THE carnage unleashed in Sri Lanka was another surprise attack that shook the world. Following the mosque attacks in New Zealand, if we thought it could not get worse we were sadly wrong. This time more than 300 people were killed and at least 500 wounded.

Worshippers who had gathered in churches and tourists staying in local hotels were slaughtered without mercy. Some officials said this may have been a revenge attack for those killed in Christchurch. Others said this group had recently desecrated Buddhist statues on the island and this attack was part of a wider plan to terrorise locals and visitors alike.

While mass burials are taking place, the blame for these attacks is being laid on Islamists, especially with the claim by the so-called Islamic State that they were responsible, although no evidence has yet been provided.

Muslims in Sri Lanka are a minority that did not play a part in the long-running civil war between the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Tamil Hindus which ended just 10 years ago. However, they have become targets of hate crimes recently and have been killed and displaced from their homes with the tacit approval of the government.

This has led to the more extremist element supporting the National Tawheed Jamaat, a group that has existed for decades but because of the recent war in Syria has emerged as an attractive option for those enchanted with Wahabi ideology on which it is based. This has resulted in Lanka Muslims identifying more closely with this Saudi brand of Islam, which is expressed through their dress and behaviour.

The Modi era in India has seen the resurgence of anti-Muslim feeling and Sri Lanka too is going through a period of distrust of Muslims. It seems it is not only the West that demonises them.

However, when people around the world see that Muslims are involved in this marauding behaviour, and violating human rights with draconian laws, as in Saudi Arabia and recently in Brunei, we should not wonder why the finger of suspicion is pointing at them. But is this really justified?

To find the answer we have to turn to the Quran, and my contention is that what people believe and what the Quran says are two entirely different things. Few Muslims actually understand the Quran, so it’s no surprise that they follow the opinions of their leaders and not the guidance they claim is their model for good conduct.

Many feel they must destroy statues, while the Quran says that Solomon had figurines and sculptures especially commissioned. It is not the statues but the worship of statues or stones that the Quran decrees against. Also, the Quran forbids aggression of any description, and the killing of those who do not actively fight against you is an act of great depravity. Indiscriminate killing, as in Christchurch and Colombo, is a heinous crime.

Apart from modest dress and behaviour there is no dress code mentioned in the Quran. So to wear any garments or headgear and identify it as specifically Islamic dress is completely wrong.

To live in peace and security we all need the same values. Common values remove barriers and bring people together whatever their backgrounds; if individuals are good then society will unfailingly be good.

All the people from the diverse cultures on the teardrop island of Sri Lanka are not that different. They all need the same principles to live in peace and security and that means the same core values. The Quran defines people only by their values and not by their dress, rituals or culture. To overcome fear and suspicion prevalent in society, we have to expose these misconceptions.

The Quran decrees tolerance and harmony and forbids to harm those who seek safety and peace – even at times of war. However, it does not say believers should be pacifists. It only decrees they must not aggress. To defend yourself is not aggression. To challenge those who create fear and turmoil is not aggression. And to call to account those who seek to destroy the peace and security of a community is not aggression because peace at any price is no peace at all.

This is why those who twist the Quran’s message to their own evil ends must be brought to account. We must kill their wicked ideology before they kill anyone else. And the terrorists, such as the bombers in Sri Lanka, must be caught and punished severely.

Paigham Mustafa
Address supplied