Maziyya Hilmi is a determined woman, especially when the stakes are high. A Muslim from Galle in post-war Sri Lanka, she is all too aware of the violence that can spark when tensions between the region’s Buddhists and Muslims arise. Alongside her responsibilities as wife, mother and primary caretaker of her household, Maziyya recently joined the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation (CPBR) – our local partner in Sri Lanka – to get more involved in preventing conflict in her community. This July she got her chance.
In the police department where she volunteers, Maziyya heard that three officers had delivered a report predicting widespread violence in Galle city. A visiting Islamic scholar, broadcasting a sermon in honor of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, had offended the Sinhalese Buddhist population. Angry crowds had formed and were throwing stones at the gathered Muslims. Gangs of young people from each side were starting to clash as tempers flared. The police tried to control the situation in the streets. Maziyya felt she had to act. She recalls:
By acting quickly, collaborating across religious lines, and refusing to accept anything less than committed action to quell the rising anger in Galle, Maziyya Hilmi stopped conflict in its tracks – and, crucially, she built new alliances between Buddhist and Muslim leaders dedicated to peace. In a meeting of 26 moulovies last week in Galle, Mazziya was commended for her bravery, commitment and actions.
Without her prompt action, tensions in Galle could have hit tipping point, opening the door to bloodshed and deepening the Buddhist-Muslim divide. In 1985 a similar situation had caused widespread violence in the city and long-lasting animosity amongst its people.
History did not repeat itself in Galle this month because one woman,defying gender stereotypes and pressuring local leaders to act, made certain it wouldn’t. Maziyya’s story is proof that violence is not inevitable. Most promising of all, it reveals a desire amongst both Muslims and Buddhists to collaborate for tolerance and acceptance, against extremism and ignorance.
These peace advocates are the mechanisms through which fractured societies mend, and the bedrock upon which they rebuild. They are the carriers of a better future. They are the agents of change.
We here at Peace Direct can’t help but smile when stories like Maziyya’s find their way to our office. They reaffirm for us the value of what we champion, and our belief that peace is best built by local people. They make us proud in the work that we do, and in the partnerships we have with organisations like Maziyya’s, which make peace stick. They are reminders that real people make a real difference in a real way. They are worth celebrating.
So this July we celebrate you Maziyya. You’re the reason we do what we do.
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