By Rifai Naleemi –
There is no doubt that Muslims have been loyal citizens of Sri Lanka throughout Sri Lankan history. They fought with Sinhalese to protect the Island from the onslaught of colonial powers. Dewaraja notes that “when the Portuguese first appeared off the shoes of Sri Lanka, the Muslims warned the kings, sangha, nobles and the people of the potential threat to the country’s sovereignty. When the Portuguese tried to gain a foothold in Colombo, the Muslims provided firearms, fought side by side with the Sinhalese and even used their influences with South Indian powers to get military assistance to Sinhalese rulers. Through the intervention of the Muslims, the Zamorin of Calicut sent three distinguished Moors of Cochin with forces to help Mayadunne” (P. 50). This illustrates Muslim people’s loyalty to this nation and they defended this land with their lives against any foreign invasions. Muslim people did their best to get all help and support from Muslim world to protect this nation from colonial powers.
During the 15th and 16th centuries Ottomans Empire was one of the mightiest dynasties in the world and they ruled over the most of Middle Eastern countries and some Asian countries. Sometimes Non-Muslim nations in Asian regions sought the military help of Ottoman Empire to defeat the Portuguese invasion. Bernard Lewis notes that “1563 the Muslim ruler of Atjeh in Sumatra sent an embassy to Istanbul requesting for the military assistance against the Portuguese, as an inducement, several of the Non-Muslim rulers of the region had agreed to become Muslim if the Ottomans would come to their aid. Yet, Ottomans were unable to come in support of these nations because they were busy with more urgent matters-in the siege of Malta and of Szigetvar in Hungary, the death of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent ” (Barnard Lewis: P. 15). Ceylon Muslims would have sought Ottoman support to defend this Island had there been any urgent need for such help.
Muslims and Sinhalese kings
Kamalika Pieris is narrating one of fascinating stories (if it is a true story) that might reveal some new information about Muslim and Sinhalese relationship in this country and yet, this story was not really studied well by the historians: It is a timely needed story to be examined with some historical evidence. This story was reported some historians as well. “There is also a report in the history of Sri Lanka of a Muslim Ruler, Vathimi Raja, who reigned at Kurunegala (North Central Province) in the 14th century. This factor cannot be found in the history books due to their omission, for reasons unknown, by modern authors. Vathimi Raja was the son of Kings Bhuvaneka Bahu, by a Muslim spouse, the daughter of one of the chiefs. The Sinhalese son of King Bhuvaneka Bahu I, Parakrma Bahu III, the real heir to the throne was crowned at Dambadeniya under the name of Pandita Parakrama Bahu III. In order to be rid of his step bother Vathimi Raja, he ordered that his eyes be gouged out. It is held that the author of the (Mahavansa: ancient history of Ceylon) had suppressed the recording of this disgraceful incident. The British translator, Mudaliyar Wejesinghese states that original Ola (Leaf script) was bodily removed from the writings and fiction inserted instead. The blinded Vathimi Raj (BhuvanekaBahu II or al-Konar, abbreviated from Al-langar_Konar, meaning Chief for Lankan of Alakeshwara) was seen by the Arab traveller Ibn Batuta during his visit to the Island in 1344. His son named Parakrama Bahu II (Alkeshwara II was a Muslim. The lineage of Alkeshwara kings of (Muslim origin) ended in 1410. Although all the kings during this reign may not have been Muslims, the absence of the prefix-Shri Sangha Bodi-( pertaining to the disciples of he Buddha) to the name of these kings on the rock inscriptions during this hundred years period may be considered as an indicator that they were not Buddhists”( Kamilika Pieris. P.9).
What a fascinating story that tells us the true intimate nature of Muslim and Sinhalese relationship from 13th, 14th and 15th centuries onward. If this was a true story this should shed more light on Muslim and Sinhalese relationship: It is not a mystery that Muslims in Sri Lanka married Sinhalese people in the past and those marrying more than one wife may have been normal traditions of kings. It is pity that Historians have not made any constructive research on this fascinating story that tells us a true nature of Muslim and Sinhalese relationship in Sri Lanka: This would have been possible because of the fact that during this period in history Muslims were influential trading force in Asia. India was Under Muslim rule as well. Moreover, Muslim influence and particularly Ottoman Influence was apparently noticeable during the time on sea and costal areas. It was during this time that the King in Maldives Island embraced Islam and inhabitants of all tiny Islands become Muslims: In this sense, this story would have been true and unfortunately, the entire family trees of these Muslim rulers were deleted and omitted from Mahavamsa and Sinhalese chronicle. It would not be wrong to trace ancestry history of some Muslims from this historical account and yet, Muslim did not maintain the traditional methods of tracing family trees in Sri Lanka. It may be for some religious and legal reasons. Historians have already vividly recorded Ibn Batuta’s visits to Ceylon and he himself recorded his visits to Ceylon in his travelogue in Arabic. There must be some truth in historical accounts of Ceylon history: It is the time now that Muslim and Sinhalese historians should shed some light on these types of historical facts and stories that enhance Muslim and Sinhalese relationship. Reading the original works of Ibn Batuta in Arabic should reveal more information about the true nature of Muslim and Sinhalese relationship. It was improbable that Ibn Batuta would have ventured out into this Island had there been any hostile situation in Ceylon then during his time. His visit itself testifies good and amicable communal relationship prevailed during his time.
Muslims in Kandian Kingdom
Sri Lankan history tells that Muslims were more trusted and more integrated in Kandyan kingdom. It was Kandyan Kings who protected Muslims during the Portuguese attacks on Muslims in the western province: Portuguese wanted to obliterate Muslims from western province for two reasons: because of their religious hatred towards Muslims and of trade domination: History tells us that during this epoch in Muslim history in Ceylon thousands of Muslims were killed and chased out by Portuguese from Colombo and its suburbs. Had not such exodus of Muslims population taken place in Ceylon history Muslims would have been clear majority in Colombo today and Muslim demography would have been different: It could be assumed that had this Portuguese aggression taken place Muslim population would have been more than 20% today. I would argue that such historical assumption would have been possible given nature of Muslim influence in Indian sub-continent during this time in history. Moreover, more and more Indian Muslim would have been migrated to Ceylon those days had Portuguese aggression on Muslim not taken place during this period in history.
It is high time now that Muslim academics and historians do some research on Ceylon Muslim holocaust in 5005 by Portuguese: Same like Nazi holocaust Jews in Germany Muslims in Ceylon were persecuted in a large numbers and yet, this atrocity was not exposed to the international community. This was one of the blood bath in Ceylon history and unfortunately this historical horrific incident was not yet examined or scrutinised by historians in Sri Lanka in our modern times: It is high time now that Muslim people do some historical research on this subject and reveal some of the atrocities committed on innocent Ceylonese Muslims in 1505 by Portuguese. It was Kandyan kings who provided shelter and refuge for these persecuted Muslims. It was Kandyan Kings with their compassion and kindness extended their moral and material support for Muslims on those difficult days: It is duty of each and every Muslim in Sir Lanka to be grateful to Sinhalese people from this historical perspective and it is religious duty of Muslims to be loyal to Sri Lanka at all time: because they have been supported by Sinhalese kings many times in history:
Kandyan Kings entrusted Muslims with some duties and responsibilities in his administration. They were entrusted with many internal and external duties: they were made a part of Madige Badda or transport department. They were allowed to trade in aeronaut, which was a royal monopoly that time. The Muslim from Ova, had to bring salt as part of their obligatory service (Dewaraja.P. 100). In addition to this, some selected Muslim were involved in the Maligawa rituals and were given Maligagam lands. It was reported that Muslims were involved in administrative and ritual aspect of Dalada maligawa at least at some minimal levels ( DewaRaja. P.107.)
Muslim physicians in Royal courts
Historically speaking Muslims were famous for Unani medicine in Sri Lanka. Muslims when they migrated into Ceylon from various part of world such as Arabia, Muslim Spain and Indian sub-continent they introduced Muslim traditional medicine. Even today Muslims are famous for some herbal and village medicine. Still some families are called as Vedemahathiya/ Vederala family. These prefixes in names indicate their traditional professions.
It is generally believed that Muslim people practiced Unani Medicine in many parts of Island. It was reported that A Muslim physician named Sulaiman Kuttiya who was practicing in Galle was invited to Kandyan Court, taken into royal service and given land near Gampola. His descendants who lived till 1874 carried prefix “Galle Vederala” (Dewaraja. P.91.) The most renowned of these Muslim physicians were the Gopala Moors of Gataberiya in the Kegalle Distrct. The family traces its pedigree to Physicians from Islamic Spain, whose descendants migrated to the Sind in Northern India, from where they were ordered before come to Sri Lanka to attend on King Parakrambahu II of Dambadeniya. 1236-1270. The Gopala descendants continued to function as physicians to the Kings, during the reigns of Rajadirajasiinghahe 1782-1798 and Srivickrama Rajasinghe 1798-1815.( Dewaraja.Pp.128-133.).
I still remember when my grandfather was called Vederala and he had been treating people for snake bite, small pox, paralysis, and ladies for during the post-natal times. A lot of Sinhalese used to come to our house to treatment from neighbouring villages and our house was called Aziz Vedarla house. It has been a tradition that these Vedetalas normally did not take money from patients but they were offered Bulath leaves sometimes with gift of fruits: still Muslims are doing this type of social services and a lot of Sinhalese are visiting Muslim house for treatments. This tradition is dying out with the introduction of modern medicine. Yet, it shows how closely these communities interacted between themselves.
These types of Sri Lankan Muslim loyalty and patriotism have been forgotten in this modern epoch of Sri Lankan history. It is the time now to remind the new generations of dedication and sacrifices that Muslim people made to the mother Lanka. It is pathetic Sri Lankan Muslim history has not yet been fully recognised in this country and rarely Muslim contributions have been recognised in this county. Muslim people have been ambassadors of peace and tranquility in Sri Lanka. They have been protecting the nation ever since they settle down and indeed, they were welcomed by Sinhalese kings, local and nobles to as a blessing and beneficial people: They have been demonstrating this sense of loyalty and devotion ever since they have been living there: yet some Muslim people have wrongly identified now as disloyal people to this nation and this wrong perception has to be rectified.
The former Foreign and education minster ACS Hameed in his forward note to Dewaraja’s book notes that “ 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” It is peaceful co-existence and communal harmony between Muslim and Sinhalese should be subject of studies and research: I think that no any other country in the word had long communal harmony as we do have between Muslim and Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka: We live side by side in village and help each other in times of hardship and difficulties in history: Rarely Muslims had problems with Sinhalese people except a few occasions like that of 1915. This aspect of Muslim history in Sri Lanka was not yet really securitised in proper professional and academic methods: Of course, there are some books and research papers in these aspects and yet, not comprehensive and scientific researches have been made on these subjects.
Only Almighty Allah knows that ACS Hameed envisaged the danger that surrounds Muslims from these so called Buddhist extremists. It may be that after witnessing what happened to Tamil in 1983, he realised that Muslims history should be written highlighting all the contributions we made in Ceylon in the past and present time. That is why he made such a prediction in his forward. ACS Hammed was loved by both Muslims and Sinhalese people for his dedicated service for this nation. He rightly encouraged historians to write about this peaceful social harmony between communities. He would be dismayed and shocked to see what is going on in Sir Lanka had he been alive today with us.
To be continued next week.