ACJU announced they would discontinue the halal certification, while they would engage in other activities related to Muslims. But we heard they had informed shops and outlets that products which are not halal certified will not be purchased. That is a form of force being used. We will not be subdued by such extremism. We state that we do not wish to violate the rights of the Muslims to consume halal food, but we also have a right to boycott what is certified as halal.



Q: Is halal the most crucial issue that the people of the country are

facing at the moment?



A: Halal certification is a problem, and in our view, this is more serious than having casinos. This is a country where the majority is Sinhalese. But worldwide, the Sinhalese are a minority. Sinhala speaking people live only in this island. We have protected Buddhism for 2300 years. The civilization and culture of this country is based on Buddhism.

For example, the Hijab is legal in this country but the Burqa and Niqab are also worn by some women. We cannot see the person behind that form of attire. What would happens if a member of the public tints the side windows of his vehicle? The police will definitely ask him to remove the tinted film as they would not be able to identify who is travelling in that vehicle. A person has the right to find out who he is dealing with.



The halal issue has divided society. Many people felt hurt, directly or indirectly. We spoke of Islam extremism and Muslim businesses. We created a platform to speak about these issues.

The ACJU is only a religious group. What right do they have to label the food consumed by an entire population with their religious symbol? We can say this water is the best to use since it was blessed with Pirith. The Christians may bring forth the Holy Cross and the Hindus may bring their Thirishool or any other religious symbol.



But this is extremism. The halal process clearly mentions that this is a part of the Sharia law, which is not a part of the legal system of this country. One country cannot have two systems of the law. The world has accepted the fact that minority religious groups need to conduct their affairs in a way that would not put the majority under any duress. Does this happen in Sri Lanka?



Q: You said many people felt hurt due to the halal issue. Are you not

responsible for creating such feelings?



A: No. Where did we do so? Muslim extremist Minister, Rauff Hakeem, and Azath Sally, must take the responsibility for any future problems. They complained to the foreign embassies that the Buddhists and the monks attacked mosques. Give me the name of one mosque that we attacked. They made Dambulla a big issue. Mosques are beautiful places like the Taj Mahal. When we requested the huts made of zinc be removed from the sacred city of Anuradhapura, they accused us of attacking mosques. We are not engaged in politics. There is a way to do things. Guidelines must be followed when building places of religious worship. We did speak quite harshly in order to 'wake up' society that was sleeping. We can't wake up the country by preaching softly.



Q: Are you being alienated by the Buddhists due to your pro-government stance?



A: No. We have become a headache to the government. Why doesn't the government give us publicity if they are supporting us? Do ITN and Rupavahini television channels give us publicity? They may suppress us, if possible. This is the Buddhist renaissance that we have created. This was not formed to serve the politicians or to wash the dirty linen of Mahinda Rajapaksa. We do not aim to oust one ruler or to bring another to power. We need to be on good terms with the present government if we need to get things done; it is a strategy we adopt. For example, we had to work with the Urban Development Authority to get illegal constructions removed. Now, we are accused as being Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's force. What has he done for us? He mediated over the halal issue. But we do not have any other association.



Nobody leaves us; rather, people come to us on their own. The politicians cannot bear to see this. They can't rally people like we do although they spend so much money on their propaganda. We held three successful congresses of the Bodu Bala Sena. Now they are wondering how we found the money to hold such conferences.



Q: How do you raise funds?



A: It is a good question. We are not an organization that depends on money. We have mustered people by working for 10 - 15 years. That is our social capital, which we have invested. You can check our bank accounts anytime. We have streamlined our finances, and they are regularly audited. Therefore, we do not bother about such allegations. We have not received a single cent from the government or the opposition. That is why we can work, in a straight forward manner. We know that our hands are clean.



Q: Why didn't the Bodu Bala Sena speak against the Casino Act the government tried to bring while many were opposing it?



A: We were the first to speak at two press conferences held in June or July against the Casino Act that was due to be presented in Parliament. We are not only against Packer but all casinos and all other evils. This is not the Buddhist way of life. What is expected from us other than highlighting the ill-effects of having casinos? Are we expected to die by fighting against it? Why are the so-called opposition MPs not engaging in a fast-unto-death against the setting up of casinos? There are so many issues in the country. There are false Buddhas as well. One barber cannot cut all the hair.



Q: People allege the Bodu Bala Sena did not speak against casinos as the movement is a covert supporter of the government.



A: I can only deride such statements. Would Ministers like Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dilan Perera, Rajitha Senaratna and Vasudeva Nanayakkara demand the Bodu Bala Sena be banned if we are part and parcel of the government? From time to time they say we are a force of the government or of Gotabhaya or Mahinda. Wimal Weerawansa says this is a UNP project. We let them say anything and carry on our work silently. This is a national movement and not somebody's contract.



Q: The minority parties in the government protested vociferously against the Casino Act, thereby compelling the government to withdraw it temporarily. Did the Bodu Bala Sena restart the anti-halal struggle to deflect attention of the public from the Casino Act?



A: No. On the last Poya Day, we set up a holy tree for the Katina festival. We hang various offerings on this tree. But this year we had nothing clean to hang as the people said that we could not find products without the halal label. We checked in supermarkets and found this to be true. That is why we restarted focusing on the halal issue. It has no connection with casinos.



Q: The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has gained the popularity the party had lost by voicing their dissent on the establishment of casinos. Are they a threat to the Bodu Bala Sena?



A: No. We are not a party engaging in politics to become popular. The JHU was stuck in power politics. It created a vacuum. We emerged to fill that vacuum. I was also a member of the JHU. They had to keep mum as they are part of the government's coalition. I am happy now to see that they have taken a stand in this regard, despite the risk of losing their ministerial portfolios. That is what is expected from them. They are not ordinary politicians. They were blessed by the Buddhists. We saw them mobilizing the people against casinos. We sent representatives to the meeting they held to show their opposition to casinos. There is no competition between us.



Q: You said Rauf Hakeem and Azath Sally were spreading terror. Would your response be in a similar manner?



A: When did we engage in terrorism?



Q: Do you admit that your right to speak about the country is also the right the citizens of other communities also have? They can argue that this country is theirs in the same way you argue it is yours.



A: Definitely. We say it with responsibility. The conservative Muslims do not like the new developments in the country. Muslims lived in the country peacefully under the Buddhist culture. There were no problems, but now the situation has changed. We are protesting against a phenomenon that traditional Muslim societies also despise. We raised the issues that needed to be addressed amongst the Muslims. How many different groups are there among the Muslims? Extremists try to divide the Muslim society further into pieces. The Muslims in Akurana speak the Arabic language. Sri Lankan Muslims do not traditionally speak Arabic. Later they will want the Arabic language also recognized as an official language. If we go to France, we will have to learn and work in French. Similarly, we ask them to speak the languages that have been spoken here. What we say is that we will not give room to the extremists.



Q: Drugs, prostitution and black money can thrive through the Casino Act. That can affect the morals upheld in the country. In that backdrop, would you remain silent because the bigwigs in the government are behind it?



A: Who are those bigwigs? We are not under anybody's contract. Do we have any financial benefit from this government? Do you ask us to cling to their neck instead of showing the ill-effects of the casino? The anti-casino campaign is run by one group. Let them proceed. We must not let the issue of casinos take the focus away from the halal issue. We are an organization, not the government.




Q: Isn't the Bodu Bala Sena an extremist organization? Do you respond to Muslim extremism with

Buddhist extremism?

A: No. How do you define extremism? Where have we terrorized the people? You can cite examples, if there are any.



Q: Hasn't Bodu Bala Sena done so? Some say you ideologically do what Prabakaran did by means of weapons?

A: All I can say is 'if the cap fits, put it on.'

Usually, sub cultures develop around organizations that are popular. That happened with both the JVP and LTTE. Minor organizations evolve as we become popular. Eventually, their 'deeds' are also 'credited' to our account. It is true we screamed out loud, but we did not disturb anybody's sleep.



Q: This is a democratic country. Therefore, the country's law is above the parametres within which religions or communities operate. In this backdrop, can a majority community take decisions on the garments worn by a minority community?



A: Yes. The Buddha also instructed us to abide by the laws of the state. I spoke on languages and dress codes only in line with the new developments.

The ACJU has declared seven objectives. One of them is to promote Arabic language in the country. It cannot be allowed.



Q: In the recent past, you tried to raid many places. You said the Archeological Department needs to be checked since the tomb of Queen Sugala had been destroyed. You are strictly against casinos. Why don't you surround the office of Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene?



A: We do not wish to do so. We give priority to matters that we feel are crucial. We tried to do so and raided certain places. But we can't continue that. We can't focus on all the issues. We carried out certain programmes to focus attention to specific issues. The police are expected to carry out their responsibilities. We can't do everything. We did not speak of raiding the Archaeological Department. We just said to hand over the responsibility of running the department if they cannot perform their duties.



Q: That's not right. You did say the Archeological Department needs to be raided.

A: Yes. There are places that should be surrounded. Not only the Archeological Department but even the Ministry of Higher Education should be checked.



Q: Don't you see any importance in the Casino Act?



A: We are against casinos but already there are casinos in the country. We urge the authorities to close down all casinos. Why do you draw attention only to the new ones? If we do not need them, we must reject all of them. There are other organizations as well. Not only us. They say they are for the sovereignty of the people. They can't evade their responsibility by merely holding press conferences. Why can't they stand for their political beliefs? Why do they pressurize only the Bodu Bala Sena? We have a large number of issues like religious conversion, Muslim extremism, sterilization, and so forth. We demand the closure of all liquor shops. Otherwise this country will be entirely one of representing the underworld. We need to create principled politicians instead of rogues. Otherwise this will become a city of thugs.



Q: I pose the question again, is halal your priority?

A: Yes. Casinos have other aspects to be dealt with. The halal issue is like a monster. Therefore, we need to give it priority. This should not be misunderstood. We should not allow the extremists to raise their heads.



Q: Buddhism preaches non-violence but many Buddhists accuse you of being a violent Bhikkhu. What are your comments?

A: This is not a time to meditate. This is a sick society. We need to act harshly to cure this society. We have to use strong words. We can't be patient and wait until we are beheaded. The Buddha also stood for his community until he became enlightened. 

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