Heralding truth, sanity and harmony in turbulent world
By Prof. M. Fazli Nizar
Islam is being branded as an extremist religion today, although Islam means Peace. Its fundamental tenets are upheld by the majority of the one billion Muslims spread all over the world. Yet today, the Muslim Ummah is being branded as the Al Qaeda Movement, Abu Sayaff Movement and other Islamic extremist movements and any country that opposes the United States is today branded as a country of evil.

It is in this scenario to give room to sanity, harmony, truth and resolution resulting from compromise and conciliation, that Islam will be practising with the advent of the Ramazan fast.

Fasting has been ordained in Islam as in all religions existing in the world. In Hinduism, fasting is practised in different forms during special festivals like Mahasivarathri and on Fridays. This practice has been in existence for over 4000-5000 years.

Buddhists fast and the priesthood do fast during the afternoon to practise abstinence from food and drink. This has been in existence for over 2500 years.

Jews and Christians including orthodox Jews and Coptics also fast during certain periods and this has been in existence for over 2000 years.

Ramazan fast
Fasting in Islam is practised by one billion Muslims all over the world in the month of Ramazan for 30 days approximately (one lunar month). It has been practised from dawn to dusk during the 1423 years of the existence of Islam by over two million people from the archipelago of Indonesia to all the Muslims in populated countries in Asia, Africa, Middle-East, Europe and the Americas.

Ramazan fasting has been prescribed by Allah during the month of Ramazan for Muslims to desist from the intake of food, drink and water during the time the sun is prevalent over earth during the day - a period of approximately 12 hours.

Every human being is expected to keep away from food, drink and water during these 30 days and also to inhibit his or her desires of passion, love, sex and prevent these thoughts, acts and sights.

He or she is supposed to refrain from these acts to understand what his less fortunate brethren would be undergoing through poverty. He is also supposed to indulge in good deeds, good words and good thoughts in practising the Salaath prayers and the recital of the Holy Quran. By performing these acts he becomes closer to Allah and follows Allah's commandments during these 30 days.

Children under the age of seven, women who are menstruating or after childbirth or lactating or those suffering from any illness are exempted.

The significance of the fast is that it results in pangs of hunger, thirst, and dehydration, feelings of sleepiness, loss of concentration, memory, and acuity of vision, hearing and gustatory sensations. Ramazan fasting begins at sunrise and ends at sunset where one can eat and drink after a hard, rigorous day of fasting.

To sustain life and property Muslims are supposed to eat and drink after breaking fast with a date and water to satiate the dry tongue and throat which have been parched during the arid day of fasting. This is followed by a meal which allays the pangs of hunger.

Another meal has been ordained in Islam called Sahar where Muslims could get up in the morning to partake in a meal to satisfy their hunger and thirst and go through the ordeal of fasting during the day.

It is noteworthy that religious beliefs, prayers, reading of the Holy Quran and charity to the poor in the form of Zakath is best practised during the month of Ramazan by every Muslim. In this Zakath 1/40th of one's wealth is to be bequeathed during this month of charity to the less fortunate people of the community. Therefore it is during Ramazan that levelling of social beings occurs as is ordained in Islam.

Ramazan fasting is thus a disciplined and organized type of fasting bestowed by Allah upon his beings. It is also noteworthy that Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad the first verses of the Holy Quran. Further Charity and Zakath is to be observed during this month.

Islam is made up of five pillars, namely,

-Kalimah or the belief in Allah as a monotheistic God with Prophet Muhammad as a last seal of Prophets.

-Salath or five times prayer - Subu, Luhr Asr, Magrib and Isha ordained on every Muslim Ummah to practise on every day of his life, a rigorous principle.

-Zakath or charity to the less fortunate people in the form of money. Food and other belongings to the time of 1/40th of capital wealth to be bequeathed to the less fortunate Muslims in the community.

Fasting during the month of Ramazan is compulsory for every man, woman, or child with exceptions from dawn to dusk for approximately 30 days.

Hajj - A visit to Mecca and the performance of Hajj if one has the health, wealth and the ability without encumbrance once during one's lifetime.

The 15th death anniversary of Fr. Michael Rodrigo OMI falls today
Living personification of the Love Commandment
"The cross is not something we hang on the wall or round our neck. Jesus hung on it first. It was the Roman Empire's chief instrument of political torture. So we must be ready to die for our people if and when the time comes. He died at 33 because He stuck out his neck for people, for the poor, the down and out, and the distressed... !!"

These words of Fr. Michael Rodrigo reveal the distinctive mark of his life and work. His commitment to his Master Jesus Christ emerged through his love and commitment to his people, which sets him apart as a model of costly discipleship.

These thoughts come to one's mind on the occasion of the 15th death anniversary of Fr. Mike, as he was known to those who were close to him. His life was similar to that of his Master, Jesus Christ, for he too sacrificed his life for the cause of the marginalised and dispossessed people of rustic Uva he worked with.

It was a commitment borne out with his involvement with situations that called for effective love and concern. That was the reason why he opted not to proceed to Paris where he was offered a prestigious post in a university there. Not for him the glamour and glory of a life of relative luxury. For that was not the way his Master lived and died. This comes out so well in a poem he wrote called "Guswind for my Flame" which reveals the desire of the disciple to be one with his Master.

"Were I the oil
And you the living flame, Lord
We'll burn together unto death
For death is Life."

Fr. Mike's call is traced back to Bishop Leo Nanayakkara's invitation to him to be engaged in his mission at Sevaka Sevana in Bandarawela in working out a programme of contextual theology for ministers in his diocese. Having carried out this apostolate in the best possible way at his command he took another step in the direction of identifying totally with the suffering of the people of the villages of Uva. For this purpose he set up Suba Seth Gedera in Alukalawita in lower Uva, from which he evolved his action/reflection process that became his philosophy of life.

It is in this context that we wish to present below in his memory this Love Commandment drawn by him from a wide range of Biblical sources which encapsulates Fr. Mike's own vision and mission until his untimely death in the hands of an yet unknown assassin on that fateful day of November 10, 1987 thus:

The love commandment
The love commandment is given to us in all three sypnotic gospels. It is found in Matthew, Mark and in Luke and added to the Lukean version in the parable of the Good Samaritan from verse 29 following it. In Mark's version it is taken up in the context of a discussion of what is the great commandment of the law. The great commandment means the essential commandment, the basic commandment, the one prescription of the law that sums up the rest. It is in answer to this that Jesus formulated his Love Commandment.

The question is: What is The Great Commandment in the Hebrew Bible? It is that "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."

What does Jesus do to it? It is an example of the creative exegesis of Jesus which is typical of Him. He starts off with the Deutronomic command and to this he adds another text "Love your neighbor as yourself", a text from Leviticus 19: 18, which although found in the Hebrew Bible is not given much importance.

Jesus is doing a number of things here. Firstly, what is significant is that Jesus has brought 'love of neighbour' on par with the love of God.

Secondly, Jesus generalises the concept of neighbour. Neighbour in Leviticus 19:18 in the Hebrew Bible is a fellow Israelite. Four different Hebrew words are used; brother, a companion, a son of your own people and neighbour. Love does not extend outside this. Later on in a Leviticus, Hebrew Bible this is extended to what is called 'stranger' a category quite frequent in the HB. "You shall love the stranger as yourself." A stranger is a refugee; someone who has come to live in your tribal territory. It might be a fellow Jew, a Gentile or someone adopted by you and therefore part of your people.

These are three categories of people who are powerless, hence specially loved by God - the widow, the orphan and the stranger. This would be the limit of love in the Hebrew Bible. If you love your neighbour, you will love the refugee. However, there is no injunction that you have to love the gentile and those outside your people. The Hebrew Bible says that you must love God, and Jesus says you must love God and love your neighbour. When we come to the early Church, to the followers of Jesus you find a surprising and remarkable change. You could read the whole New Testament (NT) and apart from these references you will not find a command to love God. The great Deutroromic text is not mentioned again in the NT. The Love of God is rarely spoken of. It is always connected with love of one's neighbour. Matthew's theology in 19:19 "love your neighbour as yourself". in Romans 13:8-10 all other commandments are summed up in the one commandment. "You shall love your neighbour as yourself ". In Galations 5:14 'the whole law is fulfilled in one word. "You shall love your neighbour as yourself and in James 2:8-12 the law of the kingdom is 'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart... with all your soul and all your mind, and the great text of the New Testament is "Love your neighbour as yourself'.

When you speak of 'Love of God" it sounds beautiful but it could mean nothing. Jesus fills it with deep meaning when he shifts the emphasis of the Great Commandment to love of neighbour.

In the first epistle, John gives us very clearly what love is. The basic statement is that 'God is Love' Let us love one another, for this love with which we love one another, comes from God. This is an important theological statement. Do we realize that whenever there is genuine love, there is God?

Effective love today calls for a change of structures - which are oppressive to people making them victims of the system. Here we are no longer dealing with individual change - but rather with structural change dealing with patterns of relationships, the way wealth is distributed and power exercised. In effecting structural change one has to have alternate models to replace the unjust society where millions of children are dying of endemic malnutrition and disease. The sharp increase in unemployment causes deterioration in the quality of life e.g. the phenomenon of street and abandoned children.

The system dehumanises people, breaks up families, destroys cultures and disrupts the relationships between humanity, the land and nature. It undermines the moral fabric of societies, increases prostitution, unemployment and delinquency. Can we be complacent when this iniquitous system continues to destroy precious lives everywhere in the world but particularly in the third world?

There who wish to meditate on the profundity of this Love Commandment of which Fr. Mike was the living personification, would do well to emulate his life which was unique in more than one way. For, the Cross of Jesus and of Fr. Mike are seen as the sorrowful way leading the humans to the path of righteousness. Jesus' cross and that of Fr. Mike signified the crossing point of divine and human hopes. Therefore in the new polis of peace, there will be an overcoming of death, tears, grief, crying and pain.

Peace is not mere absence of war. It is love, justice and liberation that creates fullness of life for the people and the overcoming of the power of death.
Prepared by
Sr. Milburga Fernando
(Based on the reflections of Fr. Mike)

On a voyage of names
The concise guide to the Anglo-Sri Lankan lexicon by Richard Boyle-Part XVIII
Continuing the geographical names associated with Sri Lanka included in the second edition of Hobson-Jobson (H-J2)

Swami Rock at Trinco

Jafna (1681). "The very ancient Tamil settlement, and capital of the Tamil kings on the singular peninsula which forms the northernmost part of Ceylon. The real name is, according to Tennent, Yalpannam, and it is on the whole probable that this name is identical with the Galiba of Ptolemy."

Ferguson comments: "The Tamil name for Jaffna is not Yalpannam, as Tennent spells it, but Yalppanam."

No references from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka are given. The earliest is by Knox (1681:1): "On the North end the chief places are Jafnipatan, and the Island of Mannar."

Lunka (1840?). "Sanskrit Lanka. The oldest name of Ceylon in the literature both of Buddhism and Brahmanism also 'an island' in general."

No historical evidence of any kind is presented. An early but perhaps not the earliest reference in English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka is by Major Forbes from Eleven Years In Ceylon (1840:II.253): " . . . which furnished a conqueror to Lanka, and fixed on it the name of Singhala."

Negombo (1681). "A pleasant town and old Dutch fort north of Colombo; formerly famous for the growth of the best cinnamon. The etymology is given in different ways. We read recently that the name is properly Tamil Nir-Kolumbu, i.e. 'Columbo-in-the-water.' But according to Tennent the ordinary derivation is Mi-gamoa, the 'Village of Bees;' whilst Burnouf says it is Naga-bhu, 'Land of Nagas,' or serpent-worshippers."

No references from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka are given. The earliest is by Knox (1681:2): "On this side also is Negumba."

Palmyra Point (1859). "Otherwise called Point Pedro, a corruption of the Portuguese Punta des Pedras, 'the rocky cape,' a name descriptive of the natural features of the coast. This is the N. E point of Ceylon, the high palmyra trees on which are conspicuous."

Ferguson comments: "It is hardly correct to say that Palmyra Point is 'otherwise called Point Pedro:' the two are distinct though close together."

H-J2 gives the earliest reference from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka, by Tennent (1859[1977]:II.981): "The coast trends still farther north at Point Palmyra, a promontory some miles to the westward."

Point de Galle (1681). "A rocky cape, covering a small harbour and a town with old fortifications, in the S.W. Ceylon, familiar to all Anglo-Indians for years as a coaling-place of mail-steamers. The Portuguese gave the town for a crest a cock (Gallo), a legitimate pun. The serious derivations of the name are numerous. Pridham says that it is Galla, 'a Rock,' which is probable. But Chitty says it means 'a Pound,' and was so called according to the Malabars from ' . . . this part is the country having been anciently set aside by Ravana for the breeding of his cattle.' Tennent says it was called after a tribe, the Gallas, inhabiting the neighbouring district."

Ferguson comments: "The writer just mentioned (Tennent) has been entirely misled by Reinaud in supposing that Galle could be the Kala of the old Arab voyages to China; a port which certainly lay in the Malay seas . . . 'rock' in Sinhalese is gala; whereas the native name for Galle is Galla; a 'cattle-pen' moreover is gala. It is difficult, therefore, to decide what the origin of the name is."

No references from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka are given. The earliest is by Knox (1681:1): "To the South is the City of Point de Galle."

Putlam (1803). "A town in Ceylon on the coast of the bay or estuary of Calpentyn; properly Puttalama: a Tamil name puthu-(pudu?) alam, 'New Saltpans.' Ten miles inland are the ruins of Tammana Newera, the original Tambapanni (or Taprobane), where Vijaya, the first Hindu immigrant, established his kingdom. And Putlam is supposed to be the place where he landed."

Ferguson comments: "As to Tammana Nuwara being Tambapanni and Puttalam being the port at which Vijaya landed, we think Mr. Henry Parker has disposed of this idea satisfactorily."

No references from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka are given. The earliest is by Percival (1803:83): "Putallom, which lies not far distant, is remarkable for its salt-pans."

Serendib (1859?). "The Arabic form of the name of Ceylon in the earlier Middle Ages."

No references from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka are given. Perhaps the earliest is by Tennent (1859[1977]:I.466n): "Sinhala, with the suffix of 'diva,' or 'dwipa' (island) was subsequently converted into 'silan-dwipa' and 'seren-diva,' whence the 'Serendib' of the Arabian navigators and their romances."

John Barth provides several enigmatic contemporary references from fiction in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (1992), such as: "It had occurred to him to sail with me to the place called Serendib, which every sailor had heard legends of but which none he knew had ever visited."

Trincomalee (1553). "A well-known harbour on the N. E. coast of Ceylon. The proper name is doubtful. It is alleged to be Tirukko-natha-malai or Taranga-malai. The last ('Sea-Hill') seems conceived to fit our modern pronunciation, but not the older forms. It is perhaps Tri-kona-malai, for 'Three-peak Hill.' There is a shrine of Siva on the hill, called Trikoneswara."

No references from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka are given. The earliest is by Knox (1681:1): "On the East side Trenkimalay."

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