A Second Open Letter to The National Shoora Council of Sri Lanka

[The first Open Letter was sent to the NSC in June 2015]
[See : https://bisthanbatcha.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/an-open-letter-to-the-national-shoora-council-of-sri-lanka/ ]

The National Shoora Council of Sri Lanka has made available in it’s website a Questionnaire which they claim is being shared with ‘selected people like you’ by way of being password-protected and these lucky selected people are urged not to forward or share this Questionnaire with anyone else. Clearly after more than 5 years, the NSC has suddenly realized the importance of ascertaining as to whether they are on the right track. However, in their amateurish attempts at collecting the required information via their website, the responsible members at the NSC have fallen flat on their faces. And pretty badly at that.
Any Tom, Dick or Harry can download the Questionnaire by simply clicking on the ‘Questionnaire’ tab.
I should know because I did so – and I am not even an ordinary member of this prestigious group of Muslims.
Go on. Give it a try.

Here are my responses to the 12 questions posed by the NSC

1. Is NSC driving towards the right direction according to its mandate? Please clarify your view

Answer : The NSC does not have any ‘mandates’. It only has a set of 9 stipulated Objectives according to it’s Constitution. In any Organization, it’s stated Objectives stem directly from it’s Vision Statement, Mission Statement and Core Values Statement. This facilitates the evaluation of the performance of the Organization at any point in time.

[QUOTE] A Vision Statement describes the desired future position of an Organization. The vision of an organization is the dream, the type of statement that answers the questions “where are we going” and “what can we achieve?”
A Mission Statement defines the Organization’s business, its objectives and its approach to reach those objectives. The mission should guide each day’s activities and decisions. It is the primary standard against which the Organization’s plans and programs should be evaluated.
Core Values are the principles and ideals that bind the organization together including the members, employees and all stakeholders. They are developed to frame an ethical context for the organization, and to many they are the “ethical standards” of the organization – the foundation for decision making within the organization. All leadership must operate from the same ethical frame of reference so that decisions of one will mirror the decisions of others. [UNQUOTE]

The NSC does not have a set of Vision, Mission and Core Values Statements. How then does it engage in the Strategic Planning processes for it’s many activities ? The evaluation of the progress of any Organization must be based on where it wants to go and how it proposes to get there. It is a serious mistake to evaluate progress based on what has been achieved per se at specific times.

It is recommended that as it prepares to enter the the next phase of it’s existence, the NSC formulate without further delay it’s Vision, Mission & Core Values Statements which will give a clear idea to all members of the Public about purpose and objectives of the Organization. Here is a suggestion :

Vision Statement
To be and be perceived as the leading Muslim Civil Society organization striving continuously to stimulate, strengthen and sustain the processes of establishing mutually respectful relations both within the Muslim Community and between the Muslim Community and all the other Religious Communities in Sri Lanka.

Mission Statement
To ensure that the members of the Muslim Community could live with self-respect and dignity without fear of physical harm or mental trauma by virtue of being followers of Islam, reflecting the true spirit of re-conciliation and unity in our Motherland

Core Values
A commitment to establish and maintain unity
A commitment to a process of mutual consultation
A commitment to the practice of proactive empathy

Objectives
[i] To strive to ensure that the Muslim Community is perceived as being equal stake-holders in any national effort to promote and defend the unity, integrity and sovereignty of our Motherland
[ii] To strive to create a more empathetic understanding and appreciation   of Islam and of Muslims in  the multi ethnic and pluralistic society of Sri Lanka

[iii] To demonstrate at all times a sense of willingness to examine the current and future impediments to establishing unity and reconciliation within and between religious communities with empathy.

[iv] To strive to safeguard the rights of all minority religious groups while ensuring that the rights of the majority community are not infringed in any way.

2. What should NSC be doing in the next 3-5 years (focus and direction)

Answer : The single biggest challenge that faces the Muslim Community at the present moment is the growing polarization between the Muslims and the other major religious groups in Sri Lanka. If it is to be perceived as the leading Muslim Civil Society group in Sri Lanka, the NSC must take cognition of this fact and provide leadership and inspiration to the processes of identifying the underlying causes and developing solutions to resolve such issues. As a starting point, the Muslims must be encouraged to engage in the processes of introspection and self-analysis for this purpose.

The second major challenge is the widening rift within the Muslim Community regarding various issues of a socio-religious nature. The Holy Prophet has advised the Ummah that any and all differences among them must be resolved through the processes of Shoora (Consultation) and Ijmah (Consensus). The NSC must assume the responsibility of ‘consensus-building’ among the Ummah as a matter of priority if they are genuinely concerned about promoting “cooperation, consensus and unity on Muslim affairs”.

For instance, the NSC is yet to make public it’s stand on the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) and on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – two issues which are presently causing tidal waves of anger and dissension among the members of the Muslim community and providing entertainment for the non-Muslims. It is a matter of deep regret that the NSC has not thought it fit to do so to date.

3. How can NSC achieve the above effectively (strategies) ?

Answer : Identify the causes for the rapidly-growing polarization between the Muslims and other communities. Implement the steps required to address such causal factors or to negate the impact of such factors.
This is by no means easy. But the longer one waits, the more difficult it will become. It requires lateral thinking and out-of-the-box solutions.

4. What can you as a MO/Secretariat member contribute towards the success of NSC?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC
5. How can operational /administrative aspects of NSC could be improved?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC

6. In your view, why is NSC becoming or could become weak as a National level umbrella organization?

Answer : In a nutshell, the NSC which started with a bang has begun to fizzle over the past 3 years or so. The primary reason is that it has attempted to do too many different things in the misplaced belief that it is in the best interests of the Muslim community during this short period. Instead of focussing sharply on providing inputs on behalf of the Muslim community towards the prevention of the growing polarization between the Muslims and the Buddhists, the NSC with it’s limited resources opted to engage in other unrelated activities especially after January 2015.

This has resulted in the weakening / dilution of the image of NSC as a Muslim Civil Society Organization. Moreover, the perceived growing influence of Politicians and the Ulema on the activities of the NSC has exacerbated this situation further. This would enhance the possibility that the NSC will eventually end up being seen as a mere appendage of a Muslim Political Party or of the ACJU.

The absence of strong Vision & Mission Statements is also a contributory factor. It is said “If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there”

7. What are the 5-7 subcommittees NSC should have in the next 1-2 years ?

Answer : To be perceived as a strong Organization, the NSC should necessarily focus strongly on just a few issues as a matter of priority. With this in mind, the following Sub Committees are suggested.

Sub Committee 1 : Muslim – Buddhist Relations Committee
Sub Committee 2 : Muslim – Hindu Relations Committee
Sub Committee 3 : Planning, Research & Monitoring Committee
Sub Committee 4 : Media & Public Relations Committee
Sub Committee 5 : Financial Planning Committee

8. Do you think that the operational success of NSC could be achieved by assigning all the responsibilities of implementing Exco decisions to the Secretariat members?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC
9. What alternatives do you propose?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC
10. Suggest 3-5 things that could be improved at NSC related to its day to day operations
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC

11. Suggest 3-5 areas of improvement to enhance quality of decision making, implementing and monitoring

[11.1] The NSC must consider including female Muslim Professionals in the General Assembly, Executive Committee. Sub Committees and Secretariat. They will be able to offer unique insights and fresh perspectives to the issues facing our Community today. Does the NSC have the right to deprive our Community of the benefits that would accrue to them by not investing in 50% of our Intellectual Capital ? How can the NSC promote inclusivity while practicing exclusivity ?

[11.2] Limit the time periods for which Office-bearers can hold office continuously to a maximum of 3 years. Otherwise the NSC will simply be reduced to yet another ‘Old Boys Club’ with no infusion of fresh thinking, ideas and new knowledge.
[11.3] Every Sub Committee must be encouraged to produce it’s own Strategic Plan. Quarterly Progress Reports must be submitted to the Main Committee and posted in the website.

[11.4] Develop a Demographic Database of Muslim Sri Lankans. This task may not be as formidable or costly as it may sound. Every Muslim household has at least one member who will be registered in the Jamaath Register at the nearest Jummah Mosque. This could be used an appropriate starting point in this data-gathering exercise.

12. What could be some ideas to make NSC’s presence visible to the community and other stakeholders including government and other institutions?

[12.1] Introduce a Newsletter to be sent to as many Jummah Mosques as possible and as frequently as possible.
[12.2] Appoint an NSC Representative for every Mosque or groups of Mosques to act as a conduit between the Ummah and the NSC. He will also be responsible for the data-gathering exercise mentioned previously.
[12.3] Develop an interactive website including all the basic information about the NSC which the current website lacks. It should contain inter alia
– The Vision & Mission statements and the Objectives of the NSC
– The Structure of the NSC
– The current Office-bearers
– The different Sub Committees and it’s members

[12.4] Commence a Blog so that members of the Community can participate in discussions and debates on various related subjects in their own names and not under some ‘nom-de-plume’.
[12.5] Establish a Forum for Young Muslim Adults.
[12.6] Appoint an Official Spokesperson who will be available 24/7 to respond to queries from the general public.
[12.7] Adopt  a policy of total transparency pertaining to the sources of funding and the disbursement of such funds.

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