Colombo Telegraph

Either Way Muslims Have No Escape

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass Usuf

Experience is an honest Teacher. To let others, benefit from one’s own experience that person must share it with them. This is exactly what this piece is about.

The incident stems from a casual chat between old friends. Each person was arguing on a certain matter trying to prove his point as superior. All with a sense of humour and poking fun at each other.  I, too, did the same. At one point, I changed my opinion and expressed a different view. The moment I did that one of my friends said, ‘you are now changing your view, typical thambiya’. I am thankful to them because they are the reason for me to clarify an important matter that bugs many people. Firstly, my friends are decent and respectable Sinhalese people. They are not racists. Secondly, when they made the statement typical ‘thambiya’, I am hundred percent certain that they said so not with a racist intent.  However, that was proof that this perversion has been engrained in the minds of people.Like my friends there are many out there who have been innocently influenced by this deep-rooted prejudice.

Neither is any community better than another nor, is any person of one community better than a person from another community.  In every community there is the good, the bad and the ugly.  We are all human beings and that is how human beings are made of by nature.  Civic mindedness demands that this needs to be highlighted.  It is unreasonable, unscientific and illogical to address Muslims in this perverted sense.

Analysing ‘Thambiya’

In Tamil ‘Thambi’ means, ‘brother’ a very affectionate word.  In the past, even the Sinhalese people respectfully refer to a person of Muslim or Tamil origin, as ‘thambi’.  Today, this word is used by most of the Sinhala majority as a derogatory or offensive term especially targeting the Muslim people.  A by-product of the unfortunate growth of racism in this country. Far from the respectful address of those days, ‘Thambiya’ has now been given a new definition by the racists. It means, ‘Kattaya’ (cunning) and untrustworthy Muslim person.

In this background, lets analyse the situation where a Muslim person is considered as a cunning and untrustworthy person. The word, ‘thambiya’ in its distorted version had been alluded to increasingly in the social media by the Sinhala extremists.  This usage against the Muslims has been taken for granted by everyone without proper inquiry or understanding.  If some Muslim businessmen are accused of cheating, the same is true of some Sinhalese and Tamil businessmen who also cheat.   Hostile stereo typing a particular people belonging to a culture, religion or ethnicity is unreasonable.

See the difference between these two stereo types: (1) Bruce Lee of martial art fame is Chinese. The perceptive assumption can be that all Chinese people know at least some kung fu. (2) ISIS the terrorist outfit are ‘Muslims’ so all Muslims are terrorists.  The first is a positive stereotype while the second is negative.  Both are unscientific statements.  The truth is that not every Chinese knows kung fu nor every Muslim is a terrorist.  Similarly, the usage of the word ‘thambiya’ connoting all Muslims as cunning or untrustworthy is unscientific.  Logically, there should then be Sinhala and Tamil ‘thambiyas’ too, within this description.

Black Sheep

Culture defines the values, norms, social behaviour, outlook etc. of the people fitting into a particular culture.  People belong to various cultures.  This is a universal reality.  Those belonging to one culture through cognitive structuring develops certain perceptions of the cultural pattern of the other group.  These can be both positive and negative perceptions.  Some of these perceptions can also be irrational, distorted or prejudiced.  Several factors contribute to this – appearance, social interaction, jealousness, inability to compete etc.

The Muslim community is not an exception to the reality that in every community there are black sheep. It will be dishonest to deny that in the Muslim community there are no cunning or untrustworthy people.  In the same way, there are several cunning and untrustworthy people in other communities too.  The distortion of this truism takes place when one group, based on the exceptional situation of a few persons, prejudicially uses a broad brush on the entire community.  This is done influenced by prejudice; that is preconceived or unfounded opinion not based on reason. One of the causes being dislike or hostility towards the target group’s behaviour. Yet another being the psyche of dominance over another group of people.  Here, in this instance, the Muslims.


Blaming an entire community for the wrongdoings of a few is called stereotyping. A stereotype is a generalization about a group of people which arises from prejudicial targeting, as in the case of ‘thambiya’.  Therefore, most of the times stereo types are inaccurate.

This holier-than-thouattitude of the Sinhala people cannot be allowed to continue unchecked.  Some Sinhalese people behave as if no one in their community are cunning or untrustworthy. Or, in other words, figuratively there is no ‘thambiya’ amongst them, according to the new definition.  To think in this manner is absolutely wrong.  The inherent prejudice denies them the rational thinking of taking cognisance of the fact of the same ‘thambi’ behavioural pattern in their own community.  You see what others are like, according to your own perception and, fail to see such qualities in your own self.  The reason is because you are not prejudiced negatively with your own self and, naturally have not stereo typed the behaviour of your people.

Let us consider the following situations (though I do not necessarily subscribe to some of these). The Muslim politicians are accused as turn coats and opportunists.  Are not the Sinhalese or Tamil politicians the same?  When the Muslims start a political party, they are communalists. When the Sinhalese start an ethnic party, they are protectors of their race. When the monks speak out, they are protecting Buddhism and the race.  When the Muslim learned speak out they are promoting Wahabism (if this allegation is true or false is a separate debate).  When the Muslim speaks kindly and respectfully, he is labelled as cunning. When he does not show these qualities, he is called arrogant.  When Muslims do not use Sinhala names they are accused of not integrating.  When a Muslim starts a new business with a Sinhala name, he is accused of deceiving the Sinhala people using a Sinhalese name.  When a Muslim change his position based on newer facts he is untrustworthy.  When he sticks to his point without change, he is called a bigot. Muslims are accused of not contributing to the economy.  When a Muslim develops a business, he is accused of usurping the business of the Sinhalese people (and they cowardly commit acts of arson).  Muslims are accused of slaughtering cows but the Sinhalese queue up to buy beef or order their favourite plate of ‘devilled beef’ when having a drink. The list of no escape either way can continue, in this manner.

Miccha Sankappa

The Sinhalese community must remind themselves of the words of buddha on ‘right view’ (Samma Ditti).  Right view produces right thinking (Samma Sankappa).  Come out of these prejudicial, stereo type and maladaptive perceptions ‘wrong thinking’ (Miccha Sankappa) about another group of people.  Whoever does not have the basic ‘samma ditti’, such person is far from liberation and will continue to live within the dungeons of darkness.  He creates hell not only for himself but for others as well.

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