29 March, 2023


Muslim Politics & National Crises

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

When the nation is going through an unprecedented period of multiple crises, when the most decisive issue to be settled is emerging as one between changing the prevailing socio-economic and political paradigm or system on the one hand, and isolating from that system only the economic crisis and tackling it through support and instructions from IMF and other agencies on the other, and when the country is on the verge of witnessing another aragalaya, Muslim political parties and their leaders are engaged in exploring tactics and seeking alliances to maximize their presence in the legislature if and when an election to be held. Their contribution to the national debate on crises facing the country has been zero so far. Sadly, this nonchalance towards national issues and preoccupation with only those concerning the Muslim community had been the delineating feature of Muslim politics since the dawn of parliamentary democracy in this country. How does one explain this myopic obsession?   

It was Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, the late historian, constitutionalist lawyer and politician, who captured this apathy when he made that disturbing remark, “Muslims in this country are like the cow and the grass.” (I picked this quote in Tamil from the diary of Abdul Cader Lebbe (1913-1984), a renowned philosopher poet and incisive observer of Muslim affairs). The cow eats the grass but has no concern over how that grass is grown. To put it differently, Muslims have been schooled in a mindset that has turned them into a community of spectators and not participants in the national drama. How does one explain this parochialism?  

This insularism is the combined product of a mindset nurtured by two inter-related agencies: trade and commerce and the type of Islam preached to the masses. Trade and commerce are the most representative profession not only of Sri Lankan Muslims but also Islam. Starting as a community of travelling pedlars and tavalam merchants, before growing into one of sedentary but ubiquitous shopkeepers, Muslim middlemen spent their time and energy predominantly on pecuniary matters throughout their working life. In that pursuit, their main interest remained restricted to the daily happenings in the market and satisfaction of their customers. Their after-shop hours were spent in taking care of their families and performing religious obligations. 

The mosque on the other hand functioned not only as the centre of worship but also an institution of religious indoctrination, where the preachers imparted a knowledge of Islam which was otherworldly in essence with associated emphasis on the transient nature of this life and the need to prepare oneself to face the Creator on the Day of Judgement. Another aspect of that preaching was to stress the importance of a universal ummah or religious community with no mention of watan or nation. There was therefore an inherent clash in this preaching between believing and belonging. This narrow interpretation of religion, which is contrary to the actual teachings of the Quran and practices of the Prophet, encouraged Muslims to lead a life of detachment or minimum involvement with matters outside their immediate wellbeing and religious life. Added to the second minority status of the community, this economic and religious base created a mindset which preferred the community to be aloof from the main currents of national development.

After independence and when democracy with party system was introduced, the Muslim mindset developed a type of political attitude that did not care who or which political party should govern, and what national policies and programs should it adopt so long as the holders of power left Muslim economic interests and their religion untouched. In practical terms that attitude translated itself into supporting whichever political party or coalition of parties that captures the government. With very few exceptions, the voting behaviour of Muslim MPs in the parliament is a sad reflection of Muslims so called pragmatic politics.   

The irony is that the Muslim strategy of always backing the winning side became an asset to the Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian political system in its running confrontation with the Tamil minority from 1950s. Muslim representatives in parliament were given cabinet positions, sometime disproportionately to their numbers in parliament, their nominees  were appointed to prestigious positions in public institutions, and the community received preferential treatment not because of the system’s love towards Muslims but because of its hatred against Tamils. The favoured treatment accorded to Muslims allowed the Sinhala Buddhist governments not only to refute international accusation of systematic ethnic discrimination, but also to strengthen relations with wealthy Arab countries. It was a devil’s bargain. 

That bargain lost its value to the architects of the system after 2009. With the annihilation of the Tamil militia Sinhala Buddhist supremacists felt that they had gained control of the entire country and that there was no need to favour Muslims. The post-2009 anti-Muslim violence, state restrictions to build new mosques and madrasas and vicious and baseless campaigns to spread Islamophobia among Sinhalese were the result of breakdown of that bargain.   

Meanwhile, the internal malfunctioning of the system marked by nepotism, corruption, economic mismanagement, and lack of accountability created crises of multiple dimensions and ultimately bankrupted the nation financially. That “polycrises” awakened a new generation of youngsters who felt that the system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be thrown out. That was the reason for the 2022 aragalaya, which was suppressed by the guardians of the system four months after the struggle began. However, what was started by those youngsters has now grown into a national struggle determined to throw out the system along with its guardians. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who was put into power by the same systemists is trying to do patchwork repair starting with the economy. His cure seems to be more painful than the disease itself. Hence, the increasing chance for a second aragalaya.  

Without systemic change there is no hope for the country for a less painful economic revival, communal peace, and political stability. There is no way that minorities could live with freedom and dignity under the current system. The Sinhala youth have awakened to this fact, and their influence, according to several opinion polls, is spreading amongst the Sinhala masses. Ethnonationalism mixed with political Buddhism appears to be losing its electoral advantage and there are signs for a radical change. This is the reason why the President is refusing to call Local Government Elections. But once again, instead of joining this new wave and becoming participants in the national struggle, Muslim community and its political leaders are pathetically keeping aloof and looking for opportunities to strike a bargain at the end. The two Muslim parties, SLMC and ACMC are typical of displaying this opportunism. The apex religious body ACJU is another. But their hackneyed business politics is fast losing its usefulness and will have no place under a new system. The community desperately needs a forward looking and patriotic leadership.  

*Dr. Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, W. Australia

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Latest comments

  • 12

    Ameer Ali, thank you for this article , based on not just facts but ground reality. One of the best.

    • 7

      “Ethnonationalism mixed with political Buddhism appears to be losing its electoral advantage and there are signs for a radical change.”
      As usual, Dr.Ali is letting his imagination run riot. Or he doesn’t understand Sinhala, and is unaware of the dozens of Mahanayakas falling over each other to prescribe solutions, usually quite the opposite of their 2019 prescription.
      When a Mahanayaka comes out in support of 13A, I may believe Dr. Ali.

      • 9

        Muslim bashing is most welcome on these pages especially when it comes from a Muslim.
        The Muslims still do not have the badly needed common ethno-political identity. Their demographic distribution has disallowed that luxury to them.
        They were victims of SB racism in the urban South. In the rural South hostility is less.
        They were driven out of their homes in the North three decades ago.
        I see hate speech against Muslims on these pages coming mostly from Tamil nationalists.
        As for indifference to national political matters, had Tamil leaders fared significantly better?
        What Dr Colvin had forgotten was that Muslims played an important role in left politics at least until there was an honourable Left leadership in parliamentary politics.
        Interestingly, when the CP split in 1964, the editors of the Tamil journals of both factions (Thesabimani and Thozilali) were Muslims.
        I wonder if the author has an explanations for this phenomenon based on his sweeping generalization.
        BTW, the father of Mohamed Azath Sanoon Salley (former Governor WP) was a politburo member of the faction led by Sanmugathasan.
        I think that the utterance by Dr Colvin was callous and based purely on electoral calculations.

        • 8

          However, you are very good at Thamizh bashing and will come to the aid of any anti-Thamizh. Having said this a very good and accurate article by Dr Ameer Ali. One of the best Sri Lankan Muslim writers. A change

          • 5


            Article is well structured and keeps returning to Protest and Systemic change after its deal with every-point it was venturing into. Author even went on to touch on how the modern narrow interpretation of Koren is hurting the Langkang Muslim community’s political purpose. From the start to the end, the author keeps explaining his point: the Muslim political leaders lack purpose, but beyond their self-centered opportunism. The author is not dealing with the recital of racial history of Ceylon, but he brought Colvin’s quote only to show a metaphor. Our man who rarely understood any articles appeared here in CT jumping in to bring his Stalinism as soon as he heard Colvin’s name. Evacuation of Muslim happened more than 30 years ago. This was still an open subject, not because it is about Tamil Society Vs Muslim Society, it is because Sadampi, Nasser like people throwing them to the feet of the Sinhala Extremists and begging some out from their Sinhala Buddhist extremist masters, to keep reopening this healing wound. Leader Pirapaharan talked Muslims-Tamils internal relationship and had come to an agreement on how to deal with it when the war was over.

          • 5

            Author has clearly explained how the differences between the two societies were mishandled by the Muslim leaders and how they used to bring Oil Rich country’s friendships to Langkang. Author is saying that this blind hate of Tamil-Muslim within them was used by Sinhala Politicians until 2009 and later used it against Muslims. Our shallow nincompoop man is refusing to read the article but falling victim to his own stupidity and attacking Colvin, Author and convulsing to wedge between Tamils and Muslims, with the pretentious affection to Muslims. What a demonstration of low-class shallowness after wasting 5 Years in a British University on Mechanical Marxism! Couldn’t the government have distributed that scholarship money to poor families, instead of wasting it like this on some fruitless buffaloes?

    • 5

      Dr Ameer Ali had correctly identified the Muslim mindset that it had not cared for What is ailing Sri Lanka that had brought the economic crisis to an unmanageable level. but continued to engage in power and privileges by aligning with the ruling party.

      Your criticism not only valid in respect of the Muslim community but also of the mainstream Tamil nationalist political parties. All of them remained aloof from all the hullabaloo created by the Aragalaya youth.

      They waited in the sidelines as mere specters watching a sports event.
      This amply demonstrate that the country had failed miserably even in the first duty of forming a nation state before everything else. The intendance of Ceylon or Sri Lanka is not a country, but a collection of bickering communities formed on ethnic lines.

      The challenge before the country is to organize a joint struggle with the participation of youth from all communities. Such a joint struggle spearheaded by all the youth groups from all communities with joint suffering and sacrifices would unify the struggling youth and be the first building block in fighting for the next step – systemic change- A united front tactics.

    • 4

      If anyone have doubts refer to former Education Minister under SiriMao Baddu Mohammed’s speech in 1938 at GalleFace Green telling Muslims to ignore there Tamil language identity and learn Sinhalese , the official language of independent Ceylon.

      • 4

        PK , hypocrites can be of both types. 1 ) Enabling and defending alll the wrongs. or 2) disown their own community / language / religion
        (DNA) for self gains.
        Victimizing the victims. Does one make other any worse??? 3 ) If Muslims are of first category , Lankan Tamils have plenty of the second category , among them. 4) SB gains out of both.

        • 4

          Calling others things will not make you anything better than what you are.

      • 0

        “Education Minister under SiriMao Baddu Mohammed’s speech in 1938 at GalleFace Green “
        Some time warp happening here?

        • 5

          It’s your mind, that is warped. BM gave speech in 1938, (THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED THIRTY EIGHT ) and was hired years after as Education Minister by SiriMao. . In that speech, BM told Muslims to forget Tamil and learn Sinhala, because it will be the only official language of independent Ceylon. The Muslim community rightly perceived his speech negatively, so he arranged a massive protest in support of Muslim Arabs in Palestinian conflict. Tells all about politician , parties and the platform on which this bankrupt country was built. Get it ???? What you mean by calling other things ???? Telling facts are not bashing. This about political parties and politicians, not about community. Instead of fact checking it’s you who is rambling about Dr. Colvin, CP split, Tamils / party/ journals . . . . . . .

        • 1

          In 1938 he was not “Education Minister under SiriMao” or any other.
          That is where the time warp is.
          BTW, time warp is a physical phenomenon but unlike some people’s mental warp that makes them insult all and sundry using foul language.
          Also the utterance “Baddu Mohammed’s speech in 1938 at GalleFace Green telling Muslims to ignore there Tamil language identity and learn Sinhalese , the official language of independent Ceylon.” has a more serious flaws: utter falsehoods.
          Firstly, the meeting was at Galle not GFH (That is a space warp may I say?)
          Secondly, he made no reference to Tamil or Tamil language identity.
          This is what he reportedly said:
          “In 1938, addressing Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebrations at Galle, Dr. Mahmud created a sensation by urging Muslims to learn Sinhala.
          He said, “If this is done, all misunderstandings will disappear and there will be perfect harmony between the Sinhalese and the Moors. Under self-government, which is bound to come sooner or later, the national language of Ceylon should be Sinhalese.” “(https://www.dailynews.lk/2019/01/14/features/174153/appreciations-14-01-2019)
          Very sensible I would say, unlike the FP demanding in 1956 that Jaffna schools should stop teaching Sinhala and that Tamils should not learn Sinhala. (Of course the children of the leaders of the FP could learn Sinhala and advance their careers.)
          I will not go into your various claims relating to your integrity, but have you not lied here?

  • 12

    Muslim were given cabinet positions disproportionately to their numbers in parliament and the community received preferential treatment because of hatred of the Sinhalese against Tamils. That treatment allowed the governments to refute systematic ethnic discrimination.
    This one, coming from Dr. Ameer Ali, is for the history.

    • 9

      They are still doing this in the eastern province, in order to deny the indigenous Thamizh their rights and their land. Therefore pander to Islamic extremists/fundamentalists and crooked selfish local Muslim politicians, who brainwash the local Thamizh Muslim masses in the east to hate their fellow non-Muslim Thamizh and to consider themselves as some form of Arabs. They also deliberately encourage the Arabization of the island’s Thamizh Muslims in order to deliberately distance them from their actual Thamizh cultural origin and heritage and encourage them only give prominence to the little bit of Arab and other western Asian ancestries they have as the blanket heritage for the entire community and completely ignore the 95% or more Thamizh ancestry and heritage that they have. All this just to marginalise the island’s Thamizh.

      • 10

        Just look at the east. The indigenous Thamizh who are the real owners and the largest community treated like third rates in their own land and everything is given and provided to Indian-origin fake Arab Thamizh Muslims who arrived here a few centuries ago as refugees, and to the Chingkalla settlers who only arrived in the east after the so-called independence and most of them in the last 40 years.

    • 6

      “Muslim were given cabinet positions disproportionately to their numbers in parliament “
      That can be said of Hill Country Tamils too since 1977.
      Why not base the n umber on the population?
      If N&E Tamils did not get their ‘fair share’ that was by choice I would say.

      • 1

        The position of the “Hill Country Tamils” is somewhat different!! They constituted the PRIME export earners (No1, Pound Sterling and $) and continues today as a substantial contributor, even during the recent Dollar crisis and 1970-77 too!!!
        They have, therefore a significant and substantial position in the economic standing of the country and as contributory community of Sri Lanka!!
        No doubt, they have attained the importance, respect and substantive position in elevation and emancipation of the Sri Lankan Society!!!???
        Nothing Surprising!!????

  • 11

    The Muslim politicians, with no exceptions, will refute Dr. Ali’s writing about their selfish politics, particularly the antagonism against Tamils, and going along with the divide rule the minorities politics practiced by all the Sinhala political parties. Hope Dr. Ali’s writing open a new chapter among the Muslim politicians.

    • 4

      ‘Refute’ means to disprove.
      So, does it mean that Dr A has made false utterances that will be refuted?

  • 6

    Muslims all over the world look at everything through their religious identity. Yet all over problems keep multiplying for them.
    A bit like an army, all wear the same robe, beard, shawl it seems the purpose is to do away with personal identity-all merging into one big movement with only one belief.
    People should not listen to music, no personal photographs, no working for women, they become baby factories,keep praying and you will end up in a lovely place called heaven.
    Whether all this makes them better people very questionable-look at their politics.Examine their business ethics, secret enjoyment of all things Western-education, second homes in the West, luxuries of the West
    Whether others want to surrender their individuality and freedom to this movement is another question

    • 8

      Muslims all over the world look at everything through their religious identity.

      The largest Muslim population is produced by Indonesia (200 million). Do they behave like an army?
      What about Malaysia with 25 million Muslims? and all other muslims in African states ?

      Don’t you see those trends in Sinhala Buddhism? We have more “Buddhist Bin Ladens” wrapped around by their robes than ordinary Buddhist monks in this country. Even if they don’t know the “Dharma”, they are mobilized to stand up against any other religious believers and ethnic groups.
      Remember recent immorable violence waves created by SRILANKEN VIRATHU aka GHANASARA ?

  • 8

    Leela, Dont let your hatred blind you. No one thinks Buddhists in this country are fanatical or extremists. In any grouping there are odd and violent people. But the fundamental impulse of Sri Lankan religion is not violent or towards conversion.
    There are no compulsary religious observances or punishing of non-believers .
    You see a lot of evil in Sri Lanka, the same thing could be said of many countries. A lot of Muslims believe in India they are persecuted .
    By the way leela apart from your very high powered brain exhausting work in Germany , your second occupation appears to be commenting on this Colombo Telegraph. Very interesting for a self declared intellectual !

    • 2

      Wake up Professor D.S.

      Who is being placed before in our society other than SINHALA BUDDHIST monks ? Are there other religious leaders given the same status ? We all know it is ” no”:
      is not every village controlled by buddhist monks and their unlawful behaviours yet today ?
      Why on earth do people allow it being continued ??????

      Experts believe there are unbeatable bonds between culture, sorcery, astrology and our people in that country. People dont use their brain but their emotions. Emotions have made them blind forever.
      Their reactions are for a script being continued by criminal politicians. Rajapakshes are unpardonable going back to recent times.
      I am a science guy, would not care much about ” invisible beliefs” going beyond the limits.

      They manipulate the crook politicians (Ghanasara, Madagoda pissa, Gunawansa, Muruththeruwa, Athana methana natana rathana, Kotuw Pimpiya and and ). where have the values gone ? They abuse their Sangahood. shamelessly.
      They perpetrate high crimes on and on. They also enjoy unestimable volumes of impunity. That should be crushed sooner than later. It is upto society experts to work on that sooner than later.

      Hope you are not suffering from ALZHEIMER ? let me remind you it was not me who said ” I am doctor and I cant become sick” lately. I have never boasted about me being a higher graduate – thank you.

    • 1

      “In any grouping there are odd and violent people.”
      That is a commendable proposition.
      If so, why cannot you apply that rule evenly and not attribute to any people the characteristics of a set of “odd and violent people”?

  • 1

    Dr A A does make sense.
    But what is needed is a total new constitution to rule by and a much younger mindset to rule than the present decrepit lot who should be sent to pasture; this might be a tall order but a sensible one after all that has happened since independence and to remedy the dire crisis the country is in.
    What is needed is a new constitution with age limits and term limits to elected office and equal representation of both sexes in the Parliament. What it would do is to get rid of the culture of impunity which is responsible for most of the current economic and social problems.

    that is so prevalent.

  • 1

    Dear Dr Ameer Ali,
    With 21 comments in, I’ve read the article for the first time. Earlier, at oc’s behest I had looked at “deepthi silva’s” comment only.
    Some things that could have gone in here, will go below:
    We have a few days to go, don’t we?

  • 1

    Ameer Ali,
    That was nothing new and should not have been surprising at all!!!
    They were replicating in Post May 2009 to the Muslims, what they did Post February 1948 to the Tamils!!!
    Having said that in clarification must state that it is not the outlook of all Sri Lankans!??
    There are substantive number of realists, who did not support such motivation and action!!!
    In any community, you would have atleast 5% DETRACTORS, who want prominence, suffering from IDENTITY syndrome, who are the ones with demented ideology and cause unnecessary trouble, agony, grief and sadness to one and all!!!
    Why those situations get blown out of proportion is due to the self-serving POLITICIANS’ attitude!!

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