13 April, 2024


Co-Existence And Communal Harmony In Sri Lanka Today

By Rifai Naleemi –

Rifai Naleemi

Sri Lanka is one of rare countries that has been blessed with multicultural and multi religious communities in the world. This diversity in culture, faith and tradition beautifies our cultural heritage. Moreover, it enhances our regional and international relation with many countries in the world. This diversity gives us more advantages and benefits culturally, politically and economically. Having four different religions in our Island is like having four types of flowers in a bouquet. Each flower gives different fragrances and yet when all are combined in one place it creates more aromatic setting.  We should gauge our cultural diversity from this positive perspective rather than evaluating from negative perspectives. We should reckon different of cultures and religions are complementary not contradictory.

We should see the cultural diversity as one of positive social phenomena. With the diversity in culture, religion and traditions we should build up Lankan identity. Look at India. How big is it? It is fifty times bigger than Sri Lanka.   More than hundreds language are spoken by different ethnic and religious groups and yet India managed to build up its Indian Identity. This is not based on any communal and religious line rather on the basis of broader Indian identity. Toady in major world cities like that of London or Washington hundreds of different ethnic and cultural groups live. This is the socio–economic reality of global village of our modern world. This socio-economic and communal interaction is unprecedented in human history.  We all should learn to live with this reality and otherwise we would be following the path of Somalia and Afghanistan which have been torn apart by more than 40 years wars. In our modern world security and peace are most important element for the prosperity and development. We do not have to be rocket scientists to know this elementary common sense in this modern world. Whoever sabotage peace and communal harmony should be punished in the greater national interest ofSri Lanka. I do not say this in any communal line rather I’m saying this as a Sri Lankan.

Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays, Christians have been living peacefully in Sri Lanka for hundreds of years. There is no point in arguing who came first and who came last toSri Lanka? Such arguments would not benefit Sri Lanka at all. It is an undisputable reality today there more than four different religious groups live in Sri Lanka today.  Even before colonial powers invaded Sri Lanka, different ethnical & cultural ethnic groups were living in Sri Lanka in peace and harmony:  All these communities are closely interacted one another in many ways: in their work places, industries, paddy fields, business places, offices and in other working environments. This is the reality of day to day life of our communities in Sri Lanaka: In all most all cities and townships  of Sri Lanka we see that all these communities live together side by side: Tamils live next to Sinhalese and Muslims , Sinhalese live to next Muslims and Tamils.  Muslims live next to both of these communities: each community participate in each other’s social- cultural events such as wedding ceremonies, festivals, birthday parties, funerals and other social events: each community share their happiness and sadness one anther. In time of happiness like that of festival time foods and sweets are exchanged. Millions people in many countries do not have such close-tied relationship between communities. Look at some African countries people are fighting hundreds of years on tribal and ethnic disputes:  Thanks to God we do not have tribal or caste system in Sri Lanka.

Although Sri Lankan communities have different linguistic, cultural and religious entities, socially they all are very close interacted one another.  Each community depends on others to meet necessities of day to day life. Muslims in large cities of Kalmunai and Kartharnkudi depend on Tamil builders and carpenters to build their houses and shops: In same way, Muslims in the South depend on Sinhalese builders & carpenters to build their houses: Likewise, Muslims traders depend on Sinhalese to trade their goods: I know many Muslim retailers go to village to village in Sinhalese areas to sell their goods: Similarly, many Sinhalese traders come to Muslims villages to sell their goods. In the same way, In Tamil areas Muslim lands are cultivated by Tamils and Tamils farmers are trading with Muslims.  I recall these events to illustrate close social interaction of our communities in Sri Lanka. This is the social reality of our communities in Srilanka:   To this extent communities are so closely interacted in Sri Lanka. This is one of the uniqueness of Sri Lanka inter-communal relationship.

I shall refer to some my personal experience and examples to illustrate this close communal interaction between our communities inSri Lanka.  These stories and anecdotes are not fairytale stories   rather these are true stories that happened to me when I was in Sri Lanka when I was in Sri Lanka before 25 years ago. I think the attitudes, mentalities and behaviors of people are not changed that much today.

I will recall two events that I personally experienced in my life. These two occurrences manifest kindness and loving nature of our ordinary people ofSri Lanka.  It was on the peak of JVP disturbance during the late President R. Peremadasa’s presidency.  I think it was in 1989. I was travelling from Colombo to Baticaloa on my way to work next day morning.  Unfortunately, our CTB bus broke down in Habarana. Luckily a replacement bus was given we managed to reach Polannaruwa in midnight. Any one who experienced JVP insurgency in late 1980’s knows how dangerous was to travel night times those days.  It was too scary to stay outside in Polannaruwa bus station: I did not know what to do and where to go: all shops were closed:  Those days, Sri Lankan army was suspicious of university staff and students due to JVP insurgency.

Suddenly, I was approached by one Sinhalese family who were sitting in the next seat in same bus I was travelling.  They instantly said to me: if I rightly recall their words:  (Bayawentta yepa puthey Oya apith Eka Enta).  Do not worry you come with us to our house.  We all went to their house in that midnight:  I was looked after well. They gave me dinner in that midnight with bread and coconut sampool: This was the first time I stayed in a Sinhalese house. Indeed, this was the first time I ate some thing in a Sinhalese people’s house. I stayed over night in their house and in the early morning one of their sons dropped me off to the bus station to continue my journey to Baticaloa: I will never and ever forget this favour that they happily offered me on that desperate situation.

Beyond racial, ethnical and religious boundaries they helped me on that extremely dangerous situation.  They feared for my life.  They did not want to leave me alone in the bus station at that time during those days.  They took me to their home to help me: I was a Muslim and they were Buddhists yet beyond this religious barrier they helped me. I think this is the real Buddhism and humanism.  I think this quality of kindness, love and helping mentality is inherent in the mind and heart of majority of our Sri Lankan Communities. During the Tsunami we have seen this unity and sense of humor and humanism.

We should think first and foremost as human beings beyond our colour, ethnicity, language and religion. We may have different faith and different ethnic and linguistic back ground but one thing unites all of us that that is first and foremost we are human being and we all belong to human race and humanity and unfortunately we all forget to note this fundamental fact that unites us all. In addition to this we all hail from Sri Lanka and our Lankan identity should unite us all. No way could we live in a water-tight compartment in this modern world. Whether we like or not we all are depended on one another for our material needs today. Jaffna Tamil need Sinhalese in South to sell the agricultural products.

One more my personal experience was that When I went toJaffaUniversityto work  I was invited for a lunch by a Tamil Teacher whom I did not even know him before. This teacher was working with one of my cousins inSaudi Arabiaand they became very good friends.  When he was on holiday inJaffnaI was invited to his house for a lunch. This was the first time I happen to eat in a Tamil house as well. I was very much surprised with his kindness and treatment. I think that this was the case with most of Sri Lankan communities: Most of people are kind and compassionate want to live in peace and harmony with other communities.

We do not appreciate the beauty and richness of our multi-ethnic and cultural heritage in Sri Lanka. . Each community learns a lot from other community’s culture, custom, tradition and way of life: Having different ethnical and religious groups is not detrimental for social and economic development of any country in modern world: Each community should  help and support socio-economic developments of the country: If we are true patriotic Sri Lankans , we all should first and foremost think as Sri Lankans, beyond our ethnic, cultural and linguistic entity: What I  mean here is  that national interest of Sri Lanka should be given preference over ethnical and cultural preference: in another word: We all should think first as Sri Lankan then we should consider our ethnicity and cultural entity:  this does not mean that each community assimilate into one community rather each preserve its own religious identity and yet works for the goodness of Sri Lanka.   Be a true Buddhist or be a true Hindu or a true a Muslim at the same time we all think as Sri Lankans: We should be proud to be Sri Lankans: We should work hard to develop our country collectively.

Unfortunately, since the independence all our Srilankan communities have been living in water-tight compartments: Each community gave preference to its ethnicity over the national interests: Sinhalese nationalism, Tamil nationalism and Muslim exclusionism began to flourish inSri Lanka: Even political parties were formed merely on the basis of ethnic interests over national interest. Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese political parties were formed exclusively to work on communal line: This trend has not only damaged national interest and development but indeed, such communal thinking has been a challenge for peace and harmony in Sri Lanka. Moreover, such exclusive mentality and social attitude is detrimental and discriminative in many ways:  Many times such social attitudes end up in social prejudice and discrimination.

To be continued

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 1

    Masha’Allah, a very well written essay on the values of unity and diversity. Educating a small percentage of people who are insecure and fearful is a daunting task. The advantages of unity and diversity makes immense economic sense when members of all community set aside their petty differences and work towards a common objective. Lanka is in dire need of investment and technical know-how from the right sources. A closed society will eventually perish as the world is opening up to innovation, creativity on commerce, industry and travel/transportation. Economic prosperity will show up only when social justice is in place. The window of opportunity is time bound. Now is the time Lankans take ownership of their present with individual efforts.

  • 0


    We need to explore the last para further on how we as Sri Lankans ended up in the nationalist/exclusionist mentality. Ofcourse we are not the only country in this world who faces this phenomenon. We need to look at the countries which have succesfuly moved beyond this counter productive state. If you go back in time to when other countries were at our current state of economic and social development, we are probably more than 100 years behind developed nations such as US/UK/Japan and about 30 years behind recently developed countries like Singapore/Malaysia/Thailand. Not all Sri Lankas realize how far we need to go.

    We are a nation of 20 million and it is the people who determine how big a nation we are and not the size of our land mass. We need to unite Sri Lanka if we are to accelerate in this development race. Even in the absence of a war, without providing the necessary peace and security to all citizens, we are unlikely to unleash the full potential of our citizens. All Sri Lankans need to be contributing at the peak of their potential towards the development of this country. Today Sri Lankans (Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims) are migrating elsewhere to achieve this potential.

    I believe the approach to Sri Lanka should be to ensure the constitution provides sufficient protection for the human rights of all citizens (including religious freedom), strengthen the judiciary and thereafter desolve all communal/ethnic/religous segregation at the political stage and strive towards a two party political setting (like in the US and UK).

    Along these lines, Sri Lanka seems to be moving in the reverse direction over the last 2 to 3 years. Ofcourse we are not ready to get to this stage just as yet. We need a strong and visionary leader to get us there. I used to think our current leader fits this bill but have gradually lost all confidence since the end of the war.

  • 0

    again u muslims need to realize that the unity was never questioned until u guys thought urselves too big for ur boots and started turning SL to an arabia with ur ninja suits and halal and madrasas… we cant tolerate that..

    come without that and live as before and we are all fine and merry.. get the picture

    • 1

      What harm do they cause to Buddhism and Buddhists for the Muslims to be subjected to the hate campaign now being carried on by some Buddhists.

    • 0

      Sorry No, can’t get the picture :(. We pay taxes and contribute to the economy, just like you do; we were born in this country like you did, we can speak the same language you speak. We are citizens of this country like you are, so tell me how we are different to you? Is it based on race?

      Pray tell me how did you get this idea into your head that you can tell us how to live our lives?

      We may consider listening to you if you didn’t tax us, fed us and gave us security, clothed us, gave us shelter etc etc at your own cost.

      Now you are not doing it are you?

      If you think you can dictate to us because you are in the majority, you are mistaken. You tried dictating to the Tamils and you know where it took the country.

      You haven’t learned any lessons have you?

      Sinhala Buddhists have become the laughing stock of the rest of the world thanks to racists like you

      Sorry, I am being harsh and rude. I have hit the end of my tether!

      Have a nice day :)

  • 0

    Dear Refai Nalimi,

    DeJa Vu……
    “SWRD Bantaranayaka died 2 years after signing B-C pact.”
    “Don’t follow them Raja.”
    DeJa Vu………

    Question: Where is the 64,000 pound Gorilla?

    1. Buddhist Sinhala Racism or Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinism?

    What is the Basis? Racist Monk Mahanama Myths?
    What are those Myths? Lion Grandfather of Vijaya, Buddha and Lanka Linkage, Sinhala Buddhist Island etc.


    2. Demonization of natives Veddah, Yakka and Naga.

    3. Downgrading of Native beliefs, Animist, Janin and Hindu

    4. Establishing the Monk,or Sangha hegemony and Monk-King Axis to control the people.

    5. SWRD and Duddey phenomena shows that it is NOT the Sinhala people. It was the Mahanama Monks, who realizing that the Monk-King(State) axis is not respected, wanted the the King removed or replaced. Both wanted to correct the errors, build the nation and move on, but unfortunately, we had this curse, which still haunts us all, and new curses are being added.

    On the other hand, NOT ALL the Monks are Racist Monk Mahanam types like, Somarama, Buddharakkita and those populating the BBS, Sinhala Ravya and other “Harak” Urumaya types.

    We are very fortunate to have excellent Good Monks, who understand Lord Buddhas teaching of Middle Path, like the Honda Hamuduruvo,Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero.


    Jun 06, Colombo: Chief incumbent of the Naga Vihara in Kotte and Convener of the National Movement for Social Justice, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero has requested Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe to discuss the proposed draft constitution of the United National Party (UNP) with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

    • 0

      In every post you cry about Mahanama and mahavamsa. Why cannot you tell Bhikku Mahanam came from Tamil nadu? Or dot you know the history of Mahanama and just use his name like the Tamil idiots?

      Can you tell why a Monk from Tamil Pallava Royal house wrote something against “Tamils”?

      Were those Tamils too like the present day Vaikos and Simon Sebasitians?

  • 0

    Mr. Rifai Nallemi.

    In Islam there is no communal harmony and co-existence.

    Does Quran allows any deviation or modifications to the Quran ?

    why Sunnis and Shiites fight ?

    Why some muslim sects in Sri Lanka are mistreated by the prominent muslim sects ?

    The co-existence and communal harmony that you talk is from buddhism.

    Buddhism believes that we all are one and one becomes many. So, we need to have compassion for everybody. Therefore, we need to have compassion for animals too and we, HUMAN BEINGS HAVE TO RESPECT THE ANIMALS’ RIGHT TO LIFE.

    Read what Arahat Mahinda thera told to the Sri Lankan King when they met for the first time. The Arahat Monk had said, even the Birds flying in the Sri Lankan skies had rights.

    • 0


      Can I ask you the same question, has Buddhism changed its core ideas?


  • 0

    At last you have stopped BBS bashing!!

    I am happy that you have now stopped talking about Buddhism and Islam, and have suddenly discovered the common humane character of our people.

    It may be unique for you to have had a meal in a Sinhalese and a Tamil home, but there are hundreds and thousands of us in SL who day in and day out receive and reciprocate similar hospitality at various homes irrespective of caste, creed or religion.

    These are our friends and fellow-citizens, and you must first make an attempt to come out of your own water-tight compartment.

    Bigots are a minority, and we should not make mountains out of molehills!!

  • 0

    Dear MNZ. Please don’t read any article out of context. Read it in contexts: you choose and pick up for your bias:that is no good. Now BBS is dead. No singhalese will support it except radicals who spread hatred.
    Dear Jimsofty: if you say all are one and one become many: this means you do not One God rather every thing in the world is gods: human beings are gods, animals are gods, plants are gods, universe is incarnation of god: this is what old days Sufi mystics said:

    • 0

      Plain Truth

      Obviously you have missed the point of my comments.

      We all should exit our water-tight compartments and reach out to our fellow citizens.

      Tilting at imaginery windmills is only good idiots.

      • 0

        Typo: Should read “good for idiots”

  • 0

    Only the total absence of all religions (including Islam) will guarantee lasting peace.

    What happens DAILY in the middle east is a good example of what is the common denominator of violence is.

    Please visit “the religion of peace” to know the independent truth.

    • 0

      Did people live peacefully in societies in which religions were not followed? It is not that religions are the cause of the many problems that humanity faces but is the fault of the human-being not conditioning his mind to live according to the teachings of the religions. Religions have brought in changes to humanity but philosophies only make good reading material and do not bring changes.

      • 0

        If you visit “the religion of peace” website (not a BBS website, not a Rajapaksha website, not a Lake House website) you will know the truth.

        It is updated daily with facts and figures. No propaganda.

        So many people are killed today not by atheists but by the followers of a few religions. Some religions demand their followers to kill the infidels. What can those people do other than kill?

    • 0

      You are sounding like Lester;

      Walk like a duck, quack like a duck looks like a duck must be a duck

      Hi Lester :)

  • 0

    Peace with others is a ‘hard’ subject to Muslims becuase Kuran ask to kill non-muslims and rob theri properties and rape their women.

    Muslims cannot go well with otehrs because of the Kuran!

    Now Muslims in Sri lanka try to hide their “agenda” of Arabia to fool the others. If they get political power, Sri lanka will be another hell like Pakistan!

    • 0

      Muslims don’t kill.

      Over 275,000 lives lost since 1977 and all those who got killed and killed others were mainly Tamils and Sinhalese. We got caught in the crossfire

      We have no axe to grind unlike you guys. Please explain how Sinhala Buddhists can kill with impunity and then look a Muslim in the eye and say ” the Qu’ran says kill”.

      You are living in cuckooland and like I have said before you are a coward who uses a Tamil pseudo name; Shame on you

  • 1

    In short I will say, I very well agree with Rifai. All of us in Sri Lanka lived untited. I could say till about the late 1950, When Mr Bandaranayake tabled the Singhala only. This brought the communial troubl. why? for politicle gains. Even today we all communities live pease fully We have no differences, but the guys in politics cry for their own gains.and the media goes to town. I have tamil relations,muslim relations and burger relations. I am sure most of us,
    So this problam is not amoung the ordanar people, it is the guys who have politics for a living. I do not live in Sri Lanka any more, but I am a Sri Lankan. and my heat is there. god bless Sri Lanka and save it from those goooooooooons

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.