Moulavi Laffir Madani is an Islamic theologian based in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. On April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday, a group of Islamic State (ISIS) suicide bombers carried out multiple bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people.
Moulavi Laffir Madani (image courtesy: asianews.it).
Madani is the president of the Hashimi Foundation and treasurer of the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation. In a recent interview with AsiaNews, he discussed the Easter terror attacks and how to eradicate extremism from Muslim society.
He says that occasionally groups like the Taliban, Boko Haram, and ISIS emerge and threaten other Muslims and non-Muslims, but he also says that ordinary Muslims live in peace with non-Muslims, as signified in the protection of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan for hundreds of years by the Muslims of Afghanistan.
However, Madani's key argument is that extremist ideas remain current in Muslim societies and the reform of Islam for our times is necessary.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
"We Know We Are Not Involved, We Dissociate Ourselves [From The Bombers] And We Repeat That They Were Influenced: Yet They Were Part Of Our Community; We Cannot Deny This"
Question: "One month on, what are your impressions?"
Answer: "We were shocked and we still are. I believe there is a heavy responsibility on our shoulders. Perhaps in the beginning we did not understand the gravity of the situation and among Muslims there are leaders, political leaders, activists with great responsibilities. At the same time we must be very cautious, because the solution to extremism is not another extremism. The whole nation is responsible. As the Cardinal (Malcolm Ranjith, ed.) often says, we must fight together to emerge from this."
Question: "How does your community interpret the attack on churches?"
Answer: "There is a Persian poet named Saadi who says that the human being is like a body: if one part is wounded, you will also feel pain in other parts. When we meet a Christian, we feel a kind of guilt. We know we are not involved, we dissociate ourselves [from the bombers] and we repeat that they were influenced: Yet they were part of our community. We cannot deny this. The contempt that others show us is justifiable. We cannot say, 'I have nothing to do with it, it was them.' We cannot escape, we must accept reality. We know, however, that there are different examples: like the Muslims who for centuries protected the statues of Buddha carved in stone in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, until they were destroyed [by the Taliban in 2001]."
Question: "How are your relations with Christians?"
Answer: "From the theological point of view, we worship the same God. The Koran clearly says so. I could cite innumerable passages from the Koran which speaks of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus. You are not a perfect Muslim if you do not worship all these prophets. They are part of the Islamic faith. We also venerate Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. The Koran also admits mixed marriages. We can eat [similar foods], especially slaughtered animals. If Christians slaughter animals, we can feed on them. It is halal. Obviously there are many differences, such as between Judaism and Christianity. But basically we are religions revealed by God. With Christians we have never had problems."
"In Sri Lanka, Islam Has Existed For 1,300 Years And No Muslim Has Ever Arisen To Kill Other People; These Groups Are Misinterpreting The Koran Or Want To Use It For Their Own Evil Purposes"
Question: "You spoke of One God: Why then did Muslim extremists attack Christians?"
Answer: "These extremists do not accept others just like they do not accept us Muslims. They have reached such a level of 'exclusivity' that they believe they are the only Muslims, that they alone possess rights to this world, they alone are representatives of God and soldiers of God, the only ones to understand God's message. All this makes no sense, it is madness. They don't know where they are going or what they are doing. Occasionally similar groups emerge: first the Taliban in Afghanistan who killed Muslims saying they were not Muslims because they had too long beards and women because they did not cover themselves enough.
"But how can we live this way? Life is living. If you stay in the world, live with others according to your freedom, you cannot put yourself in a corner and reject another human being. This is a wrong ideology. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world: How many of them feel the same way? The Koran does not even say once about killing Christians. In Sri Lanka, Islam has existed for 1,300 years and no Muslim has ever arisen to kill other people. These groups are misinterpreting the Koran or want to use it for their own evil purposes. There are too many speeches, too many interpretations.
"I myself have read the texts of the Taliban and members of Boko Haram that target Christians in Nigeria. Then there is Al-Shabab in Somalia and Al-Qaeda in Yemen. All of these have a different purpose. It has nothing to do with religion: Religion is simply exploited. This radicalization has been a long process lasting 30-40 years and now it is reaping the benefits. Unfortunately, they also reached our threshold."
"It Is Not Easy To Say That Muslims Can Eradicate Extremism Overnight; The Ingredients Of Extremism Are Still Present Among Muslims"
Question: "How are you as Muslims trying to avoid radicalism?
Answer: "I have to be honest, and maybe some Muslims will not agree. We must seriously address the issue. As I have already said, we must re-evaluate ourselves, understand what went wrong. Otherwise, reconciliation programs will not make sense. I've been working with a group of people for 20 years and when the bombs went off we were working between Jaffna, Hambantota, Colombo, and Batticaloa to create harmony. However, I feel that we are not completely sincere, at least on our side. Not all those who work for reconciliation and the peace process do their work sincerely. We want immediate results, we get them and then we forget them. We sit around the same table, smile at each other, affirm that we are one. But we are not being honest.
"Not all of us of course. Sometimes we tend to be too focused on projects. When the project is completed, the files are closed, the results obtained, we believe that everything is over. We must really begin to understand each other, not just looking for the faults in the other. Many people have the 'I am better than you' mentality. This approach is very dangerous. There is a lot to do. We must reintroduce the sense of humanity in Islam, the sense of peace, the fraternity of which we speak. Where is fraternity when we affirm that others are not Muslims and we are? We must especially pay attention to young people, not allow them to be fascinated by the propaganda of the Islamic State and other groups. We must teach them that it is not paradise, but only an act of evil. When you take drugs, it's like living in another world.
"I believe that these people also use drugs. It is our task to prevent young people from being diverted by sermons of radical elements. It is not too late. We can still save lives and our young people, we can rehabilitate them and reintroduce them into society. We cannot simply ignore them by saying that they are not Muslims and that is why we do not want to bury them in our cemeteries. Dissociating from these people is right, but we cannot deny the fact that extremism exists. However, I do not know how much the Muslim community is able to combat it. A big problem comes from the fact that extremism is already in society, but it is not recognized as such."
Question: "How are Muslims thinking of creating new opportunities for coexistence?"
Answer: "Muslim society is still in shock. We must understand what went wrong and recognize the signals. Creating a suicide bomber is not easy, fighting is not easy. It takes a lot of money. It is not easy to say that Muslims can eradicate extremism overnight. The ingredients of extremism are still present among Muslims. We must no longer allow them to repeat [similar tragedies]. We must protect our young people because they are vulnerable. The Islamic community must carry out a serious self-evaluation, rethink, reinterpret and understand [Islam] in the social context of Sri Lanka."
 AsiaNews.it, May 30, 2019. The original English of the interview has been lightly edited for clarity and standardization.