Sri Lanka is a country with a rich cultural heritage and a diverse religious landscape. Buddhism is the main religion in Sri Lanka, with a significant Muslim population as well. In this article, we will explore the relationship between religion and the law in Sri Lanka, with a particular focus on Buddhism and Islam.
Religion and National Laws
Buddhism is deeply embedded in the constitution of Sri Lanka, and a majority of Sri Lankan Buddhists believe that the law should be based on Buddhist principles. Around 80% of Sri Lankan Buddhists support the idea of basing the law on Buddhist dharma, which encompasses the knowledge, doctrines, and practices derived from Buddha’s teachings. Similarly, Cambodian Buddhists overwhelmingly support basing their national laws on Buddhist dharma, with a staggering 96% in favor. In Thailand, 56% of Buddhists share this view, albeit to a lesser extent. However, in countries where Buddhists are not the majority, support for dharma-based laws is lower among Buddhists.
On the other hand, Muslims in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore favor making Sharia the official law of the land in areas where Muslims are the majority. In Malaysia, where Islam is the official religion, an overwhelming 86% of Muslims support the implementation of Sharia law. Similarly, a majority of Muslims in Sri Lanka (71%), Thailand (67%), and Singapore (63%) back Sharia as the official law. It is important to note that access to Islamic law is limited in these countries, with certain areas allowing its application in family and inheritance cases.
The Role of Religious Leaders in Politics
When it comes to the involvement of religious leaders in politics, opinions vary among respondents. While most agree that religious leaders should have the right to vote in political elections, views diverge when it comes to other aspects. Cambodian Buddhists, for example, are more likely than Thai Buddhists to believe that religious leaders should participate in political protests or be politicians themselves. In contrast, adults in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Thailand are generally against active political participation by religious leaders.
Muslims in the surveyed countries demonstrate greater support for religious leaders’ involvement in politics compared to Buddhists. Muslims are more likely than Buddhists to believe that religious leaders should vote in political elections. However, across all religious groups, the majority agrees that religious leaders should have the right to vote.
Democracy and Free Speech
Opinions on the form of government also vary among the surveyed countries. While Indonesia stands out as a staunch supporter of democracy, with 85% favoring this form of governance, other countries demonstrate mixed views. Thailand and Singapore show a preference for a democratic form of government, albeit with less overwhelming support. In Malaysia and Sri Lanka, a majority of respondents express a preference for a strong leader to solve their country’s problems.
When it comes to freedom of speech, respondents generally support the right to publicly criticize the government, even in countries where democratic values are not widely embraced. For example, in Sri Lanka, where the majority prefers a strong leader, 71% believe that people who disagree with the government’s actions should be able to publicly criticize it. However, respondents in most surveyed countries prioritize maintaining social harmony over the right to speak one’s opinion, with exceptions among younger adults and those with higher levels of education.
As of now, same-sex marriage is not legal in any of the surveyed countries. However, attitudes toward its legalization differ significantly. Thailand and Cambodia stand out as more supportive of legalizing same-sex marriage, with majorities in favor. On the other hand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka demonstrate strong opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage. Singaporeans are more evenly divided on the issue.
Buddhists generally show greater support for legalizing same-sex marriage compared to Muslims and Christians. Younger Buddhists, in particular, are more likely to support this idea. However, support among Buddhists who prioritize religion in their lives is lower, and Buddhist men tend to be less supportive than Buddhist women.
The relationship between religion and law in Sri Lanka is complex and nuanced. While Buddhism plays a significant role in the country, other religions, such as Islam, also have their influence. Support for basing national laws on religious teachings varies among Buddhists and Muslims, with different views depending on the country.
Opinions on the involvement of religious leaders in politics are diverse, with varying levels of support for political participation. Similarly, preferences for a democratic form of government or a strong leader differ across countries.
The issue of same-sex marriage also elicits diverse opinions among the surveyed countries, with Buddhists generally showing greater support compared to Muslims and Christians.
Understanding these dynamics is crucial for fostering dialogue and promoting harmony in Sri Lanka’s diverse society. By respecting different religious perspectives and embracing democratic values, society can strive towards an inclusive and equitable future.