Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue at House of Lords

by Tissa Madawela, Sri Express, 6 Sep 2014

London, UK -- Wednesday 30th July 14 at 6.30pm, initiated by the conservative Muslim Forum, the British House of Lords committee room 3 witnessed an important gathering of Buddhists and Muslims to have a friendly dialogue to overcome some of the differences that have arisen between the two communities due to unfortunate events that have been unfolding in some parts of Sri Lanka in recent times.

Outpouring of people from all walks of life from all parts of the country dressed in formal suits and ties displayed a rare occasion of Sri Lankans from all communities, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and their British friends and well-wishers eagerly waiting to hear a distinguished panel of speakers chaired by the Lord Sheikh the president of the Conservative Muslim Forum and organised by his staff.

The initiator of this event Mrs Ajantha Tennakoon, an Executive member of the Conservative Muslim Forum conducting the meeting welcomed everyone and spelled out the aim and objective of the meeting. “Whole purpose of the meeting is to highlight the long history of harmonious relations between Muslims and Buddhists that has existed for centuries and also    the religious commitment to justice, peace and humanity shared by both religions” she said. She dedicated this event to her late parents especially her father (Mr. Lional Sarath Edirisinghe) from whom she learnt how to serve the people, how to respect every religion and race and how to face injustice in a non violent, calm manner.

Lord Sheikh a long standing friend of Sri Lanka who has visited the country many times and impressed with the achievement of peace in the country and a great supporter of both communities said “Muslims who have been contributing to social, political and economic life of the country from 7th century onwards have always been and continue to be friends of all communities and recent developments are therefore unfortunate and unnecessary.” Lord Sheikh commended all peace building efforts of Sri Lankan government and hoped Sri Lanka prosper with all its richness of diversity.

Dr Chris Nonis, the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in London made a lengthy analysis of post war Sri Lanka and said he is yet to meet a single communally minded Sri Lankan. He attributed recent unrest to misunderstandings and hoped we can soon make up for all the lost trust and continue as members of united Sri Lanka. Situated between the East and the West, however small the island is one must not underestimate its potential to be one of the leading nations of Asia he said.

Dr Desmond Biddulph the president of the Buddhist Society said Buddhist must set an example to the peaceful teachings of the Buddha and learn to co-exist with all communities. The Buddhist society is committed to help support all communities in the spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

Mr Ahmed Zimar Sivardeen, President/Chairman the British Sri Lanka Association reflected on the long standing friendship between Buddhists and Muslims and said it is unfortunate to see that it has been affected in recent times but it is never too late to rebuild it.

Dr Sunil Kariyakarawana Buddhist Chaplain to British Armed Forces said people of faith should be able to reconcile any differences we have. Both Buddhists and Muslims are strongly committed their respective faiths and reflect on the great teachings of both religions. When we genuinely value and appreciate each other’s friendship we can learn to respect each other and overcome any hurdles. Buddhists have been admiring the contributions that the Muslim community makes in different spheres of Sri Lankan life and Muslims have always valued their Sri Lankan identity and friendship with Buddhists. The best Buddhist vocalist singer is a devout Muslim father and Son: Mohedeen and Ishaq Beg who are admired by all Buddhists and they flock to listen to them. So, we must learn to talk from heart to heart than from intellect to intellect. The only way to respond to extremism in any society is to strengthen the relations between peace-loving moderate Buddhists and Muslims. Most atrocities in the world are happening today mot because a small minority of people who perpetrate them but a vast majority of moderates silently endure them he said.

Mr. Amal Abeywardene Conservative friend of Sri Lanka also emphasised the need to strengthen relations between moderate forces and conservative forums like this could facilitate that dialogue.

Very active Q&A session followed by vote of thank by Mrs Ajantha Tennakoon who thanked all the speakers  and all participants for their support given in attending this successful event. She also thanked CMF particularly Lady Sheikh and CMF Administrator, Shaheen Mahmood for their tireless engagement in organising the event.

The event was concluded after prayers by the Imam Ali Omar the Muslim Chaplain from the UK Ministry of Defence and the Seth Pirith Chanting by the Most Venerable Daranagama Kusaladhamma Thero, the Director General of the Sri Lankan Buddhist TV and the Abbot of the Plaistow Sri Sambodhi Buddhist Meditation Centre.