Failed effort to hide the identity of Muslims origin in Sri Lanka. Please don’t be prejudice in writing history.
This article is referred to the article, Sri Lankan Muslims Are Low Caste Tamil Hindu Converts Not Arab Descendants, written by Rifat Halim published on Colombo Telegraph dated May 6, 2013.
Though, I was not much interested to reply for a bulk of fake allegations made by some facebook and other social media activists. Yet, unfortunately since I happened to come across the “biased and full of prejudice” effort made by Mr. Rifat Halim regarding the identity of Muslims in the isle, ultimately compelled me to contribute to reveal the truth with the power of my pen in the said topic. It is pivotal to overt the invalid and self-assumed strive by Mr. Rifat Halim to doctor the historical facts regarding Muslims in the Island.
The writer has mentioned that “In every part of Indian subcontinent, the Muslims claim South Asian descent except for the Tamil-speaking Muslims of Sri Lanka”. If it is the case with only Sri Lankan Muslims, what are the origin & the claim of Maldives Muslims? By sidelining the Maldives, the writer hereby tries to play shadow-boxing stating his own unsubstantiated arguments, which are primarily unacceptable. According to Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, the person responsible for this conversion was a Sunni Muslim visitor named Abu al Barakat sailing from Morocco. It does not mean that every Maldivian was reverted to Islam (though later they were reverted after the Kings embrace of Islam), but Islam stretched its muscles throughout the Maldivian Archipelagos by a Moroccan Arab, which is in fact the part of history. And no where it is mentioned that he landed alone, which is not possible. Therefore, all what I emphasize here is that there had been many traders, travelers and preachers as well as religious scholars have migrated in the island. And we are well aware that Islam reached South India by a very peaceful means, mostly by Sufism. And they married to local women and settled.
Indeed, M. Ali Jinnah, Abdul Kalam, AR Rahman, ZA Bhutto and Sheikh Mujeeb were local descendants and they were Muslims. Despite their religious identity, they were Gujarati, Tamil, Sindhi, and Bengali (respectively) because of the preaching by the Arab visitors in their land. Arabs not merely preached in their expanse, but also shared the social rituals. They married native ethnicities, got families and stayed in the land. Situation in Indian Muslims & Sri Lankan Muslims are completely poles apart, seeing that many Indian Hindus, Buddhists and Animistic etc were reverted, and it is much implicit that India was under Mughal rule and was invaded by Muslim Central Asian nomadic clans begun after the 10th century and ruled till 18th century initiated by Muhammad-ibn-kassim from Sindh, but in Sri Lanka they are the original descendants of Arab’s and called Moors. And as a matter of fact, that one can not negate this fact and the chronological accounts proves it explicitly. Therefore, it is irrational to acknowledge the writers claim that Muslims in Sri Lanka are the descendants of low caste Tamils who were reverted to Islam. Most importantly, the Muslims never reached Sri Lanka like what central Asian nomads did in Indian northern plains and neither the force was applied in Sri Lanka. Thus, it is impossible to accept writers self-assumed arguments which have no logic and any evidence to prove them. Notwithstanding, that fore mentioned leaders claimed their identity irrespective of their ethnic differences, yet it is not adequate to negate the Muslims origin in Sri Lanka, which the writer has failed to provide evidence.
Writer states that “There is even a small Tamil Muslim community in Karachi” yes, there are a few Tamil speaking Muslims in Karachi, yet once again the writer ignored when? Why? How? These Tamil speaking Muslims sought to live in Karachi. When the India was under the Muslim Mughal Empire, their muscles stretched all the way through India from west Sindh to Bengal in east, and from north Delhi to today’s Chennai in south. In the early modern India people used to travel and do trading to make comfort their life and they have settled presumably in Karachi. On the other hand, when the partition took place in 1947 with the independence of British-controlled India, the creation of modern Pakistan as a new-state under the pretext of Islamic ideology, compelled the then Indian Muslims to migrate from predominantly Hindu India to newly had born Pakistan. With having no knowledge, the writer had been trying to prove that Tamil speaking Muslims are living all over the sub-continent and obliterate the Muslims origin of Sri Lanka.
Other vague baseless point of writer is that of “Tamil is the mother tongue of over 99% of the Sri Lankan Muslims. The Islamic sermons are overwhelmingly delivered in Tamil even in the Sinhalese majority districts of Kandy, Matara and Galle”, in here the writer tries to put his utmost effort once again to relate the Tamil origin, via Tamil Language, which any literate reasonable person will find hilarious. Those Muslims speak Tamil were the traders affiliated with South Indian trade and for other business purposes, more like people-to-people contacts were flourished due to their linguistic ability. Academic breakdown and Muslims preferred Tamil over Sinhala due to religious factors and other trade benefits. And fall of Ottoman Caliphate in early 20th century was the biggest set-back and also the raison d’être for Tamil Language influence. Other undisputable fact is that formation of modern-nation-state organism was instrumental to this and it had a greater influence over the Muslims of Sri Lanka, as any other traditional Muslim states and Muslims were detached with the Caliphate. Mughal rule and South Indian Muslims traders influence on Muslims, at the same time as most of them were traders in Sri Lanka. Many Muslims were attached to India, in particular with South India due to its close proximity, which is also a fact that since thousands of years Sri Lanka progressed in trading & multi-faceted bilateral ties with India, whereby chiefly with South. To outclass in Islamic education, Hadeeth and other Quranic studies as Tamil was the lingua-franca throughout the era. It was also the main language for scholarship during the Mughal era in India after Persian.
Lorna Dewaraja, in her book “The Muslims of Sri Lanka, 1000 years of ethnic harmony 900-1915 AD” (Lanka Islamic Foundation, 1994) has studied the situation of the Muslims in Sri Lanka, with particular reference to the Kandyan Period. She makes several important points.
“In the latter half of the 13th century, with the decline of the Caliphate of Baghdad, Arab commercial activity in the Indian Ocean decreased. This trade was taken over by the Indian Muslims of Gujarat and other Indian centers. Hindu merchants did not travel. They were based in India. They exported their merchandise in Muslim owned vessels. Thus colonies of Islamized Indians came up in the ports in India’s south western (Malabar) and south eastern (Coromandel) coasts right up to Bengal. Thus thriving canters of Muslim commercial activity studded the Indian coastline. Subsequently, colonies of such Indo-Arabs emerged along the coasts of Sri Lanka. These settlements were described by the Dutch and British as ‘Coast Moors’. (Dewaraja p 41, 43).”
And, conversely, the Muslims those who established in southern coast, and Muslims who settled in the North & eastern region of Sri Lanka can be categorized as two groups. Yet, both are the Arab descendants out of which some of them were brutally killed by Portuguese in the Southern Coastal-line in the early 15th century, and were shifted to North-east expanse by then King Senerath. The King Senerath found many reasons behind this, as such, for security of Muslims, and also for other agricultural benefits for the King’s exchequer. And the Muslim traders were economically and politically an asset to the Sri Lankan king. The other wave of Muslims arrived to Sri Lanka from South-India. They were the descendants of previous Arab traders who had settled in South Indian ports and wedded local women. As a result Tamil and Malayalam came to be written in Arabic script, and were identified as Arabic Tamil or Arvi-Tamil. The Koran was translated into Arabic Tamil. It was translated into Sinhala only in recent times. Given that it was obligatory for Muslim children to read the Koran, they had to know Arabic Tamil. This fairly explains why Muslims who have lived for centuries in completely Sinhala speaking domain retained Arabic Tamil as their ‘mother tongue’. Later generations of Sri Lankan Tamils went to theological institutions in Vellore to study Islamic learning. So it can also be suggested that Muslims speak Tamil because Tamil was widely used in maritime commerce in the Indian Ocean.
Regarding the names of Muslims – Names of Thai & Chinese Muslims are quiet different, so it’s illogical.
It should also be noted that during this time, Arabic had become, not only a religious language, but also the main international language of the region. (Lingua-franca). It was also the main language for scholarship. The Arabs also expanded eastwards, towards India and China, in search of trade. In the 9th and 10th centuries, an assortment of Persians, Arabs, Abyssinians, all Muslims, speaking Arabic and therefore conveniently called ‘Arabs’ dominated the overseas trade from Baghdad to China. The Muslims of Sri Lanka were a part of this trade operation. There is evidence that there were Muslim merchant settlements in Sri Lanka as early as the 7th century. M. A. M. Shukri has used the Arabic (Kufi) inscriptions in Sri Lanka to throw light on the origins of Sri Lanka’s Muslims. He says that the Sri Lanka Moors originally came from Aleppo, a city in Syria. (‘Sri Lanka and the Silk Road of the Sea’ p181). Apparently there is an Arabic document in the possession of one of the oldest Moor families in Beruwela. It said that in 604 AD two sons of the Royal family of Yemen came to Lanka; one settled in Mannar the other in Beruwela (Daily News 25.9. 98. p 16).
Regarding the Thali & Other things – No Muslims in Sri Lanka ever worn Thali or something similar to that was used. But, it is a fact that Muslims preferred Tamil women dress code over Sinhalese. Because of Hindu religio-cultural influence over Muslims as a noble dress-code, which Muslims in Sri Lanka accepted as a whole but within the Islamic parameters.
Lorna Dewaraja, in her book “The Muslims of Sri Lanka, 1000 years of ethnic harmony 900-1915 AD”, states that “the Muslims had no such problems as they happened to experience in Burma, China and Thailand (as the Muslims had to use two names to protect themselves from any hostile eyes and the Muslims were obliged to camouflage their Muslim identity). As we all know, the Muslims use their Arabic or Persian names very openly and proudly. Even today, the Muslims in Kandyan areas have 2 names, a traditional Sinhala family name denoting the person’s ancestry and profession and an Arabic name. For all practical purposes, only the Arabic name is known and used. The Sinhala name is used only in legal documents and is useful in proving long residence in the island and ownership of land. (Dewaraja. p 12-13).
Other point is that No Sri Lankan travelled to Arab world & embraced Islam, but ironically it’s on the other hand which writer ignores these facts.
Further, the writer comes up with another vague self-claimed argument to support his confused irrelevant recent Rizana Nafeek’s pathetic story, truly which got nothing to do with the Arab origin in Sri Lanka. He says “The recent execution of Rizana Nafeek in Saudi Arabia has underlined the bogus claim of Arab ancestry by Sri Lankan Muslims (formerly known as Ceylon Moors). Ms. Nafeek, a domestic worker from a poor family in the East of Sri Lanka, spoke no language but Tamil. She requested a Tamil translator but was provided with a Malayalam-speaking minor employee whose command of the Tamil language was said to be insufficient. The Saudi authorities showed no clemency. Also, they refused to recognize her as a person of Arab descent. Her status was indistinguishable from that of any foreigner in that country.
Writer, here by quoting the statement of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan claiming that of “In 1885, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan stated in a speech to the Ceylon Legislative Council that the Tamil-speaking Muslims are low caste Hindus who converted to Islam”. However, it is important to remind that Sir Ramanathan was a Tamil politician and he might have used it for his own political-mileage as we all can experience in today’s politics. And its only his opine, but not any other Tamil or Sinhala scholarly writings claims so. About 1890, Ramanathan had several conferences with the American Theosophist Col. Henry Steel Olcott about the feasibility of founding a Hindu-Buddhist College for the benefit of the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. This evidently proves that during his rollicking time there was a burning issue between Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus, so he found the racism as a tool to use for his political carrier. And during the British rule in Sri Lanka, Muslims and Sinhalese were oppressed and deprived in every aspect of socio-political and socio-economical spectrum. But the Tamil-Hindus and Tamil-speaking Christians were facilitated by the British.
On the other hand, the writers claim over “Sri Lankan Muslim names such as Periya Marikkar and Sinna Lebbe are clearly Tamil.” Marikkar is a Muslim community, mostly concentrated in and around Malabar in South-western Indian state of Kerala and some found in Sri Lanka as they were migrated from Malabar to Sri Lanka for trading, and they were traditionally boatmen. When the Portuguese came to Kochi, the Marikkar community offered their men, ships and wealth in the defence of their motherland to the Samoothiri of Kozhikode from 1520 to 1600. They have served as the naval chiefs in the Zamorin’s army. Kunhali Marikkar, one of the first Keralites to rebel against the British, hailed from the Marikkar community (They are the descendants of Arab traders set sail from Arabia and settled in Kerala). Originally they were merchants of Cairo, Egypt who settled in Kozhikode and joined the Samoothiri’s navy. E.g. In 1967 a Malayalam movie named Kunjali Marakkar was released in which depicted Kunjali Marakkar’s heroic life. E.g. The Kunjali Marakkar Centre for West Asian Studies at Calicut University is named in honor of Kunjali Marakkar. E.g. Mayimama Marakkar was an Indian ambassador of the Zamorin ruler of Calicut. In 1504, he went on an embassy to the Mamluk ruler in order to obtain an intervention against the Portuguese who were preying on India. E.g. In today’s Kerala film industry Muhammadkutty Ismail Panaparambil, known as Mammootty is also a Marikkar descendant and all were Muslims and Arab descendants.
Labbay, Labbai, Labba, Labbabeen is an Islamic community in southern India. They make up a trading community stretch through the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The etymological study proves that Lebbe name is derived from the Arabic phrase Labbay’k which translated means – Here I am. The Labbay Community is considered to be one of the first trading communities to land on the Coromandel and Malabar Coasts from the Persian Gulf. They were fair-colored, strongly built Arabic traders from Middle East who firmly established Islam in South India. Labbays also specialized in the trade and manufacture of leather, tobacco, grains and spices from as far away as China and South East Asia. Thus, writer’s false claim over origin of Muslims in Sri Lanka is illogical and implicitly a fake prejudiced self-claimed arguments whereby putting his effort to re-ignite the buried so called doctrine of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. Lebbey’s are the descendants of people from Cairo, Egypt, whereas those in Kilakarai in Tamil-Nadu are mostly descended from Arabia, Yemen and Iran. Thurston, Edgar; Rangachari, K. (1909) “Castes and Tribes of Southern India”. Madras: Government Press. p. 151.
In here, the writer by raising the recent Rizana Nafeek’s incident, he clandestinely put his utmost effort to prove that Muslims of Sri Lanka has no link with Arabs, neither the Sinhalese. Author’s pathetic attempt to use her story to justify his unfair opinion makes readers uncomfortable. Thus, it is also much pivotal to understand why & how this issue was ignored and left just like that? Envisaged “Treaty of Westphalia” in 1648 and introducing the modern-nation-state system with which today we are highly influenced. And Westphalian Sovereignty put an end to Thirty Years’ War via which states became the primary institutional agents in an inter-state system of relations. The doctrine of states as independent agents bolstered the nationalism, via which legitimate states were assumed to correspond to nations – groups of people united by language, culture and religion. On this context, emergence paved the way for states to boost its sovereignty, territorial integrity and mutually respected relationship. Therefore, Saudi-Arabia as a state it has its own legal set up which are entirely differs from what any other state posses. E.g. in Sri Lanka has established its own legal system, which is completely different from India or any other SAARAC or ASEAN states (There may be some similarities due to regional-hegemonic influence). Provided looking at Saudi-Arabia as a state with its own regulatory legal system, which every local & a foreigner supposed to follow, thus looking at the issue of Rizana Nafeek with the same lens is not advisable and unwise. E.g. recent verdict of former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi assassination in 1991 by LTTE cadres, arrested accused were sentenced to death even thought they are Hindu’s who have the origin of Indian descendants, yet the Apex-court of India gave the verdict of death sentence to four of them. So, when it comes to a state and its functionary law everyone is equal and the egalitarianism before the law is to be upheld. There has to be no any religious affiliation, whether Arab or Indian descendants, yet every citizen and individual has to be abided by the law. In both case we can cite that similar criminal acts, so the guilt has to be punished. Moreover, the Saudi-Arabia has its own code of law whereby the culture dominates the religion. So, we have to analyze the facts and figures before we come to any conclusion rather based on pre-occupied self-claimed unreasonable perceptions.