By Hilmy Ahamed –
Dr Lorna Srimathie Dewaraja, the brilliant historian of repute who did not receive the recognition that she rightly deserves in her life time for her contribution to the Muslims of Sri Lanka should be engraved in their hearts and minds for her contribution with her luminous academic research and publication, “The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One thousand years of ethnic harmony- 900 to 1915 first published in 1994.
Her publication, available in English with a translation in Sinhala is probably the best documentation of the contribution of Muslims to Sri Lanka during the Kandyan period with extensive research and interviews with leading Buddhists, Muslims and others including the Ven. Mahanayake of the Malwatte chapter. This academic effort by this uncrowned historian fulfilled a long felt need of the Muslim community and firmly establishes the contribution of the Muslim community to Sri Lanka. It further establishes the fact that the Muslims of Sri Lanka have been an integral part of the nation for over 1200 years and dismisses the canard of the current day extremists who claim that the Muslims have no right in this country as they are mere visitors.
Dr. Lorna Dewaraja points out in her book “historians have traditionally been attracted by wars and rebellions whereas the peaceful coexistence of groups of people over long periods tends to be overlooked. She adds: “In the history of Sri Lanka few are aware of the harmonious relationship which had developed between the Sinhalese, its indigenous inhabitants, and the Muslims who initially were foreigners, and that both have lived together peacefully for over a thousand years. Perhaps because it was such a peaceful relationship, it has passed unnoticed by the historian.”
Jazeema Ismail, an icon of the modern day Muslims quotes a point made by a one-time Minister of Foreign Affairs, A.C.S. Hameed, “Historians have traditionally been attracted by wars and rebellions whereas the peaceful co-existence of groups of people over long periods tends to be overlooked”.
He goes on to say “in the history of Sri Lanka few are aware of the harmonious relationship which had developed between the Sinhalese, its indigenous inhabitants, and the Muslims who initially were foreigners, and that both have lived together peacefully for over a thousand years. Perhaps because it was such a peaceful relationship it has passed unnoticed by the historian.
As the respected late A C S Hammed states in the foreword to the book “unlike in India where Islam made its entry as a conquering proselytising force, in Sri Lanka it appeared as the personal faith of a peaceful trading people who in course of time earned the goodwill, confidence and trust of the indigenous people. Buddhist ideals of tolerance and accommodation too were contributory factors. Besides, there was hardly any economic factor that could have caused conflict. Therefore Muslim integration into Sinhala society proceeded at an even pace for which there are few parallels elsewhere in the world”.
In this day of hate campaigns orchestrated by Buddhist extremist elements from the Bodu Bala Sena and other racist groups, Dr Lorna Dewaraja’s book needs to be distributed widely so that a wider knowledge and understanding of the racial harmony and ethnic reconciliation that prevailed and promoted by Sri Lanka’s leadership through out history.
I would like to end this tribute by a quote by E.H.Carr that has been used by Dr Lorna Devaraja “The present age is the most historical minded of all ages. Modern man is to an unprecedented degree self conscious and therefore conscious of history. He peers eagerly back into the twilight out of which he has come, in the hope that its faint beams will illuminate the obscurity into which he is going; and conversely his aspirations and anxieties about the path that lies ahead quicken his insight into what is behind. Past, present and future is linked together in the endless chain of history.”