Lessons from Shukra Munawwar

Sarath Gamani De Silva

Our whole nation has been enchanted by the mesmerizing performance of a young girl from Galle hitting the jackpot at the Sirasa Lakshapathi quiz programme. No doubt Shukra is a very gifted and intelligent girl with a superb photographic memory, who has made the best use of the very limited resources available to her. Her all-encompassing knowledge of Sri Lankan history, literature and Buddhism as well as in international affairs, world history and matters of science was really amazing. She has been reading books of every kind and could remember many facts in those books. What impressed me most was her determination, keeping her cool at times of much stress while answering difficult questions, characteristics rarely seen in a 17-year old schoolgirl.

…. shades of Malal Yousafsai

Although Shukra admitted that she faced the competition only to enable her to buy a laptop computer with the prize money for her online lessons, she was not lured by money alone. She could have lost much if she got the answers wrong in the later stages, but undeterred tried her best to give the correct answers. She had much confidence in her own memory and was reluctant to use the lifelines until quite late.  To reach the last two questions with two lifelines still available exemplifies that. The way she erupted with exhilaration after every correct answer showed the unspoiled innocent behaviour of a typical school girl. On the other hand the intense deliberation of the answer to the final question with pursed lips and wide open eyes showed maturity far beyond her age. Especially so after she was disappointed by the final lifeline she requested with the quiz master constantly reminding her of the option to leave without answering, taking away one million rupees.

The school Shukra attends is a government mixed school in Galle. However the facilities for sports, cadetting, etc provided by this school are exemplary. She is naturally very proud about the school. The teachers and children should be commended for the happy environment provided for Shukra and for helping her to overcome financial difficulties. The way they did it ….. keeping her identity under covers to enable her to attend the cadet camp …. is admirable. The girl herself did not trouble her parents asking for material things which she knew they were not able to afford, and was lavish in her praise for the school.

Though the father is disabled, the parents of Shukra are very open minded and have been doing their best for the daughter despite much economic difficulty. Which parent, especially in the tradition bound Muslim community, would allow a teenage daughter to play football, cricket and attend a cadet camp?  The serene composure shown by the mother while the daughter was anxiously contemplating answers indicates that this family is one out of the ordinary. They deserve full credit for being so broad-minded, and should be held up as an example to all parents, especially those handicapped by various religious taboos.

The fact that she attended a government mixed school rather than a school confined to a religious group appears to have made a big difference. Shukra never gave the impression that she felt any difference in the way she was being treated, and has expressed herself fully in all aspects. That in itself is a lesson for all who hope to restore racial harmony in this troubled land. In her various discourses during the competition she came out with many relevant facts that should be heard by all decision makers. Referring to many other children poverty stricken like herself, she stressed the need for provision of basic facilities to continue with their education, which she quite rightly alluded to as the main avenue to escape poverty and ensure a secure future. She emphasized the need for an organization to provide facilities like computers for online studies. It is recognized throughout the world that the proper education of women is a vital factor in the progress of any society.

Her ideas about her future role in the emancipation of women should not be dismissed as childhood fantasy. The need for involvement of men in any movement for empowerment of women shows her deep understanding of how the society works. She has been careful enough not to get involved with the controversial issues troubling her community at present.** Instead, she stresses the need for unity as one nation if we are to develop and prosper. It is noteworthy that these ideas came out spontaneously and not as a prepared speech written by someone else, showing a degree of maturity rarely seen in a 17 years old school girl. This also shows the value of her knowledge of history in understanding the problems of today. Shukra is a shining example to the younger generation of today, not used to reading in general, hence ignorant of history and current affairs outside the subject matter taught in school.

This young lady should be provided with all assistance to realize the ambitions she is determined to achieve. I sincerely hope she receives a good education in English as well. Unscrupulous elements in our society may try to exploit her for their own needs. Thoughts of how the 15 years old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was seriously harmed in Pakistan by religious extremists as punishment for advocating the education of Muslim girls worries me very much. Shukra needs the protection and guidance of well meaning people if she were to blossom fully and achieve her full potential to become an exemplary citizen we all can be proud of. The whole nation appears to be united in wishing her well.

Mr. Chandana Sooriyabandara, the quiz master, should be congratulated for the way he conducts this programme. While being very knowledgeable himself, he allows the competitors enough space to show their knowledge and express themselves fully. He has, thus, enabled us to see the vast array of virtues Shukra possesses. Well done.

Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva

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** The reference here is to the assaults on hotels and churches launched by a small coterie of local Muslim jihadists on 21 April 2019 — see items below

Ameer Ali, ACL  2009a “The Transformation of Muslim Politics in Sri Lanka and the Growth of Wahhabism from the 1980s,” 5 May 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/the-transformation-of-muslim-politics-in-sri-lanka-and-the-growth-of-wahhabism-from-the-1980s/

MA Nuhman: Sri Lankan Muslims: Ethnic Identity within Cultural Diversity, Colombo, ICES, 2007

Roberts, Michael 2019 “Slippages: Where ‘Muslim’ is An Ethnic Label as well as a Religious Typification,”  3 May 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/slippages-where-muslim-is-an-ethnic-label-as-well-as-a-religious-typification/

Roberts, Michael: 2019  “”The Clash of Civilisations and Hate at the Heart of 21/4 in Sri Lanka,”14 May 2019, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/05/14/the-clash-of-civilisations-and-hate-at-the-heart-of-21-4-in-sri-lanka/#more-35621


EMAIL COMMENT from Dr Raj de Silva & His Wife in Colombo: “

Dear Michael
Thank you for circulating the well written article on Shukra. We all followed her progress with great enthusiasm and watched the Final event last week. She is an exceptionally bright girl and likely to follow Malala’s footsteps and reach new heights.
Hope you are keeping well and safe……………………Best regards,  ……… Raj & Visaka

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