27 October, 2020

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Muslim: The Identity On Trial!

By Mohamed SR. Nisthar –   

Mohamed SR. Nisthar

Logically, it is right to say “I am a human” when the question  “who are you?”, is posed, which tries to identify the real “us”.  But technically it may not be right, because this apparently simple question requires an answer within the context in which it is asked.

In a multi-ethnic country like Sri Lanka or elsewhere if the question is asked to a Muslim person from Sri Lanka it should not be answered equivocally. For instance, I happened to be faced with the question in London once when I was in an academic circle for a different purpose. Being a Muslim by religious belief, I paused a little purposely and said “though my mother tongue is Tamil, I am neither Tamil nor Singhalese”. I could then see a confused new question emerging by their facial expression; “what is he saying?”, because the question was based on the perceived understanding that Sri Lankans are either Singhalese or Tamils ethnically.

One would say that my answer was a stupid one and it should have been simply “I am a Muslim”. Of course I could have said that and they also would have nodded to confirm that they understood. This is the very point I am intending to expand a little bit more here. No doubt, I strongly believe that I am a practicing Muslim. But the question asked was not to know about my religious identity. After all they did not bother to know my religion. Then I would have had to explain to them who I really was. Before I take you further on this we shall  just concentrate on the points below.

Every living being, which is more than one, should be identified in one way or another. For instance, humans can be identified in general as males and females. But this not enough, so then they can be differentiated by individual names, followed by birth place, language, caste, tribe, religion, nation and nationality etc. All these different identities are to make a clear picture of a person and deal with him or her justly. It is like narrowing a wider question and to put it in context for a right answer. However one or many different identities can be used in different circumstances by the same person, which is most suitable to address an  instant issue.

Through the eye of Western Europe I am an Asian, then Sri Lankan, then what? This is a very important question in a place like Sri Lanka where multi-ethnicities and religions have to co-exist and live with each other peacefully with due respect and with all the rights that they deserve. That is why I have put our identity on trial.

Many of us prefer to identify ourselves as Muslims. There is no harm in that. It is our birth right to accept and follow a religion of our own choice and acquire the name. Like our incumbent President, who is a Buddhist or like the TNA leader Mr. Sampanthan, who is a Saivar (Hindu) or  Selvam Adailkalanathan MP , who is  a Catholic. Our President, however, has another identity, Singhalese, which is his ethnic identity.

However when it comes to minister Rauff Hakeem’s identity without hesitation we say he is a Muslim. The problem arises when someone wants to know whether he is either a Tamil or Singhalese ethnically. Here we still have the same answer, he is a “Muslim”. So we try to portray that Mr. Rauff Hakeem is religiously a Muslim and ethnically a Muslim too. Does this make any sense?

Mr. Rauff Hakeem’s  counter parts elsewhere or any other Muslim ministers or Muslim head of  state of any other countries seem to have not been confused as to their religious and ethnic identities. Here are some examples; Mr. Syed Muntaz Alam Gillai of Pakistan a Muslim but Punjabi by ethnic origin. King of Malaysia  Al Wathiqu Shah is a Muslim, but a Malay by ethnic. Mr. Susilo Banbay Yudhoyano, the Indonesian President is a Muslim by religion, but his ethnicity is Javanese. Prime minister of Bangladesh Mrs. Sheik Hasina, a Muslim but her ethnicity is Bengali. The Afghan President  Hamid Karzai is ethnically a Pashtun, but a Muslim. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad is a Muslim, but ethnically a Persian.

The Iraqi President  Jala Talabani is a Muslim, but his ethnic identity is Kurdish. The Turkish Prime minister Reccip  Erdgon is a Muslim, but ethnically a Turk. The President of Kazakhstan  Nursultan Nazarbuyav a Muslim but Kazakh by ethnicity. Most of the Arab speaking leaders of the Arab world are Muslims and their ethnicity is defined as Arabs. Likewise, Muslim leaders of African nations are not necessarily ethnic Arabs but have their unique ethnic identities, like the current Senegal President Mr. Abdulaye Wade religiously a Muslim but ethnically something else. And all these people remain as what they have been, ethnically, before and after the advent of Islam. 

So what is wrong with our Sri Lankan Muslims? Where did we get the ethnic name as Muslims? Or do we not  have an ethnic name at all? Or are we considering ourselves as either Tamil or Singhalese descendants? Or as crossbreeds? Whatever it may be, then don’t be shy to say so. It is not an anathema. Otherwise we are creating a myth in that to say that a people came into existence all of a sudden out of the blue. The conundrum, which we create may put us in and make it very difficult for us to come out of it in the future. Therefore there is no logic ignoring our identity question I believe. 

Our birth certificates unambiguously confirm that our ethnicity is “Moorish”, i.e “Moor” in English. It is “Yonaka” in Singhalese and “Sonakar” in Tamil. It is not clear whether the term Moor is a direct translation of “Sonakar” or “Yonaka”. Some interpret that the term Moor represents   Muslim. This connotation was in fact given by the early invaders of our Island, the Portuguese. If a people were identified as Moors/Muslims or Moors equal Muslims,  then what were they before Islam was introduced to them in 7th century? Therefore the world “Moor” is a name of convenience, coincided with the arrival of Portuguese. The original name sounds like “Sonakar” derived from the word “Suvanar” implicating  the decedents of the  first ever human being,  Adam and Eve, who were supposedly sent down to Earth from the heaven know as “Suvanam” in the Sonakar language “Elu”, which is the early form of present-day  Tamil’s base language. Regardless of this profound ethnic identity, we keep on saying we are Muslims in each and every respect. My contention is that this “one size fits all” approach or one dimensional answer to all is not wise and it is dangerous in political context, especially in Sri Lanka. Let me explain why.

When the Norwegian brokered peace negotiation between the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tigers was in its infancy, the Sri Lanka Muslims, who had also been victims of the Tamil Tigers, wanted to be included in the peace process. No one noticed of their cry. The Tamil Tigers put up a stern  blockade to the idea of Muslims participation as a separate entity in the talks, and simply said  “you can be a participant within the government team”. The Muslims said; we have a separate ethnic origin and the talks were intended to solve the ethnic problems of Sri Lanka, we have our grievances. Therefore the GoSL can be a party representing the Singhalese, the Tigers should represent the Tamils, and thus Muslims should be represented by Muslims. A little bit complicated, but a fair request it seemed.

In pursuit, there was a protest in front of the Norwegian Embassy in London initiated by the Muslim youths of Jaffna on  24th April 2002. I was making a video clip about the protest for my own documentations and saw one of the organizers, Mr. S.M.M Bazeer, a Sri Lankan lawyer in London, triumphantly  coming out of the embassy after handing over a petition/memorandum requesting, presumably, a separate participating right in the peace talks. I interviewed him by a simple question pointing to the banners the youths hoisted “Muslims are a separate Nation”, are you demanding a representational right as a Muslim or a Moor (Sonakar)?   His answer was “we are demanding separate representation for Muslims”. I was appalled. Because the talks were aimed to solve ethnic issues, the parties involved should therefore go with their ethnic identities. If we go with religious identity then there has always been a possibility for other religious groups   to be Singhalese Buddhists, Singhalese Christians, Tamil Saivars, Tamil Christians, Malay Muslims and the like asking for the same treatment for no apparent reasons other than “they got it, therefore we should get it”, making the peace efforts pointless and complicate to solve or making the existing complication far more complex.

Why would the Norwegian or anyone else listen to one group of religious people and not to others? Where is the justification? His answer was once again “we have a duty of Dha’wa”(religious enlightening service). Of course I appreciate that. I do on my own, but participating in Norwegian peace talks was not a Dha’wa mission after all. No plausible answer was given by Mr. Bazeer, thus there was no continuation of  the interview.

I did not give up. I delivered a brief lecture to the youths at the scene on our identity issue. Some understood, but some were reluctant to take it on board, however, it seemed that they at least allocated a tiny place in their mind for future exploration. Later on I wrote a detailed argument with my reasoning and sent it to the key players of the organizing body of that event Dr. Siddiq, Accountant Mr. Farook and Lawyer Mr. Bazeer, calling for a meeting to discuss these issues further, but there was  no  courtesy to respond.

Two years later one Mr. Mohideen, who participated in the peace conference in Norway as a Sri Lanka Muslim Congress representative, held a debriefing session in London. I was invited to it and I put this identity question to him. I was not sure whether he fully understood my reasoning for an ethnic identity even though he said there was a point in what I said. But unfortunately there was no follow up. Now I see him advocating  the Sri Lankan Muslims to learn Arabic as their home and school language rather than our mother tongues Tamil and Singhalese. His reasoning for this is not to be divided ourselves by language lines, revitalise the knowledge of our religion and to better understand the  Holy Qur-an. Is he pioneering a new home and educational language for the Sri Lankan Muslims and  later on to claim that the Sri Lankan Muslims are Arabs because they speak Arab?  I’ll touch on this very subject in the second part of this article.

A year or so ago the former head of the Sri Lankan Muslims Forum in the UK, Mr. Najaa Mohamed quoted from someone else’s speech that we are human first, then Muslims. In addition to this he said that there is a Hadith,( Prophet Muhammed’s exemplary life)  which says, “ do not divide yourselves as Arab or non-Arab”. It seems that he did not understand the Hadith to its entirety. The above forbids  divisions among Muslims( do not misinterpret that we can make divisions among non-Muslims) with that statement.  However I am talking about distinguishing ourselves from other ethnic groups and in the political context in Sri Lanka and not among Muslims to say we are above or below other local or regional or international Muslim Ummah (community). I would like to add that there are many verses in the Holy Qur-an about the creation of humans with clear differences, such as “We have made you in different tribes and nations in order to mutually understand each other” and “There is no nation or tribe without a messenger”

My understanding is that our Muslim politicians as well as the general mass do not fully apprehend the issue rightly. The Tamils (political parties), who cry for a separate state, rightly or wrongly include us only to some extent under the banner of “Tamil speaking people” to gain something. At the time of sharing it fairly they say “you are Muslims”, what we have is for Tamils, not for Muslims. If we are Tamil speaking people too then there should not be a different identity as Tamil speaking Muslims, because they treat Tamil speaking Catholics as part of them and not a part of someone else. Why is this? Because they know that Sri Lankan Muslims are not Tamils by ethnicity. In a way it does not matter whether they know this or not, but the question is whether we know that we are not Tamils ethnically, and to make them understand that we are a separate ethnic group with a profound identity that is Sonakar, which goes all the way  down to the very start of  human existence on the planet earth. This existence began from the top of  the Adam’s Peak. With this identity we can  legitimately claim what we are entitled to.

From the period of independence of Ceylon, the question of our identity came out and went back to the sleeping stage time to time. Our prominent Mr. Sithy Lebbe, Mr. Aziz, Sir. Razick Fareed and others tirelessly worked and proved to their opposite number Mr. Ponnambalam Ramanathan and others that we are not Tamils. However due to our political unawareness and sometimes inferiority complex without any resounding reason we do not worry too much about it. Now the danger is on the brink of coming out.

Despite the fact that there won’t be a legally binding merger (it is highly unlikely that the President would announce a referendum on the question of a merger) of the North and East of the country, on what basis would we support or resist the demand for the merger, the area  the Tamils refer to as the “Tamils Homeland”, should a referendum be held? Our support may be on the basis of our Tamil speaking nature, and our resistance because we are Muslims. What if the Tamil National Alliance surprisingly announces that the first First-minister of the merged North-East province would be a Muslim by a covert act to extract votes for the support for the merger?    What’s wrong with a demand by a Tamil speaking Catholic for a First-minister post rather than a Muslim in the merged area? Do we recognise that it is a fair demand? The situation is getting more and more complex, isn’t it?

If we push Tamil Catholics into a Tamils ethnic identity  and Singhalese Catholics into a Singhalese ethnicity would they not accuse  Muslims in Sri Lanka as being favoured by corresponding to their religious identity whereas others are not? Yes they will. We may have a counter argument that they cannot be considered twice politically, once as Catholics and second time as Tamils or Singhalese. But we cannot make them keep their mouths shut for ever. The current world (dis)order is eagerly seeking a loophole to brand us terrorists, trouble makers, people without a sense of compromise and so on.

In this situation I advocate a dusting exercise, making a rebirth possible as to our ethnic identity. As long as Sri Lanka tries to settle its internal problems in line with ethnicity we proudly and strongly say we are Sonakar (Moors) and we are entitled to our fair share. As long as the people of Sri Lanka are identified along with their religious identity we once again proudly and strongly say we are Muslims demanding a fair and just treatment like other religious groups. We do not need to confuse our fellow citizens and we do not need to have fear of discrimination either. Sri Lanka is not a dual-ethnic county. It is  a multy-ethnic country; Singhalese as the majority, Tamils as a minority, Sonakar as a second minority with the possibility of changing the place, Burgers as the least minority and other sporadically appearing minorities in descending line.   Without a profound ethnic identity there are a lot we will lose, but keeping it alive we do not lose anything. Just think.

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    The Muslim identity is unique; it transcends cultural and geographical borders. The reason why Muslims the world over have commonalities despite their varying ethnic labels is that Islam defines how a Muslim shall conduct his/her worldly affairs.

    Among these, Islam is clear with regard to dress code, personal appearance, hygiene, trade practices, marriage etc… We have a deep rooted Muslim identity and therefore other identities such as Sonakars cannot over-arch or replace the Muslim identity; perhaps it can adorn it.

    The Sonakar or the Moors was a label attached to us by the west. We have evolved from seafaring Arab traders having settled in the coastal belts of India and Sri Lanka and have assimilated mostly South Indian, particularly the Tamil Language and Sinhalese culture.

    The truth is that we have more South Indian and Sinhala blood in us than Arab. Therefore it is a rather futile exercise to search for roots like a distant Arab identity like some of our Sinhala brothers who wish to create a pure Aryan ethnicity; particularly so when we don’t have a clear identity outside the Muslim identity and more so when we are closer to our Tamil and Sinhala brothers biologically, and culturally.

    That the case for a Sonakar identity is weak given that some of the examples given by the writer refer to place names, or regions such as the Kurds, Turks and Panjabi and Persian each of which have unique characteristics that have evolved overtime. Closer home, I am not sure of the identity of Indian Muslims; are South Indian Muslims, Tamil?

    I am happy to be Sri Lankan Muslim and don’t wish another identity foisted on me, particularly when the rest of the country is happy with us being Muslim. There is a reason and that is that we are Muslims who follow the religion of Islam, just like the President who is a Sinhalese following Buddhism and all of us sharing a common Sri Lankan identity.

    I am also of the firm belief that we don’t need special recognition, as long as the law of the land treats all of us as equal irrespective of language, religion, ethnicity or geography.

    The fight should be for equality for all and not for anything else.

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      Nabil, as you say “The Muslim identity is unique; it transcends cultural and geographical borders”. When a group highlights their difference within a larger grouping, people tend to notice.

      When people show that they are different to others, then others tend to treat them differently. Does this not make the fight for equality harder? No one is suggesting giving up your identity so one may blend in. Yet when a smaller group expects the bigger group to treat them equally yet insist that they are different, given human nature, biases will set in. (also given the south Asia context where ethnicity, religion etc are central to identity).

      My question is this. Has the Muslim community thought of going out of their way to show similarities as opposed differences? Which will make the fight for equality easier.

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        Bedrock I think we have somewhat missed the bus here. In the farewell sermon the Prophet of Islam stated the following :

        All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action.

        I think instead of concentrating on our identities we should be concentrating on good action like doing charity, looking after the sick and disabled, our neighbors etc,etc. In Islam we are not restricted to doing these deeds to Muslims alone as in Judaism, but to mankind. The problem is that the Muslims have forgotten this edict. In times past, it was these qualities that endeared us to other communities and ethnic differences and its concomitant vagaries never raised its head. Today extremists have taken over and caused mayhem creating hatred and making us a despicable community true to the prediction of the Prophet himself. It was these good actions of the Muslims of Yore that made nations accept Islam not the sword as some writers try to make us believe.

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      Nabil

      The so called Ceylon Moors (how the Portuguese called them) are actually Sonakar of South India. All those Hindus of South India who got converted to Islam/Muslims were called Sonakar by the Tamils where as those Arab traders/missionaries were called Thulukar by the Tamils (they clearly differentiated the Arabs from the Hindu converts). This is the ONLY reason why the Ceylon Moors (known as just Muslims today) speak Tamil as their mother tongue whether they live in the North or the South.

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    Dear Nisthar, what a fine old can of worms you’ve opened. To all intents and purposes you are a Sri Lankan. Then a Sri Lankan Moor. Tell them you speak Tamil, Sinhalese and English – which is two languages more than that most foreigners could manage. You are a Muslim by religion. That should be the be all and end all of the matter. I too have been in places where we introduce ourselves and are questioned ad nauseum but seems to want to ask the Canadian whether he is English or French or the Indian whether he is Bengali or Gujurati……or the Chinamen whether he is Han or Zhuang or……….whatever. We must stop this continuing madness to fracture the twentyfive thousand square miles of Paradise that we have been fortunate to be given stewardship of. The challenge in the here and now is to build a peace that all of its people can enjoy. You know what; if 75% of the community speak a language, common sense tells us that it would be best to learn that language. We use this simple principle anywhere we SLankans have made our home. Go to Italy and hear our people speak the lingo like they were born to it. Go to France and hear our Sri Lankans parlez en francais and in England, Australia, Canada, the USA and New Zealand most SLankans speak better English than the natives. Say it loud; we Sri Lankans are a pretty adept bunch. When Banda introduced the Sinhala Only Act he did so regardless of the irony that he could only speak the Sinhalese that one would speak to our servants. But we cannot blame the poor man. His antecedents spotted the main chance and sucked up to the colonial master – so much so that they named him Solomon West Ridgeway – not after one but two British governors and he was taught to speak the lingo of the then ruling class. Yes of course, the Tamils can nurture and use Tamil among themselves but they are too smart not to be able to learn Sinhala and probably outshine the Sinhalese in their language too. Alas, that may not be enough, because most of the uneducated Sinhalese still possess a feral streak of jealousy when it comes to their relationship with other races – especially the tamils, moors and burghers. What to do; even the handsomest lion has a few fleas in its mane!

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    Can someone answer to my questions, please?

    If a Tamil or Sinhala boy converted to Islam, will he be called as “Sri Lankan Mulim”?

    How will he be called if he changed his religion again to a different one?

    What will be the ethnicity of a person previously identified as “Sri Lankan Muslim” and became an atheist and gives up all Islamic followings?

    It is rather strange that someone can change his or her ethnicity by changing religion. If a Sinhala person wants to follow Hindusim, he will continue to be Sihala. Likewise if a Tamil Chrisitan wants to covert to Buddhism he will still be Tamil.

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      The question you ask is not easily answered by Muslims. The reason being the general view among clerics is that the ‘punishment’ for Apostasy in Islam is death! Even though there is some opposition to imposing the death sentence, the majority opinion is death!

      So the answer to your question is that, someone who renounces Islam is primarily concerned with staying alive. Given this backdrop, the new identity (religion/ethnicity) they may assume is the least of their worries.

      However, it would be interesting if a SL Muslim were to renounce Islam and re-brand himself as a Chinese Jew!

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    You have to admit that the Arab Muslims that came went to India – married South Indian women and then travelled and settled down in Sri Lanka.

    Muslims in SL cannot speak Arabic and speak only Tamil… they are all descendants of Tamils… and half Muslim… but if the women were Tamil.. it means the Muslims of Sri Lanka are not really Muslim…

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    I do not totally agree with the right. One cannot change his/her race because of the religion he she follows. Rauf Hakeem, A. H. M. Fowzie, A. L. M. Athaulla and all ministers in the cabinet are pure born Moors. If a Sinhalese or a Tamil converts to Islam, he or she can be called a Muslim because he/she follows Islam. But because of the conversion he or she cannot change the race. Moors in Sri Lanka are shy to be called a Moor or Yonaka or Sonakar and therefore, they gradually deleted the part of the Moor since recent after the ethinic war, from the state documents and vocabulary and started calling Muslims which is common to all who follow Islam. They have succeeded in hiding their race identity. When applications are called for state sector vacancies, Moors gain a 99 % advantage by calling them Muslims. Malays and other converts of Islam who are also Muslims do not get much access to state sector jobs because of this descrepency. I call upon Moor community, to call yourself a Moor and why feel shy? After all you are a Muslim alright. Give chances to Muslims from races without discriminating them please.

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    I admire native vedda for his clear cut answers.
    It’s better to observe silent, if you don’t know the subject than showing your stupidity.
    If some one follows Islam he is called a Muslim and it is universal. I don’t say this but Holy Quran says. Also there are Muslims but they are by name sake only.
    @ Nanadana, are you sure all the Arabs came to Sri Lanka married Tamil women? Both my maternal and paternal ancestors are Arabs and Sinhala women. Please learn your history before you write your stupid ideas.
    I think I have answered to N. Sugandakumar too.

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      Seyed

      You are saying both your maternal and paternal ancestors are Arabs and Sinhala women. If it is so you and all your relatives in Sri Lanka must be speaking either Arabic or Sinhala as your mother tongue.
      But the Ceylon Moors in Sri Lanka neither speak Arabic nor Sinhala as their mother tongue. How come, not only the Moors in the North but also in the South speak TAMIL as their mother tongue?

      The so called Ceylon Moors (how the Portuguese called them) are actually Sonakar of South India. All those Hindus of South India who got converted to Islam/Muslims were called Sonakar by the Tamils where as those Arab traders/missionaries were called Thulukar by the Tamils (they clearly differentiated the Arabs from the Hindu converts). This is the ONLY reason why the Ceylon Moors (known as just Muslims today) speak Tamil as their mother tongue.

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    Muslims are a different group. If Tamils get the north, Muslims must get the east.

    Trincomalee is in the east!

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      Then the burgers get the west? Most def the way forward. Directional ethnicity!

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    What is muslim identity.

    It says the devotee of Islam ?

    It does not have any relation to the language you speak

    Two major abrahmic religions want to dominate the world. So, they convert from every group and they don’t have any boundaries.

    What kind of specific identity you are looking for ?

    Sri Lankans are highly mixed race. they all are living in Sri Lanka inthe name of SINHALA identity.

    Tamil people refuse to learn Sinhala. Muslims hates other religions. So, they want only muslims.

    But, both Muslim and Tamils accuse Sinhala people when they show their side.

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      Universally Muslims are who profess the religion of Islam ( By birth or by reversion). A Muslim who converts to another religion or rejects / proclaims to accept or follow the basic principles of Islam is deemed Not to be a Muslim. If I am to go beyond if a Sinhalese female marries a Muslim and changes her surname she still remains a Sinhalese by race.
      Nationality is not difficult to define. Race is a very vague and difficult to define and is time dependent. Lets take for instance the Sinhala race. Said to originate from India… they did not appear from the sky and they too would have evolved from many tribes…. Other than for identifying a person or a group of peoples culture, for no other reason RACE should be used. Honestly it is a mirage.

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    @seyed
    //If some one follows Islam he is called a Muslim and it is universal. I don’t say this but Holy Quran says. Also there are Muslims but they are by name sake only.//

    @seyed you haven’t answered to my question. Say one Mohammad Ali was born as a ‘Sri Lankan Muslim’. When he became an adult, he stopped following Islam and became an Atheist. According to your argument (or Quran), he cannot be called as a Muslim anymore. Of course he still be a Sri Lankan, but what is his ethnicity or race now?

    Is he a Tamil? or a Sinhalese or a person who doesn’t come under any race?

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      A Muslim is one who follows Islam. If a Moor who was a Muslim converts to Buddhism or whatever, he cannot be called a Muslm but he remains a Moor. Hope this is clear enough.

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    I remember a time in my life when I played with kids who came to the playground without even knowing their names. If they came again, maybe I asked. My parents were a bit more curious as to who I played with and there was always the neighborhood miscreant they wanted me to avoid. As kids, we never made those distinctions.
    Even in school, we dealt with everyone. Of course socializing is at a different scale today with the technology available. Those days, you took the bus and went to people’s homes before you even knew they were away. Today, no one visits!
    Lets be frank. Different communities have practiced racism subtly inside their homes from times immemorial. Anyone claiming otherwise has to be naive or ignorant. The definition was good and bad people not different people. Having a racial distinction in our birth certificate for well over 50 years did not help. It essentially encased the differences in everyone’s mindset.
    Sri Lanka is paying the price for not having leaders who could think beyond their own benefit. At the beginning it was a very paternalistic attitude and today its absolute greed. They say Dudley died poor. We all know none of the present lot will die poor. Not that it matters, on the other side! If only someone will explain that to them, their attitude towards rampant corruption might change. I said might…there is always hope.

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    @ Nanadana, are you sure all the Arabs came to Sri Lanka married Tamil women? Both my maternal and paternal ancestors are Arabs and Sinhala women. Please learn your history before you write your stupid ideas.
    I think I have answered to N. Sugandakumar too.

    Nandana…. is again attempting to twist history and facts.

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      Dirty sethu

      You are saying both your maternal and paternal ancestors are Arabs and Sinhala women. If it is so you and all your relatives in Sri Lanka must be speaking either Arabic or Sinhala as your mother tongue.
      But the Ceylon Moors in Sri Lanka neither speak Arabic nor Sinhala as their mother tongue. How come, not only the Moors in the North but also in the South speak TAMIL as their mother tongue?

      The so called Ceylon Moors (how the Portuguese called them) are actually Sonakar of South India. All those Hindus of South India who got converted to Islam/Muslims were called Sonakar by the Tamils where as those Arab traders/missionaries were called Thulukar by the Tamils (they clearly differentiated the Arabs from the Hindu converts). This is the ONLY reason why the Ceylon Moors (known as just Muslims today) speak Tamil as their mother tongue.

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    Islam is above language, ethnicity or caste, so these classifications do not really matter from a Islamic perspective. That is the reason for Muslims not involving in the Tamil cause. We have no demands for a seperate area or homeland etc. other than the basic rights.

    As stated in the quran

    [Hujurat 49:10] The Muslims are brothers to each other, therefore make peace between your two brothers and fear Allah, so that you may gain mercy.

    [Hujurat 49:13] O mankind! We have indeed created you from one man and one woman, and have made you into various nations and tribes so that you may know one another; indeed the more honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is one who is more pious among you; indeed Allah is All Knowing, All Aware.

    As far as language is concerned we may speak various languages. Our mother tongue can be English, Sinhalese, Tamil, Malay, Urdu, Hindi etc. As far as customs are concerned there are various practiced by Moors, Malays, Borahs, Memons etc. If a Sinhalese or Tamil becomes a Muslim they may also practice their own customs and retain their own names etc. Many choose to change their names and identity but I think this not really required.

    Arabic is the language of the Quran and hence most Muslims learn this and are conversant in it. Also the purely Islamic rituals of prayer, fasting do not vary across the continents. As far as I know there is no major issue or complication as stated by the Author.

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    In the final analysis, it is clear that people, not nature, create our identities. Ethnicity and supposed “racial” groups are largely cultural and historical constructs. They are primarily social rather than biological phenomena. This does not mean that they do not exist. To the contrary, “races” are very real in the world today. In order to understand them, however, we must look into culture and social interaction rather than biology.

    Bu using the term Sonakar to refer to ‘sri Lankan Muslim ethnicity’ may psychologically exclude sub groups such as Malays/ Borahs /Emmons etc. According to Mr M.A. Nuhuman, a sociologist,

    ‘Traditionally and officially Muslims of Sri Lanka were identified as five different ethnic communities namely, Ceylon/Sri Lankan Moors, Indian/Coast Moors, Malays, Borahs and Memons. The latter two groups are North Indian business communities settled in Sri Lanka during the British rule and constitute less than 0.5% of the total Muslim population. They speak Gujarati and Urdu for their in-group communication and they are exclusively endogamous.” Malays who settled in Sri Lanka came from Java and Malay peninsular mostly during the Dutch period. They were brought by the Dutch as either political exiles or to serve in their military establishment (Hussainmiya 1990:38). They constitute 3.83% of the total Muslim population and maintain their separate ethnic identity, though there is a tendency to assimilate with local Muslims through ‘inter-marriages.

    The term Moors (or its Tamil equivalent Sonakar) is not currently used by the Sri Lankan Muslims (Ceylon/Coast Moors) to refer to themselves. I do not think that the community as a whole ever used the term Moors to refer to themselves.

    While appreciating Mr Nisthar’s point of view, who has done a lot of work on this subject, I believe that to maintain our integrity as one community , it is therefore better to refer to the ethnicity as ‘Sri Lankan Muslims’ as a separate construct, operating under a common Sri Lankan identity. Muslims are numerically a minority in SL . Therefore, it is best to get examples from similar countries where Muslims are minorities. In UK, ethnicities are derived from where they come from and the race .for eg. White British,White other, Pakistani, Bangaladeshi , African Carribean , Black etc.In US, African , SouthAsian .Arab Americans etc. Thus, as Nuhuman says, ‘in the Sri Lankan context it is clear that the Muslims constitute not only a religious category but also an ethnic category. Hence, the term Muslim is used to refer to both religion and ethnicity.

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    All Sri Lankans must make an effort to learn Arabic to facilitate trade and employment with the Arabian peninsula. Arabic language is fast becoming an international language with lots of opportunities to build a a long term career and earn a decent living. We hope enterprising Sri Lankan entrepreneurs will set up institutes to facilitate this profitable service.

    By the way the Arab/Berber descendants of North Africa on the Maghrib region were the early settlers in Ceylon and famously came to known as Ceylon Moors. There is historical evidences to this fact and the families from this ethnicity have sufficient proof and they should take necessary steps to preserve their identity. It’s not up to others to judge the Ceylon Moor ethnicity. Some day there may be a reverse migration to the Sahara.

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      MAGHIRIBI:

      Because of Sinhala – Buddhists Sri Lanka survived as Sri Lanka.

      IF they were arabs or christians, Sri Lanka would be devided into two and become two countries, Tamil and the others would not stop killing each other.

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        The survival of Buddhism is largely due the compassion they showed to the visitors even to this day. That’s one of the reasons the tourists keep revisiting the Island. Multi Linguists career opportunities are far greater and they earn more than the Sinhala Only.

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      what BS areu talking about…

      Arabic is not a nice language. I ve been flown via arabic destinations few times a year, but I would prefer not to have landed my flights there. Most of the time, their low standard service at counter bother me that much. Doha, Dubai are not nice places at all. May be those destinations are fine so long our cheap labour, uneducated poor housemaids are their labour source.. but I would suggests rulers should stop sending uneducated poor people to those countries. For them, SLGO should provide with other income avenues keeping them within the country. It is reported that there are significant numbers of these people (women) lose their jobs and are camped in saudi and several locations there. Those have faced untold stories that they cant share with anyone of their lovely ones.

      Instead of sending the kind of housemaid, rulers can export skilled workers like trained IT assistants, laboratory assistants and nurses to many of the western destinations.

      No means our people should learn Arabic since they have other opportunities if they learn european languages.

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      Learning Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Hindi and Arabic in today’s commerce-oriented world will be a beneficial step. While this cannot be done in private/public schools effectively, this can be done privately by men and associations of standing (like the Alliance Francaise, the German Cultural Centre promoted their own) and so on. I recall in my regular visits to Singapore/Bangkok in the 1970s/1980s I noticed the emphasis where most Hotel Receptionists in the better Hotels were then able to speak Japanese. They may have succeeded in Korean too since – as they are now a global commercial giant. It is in areas such as this the Govt and its leadership must take the country forward.

      Senguttuvan

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    The first thing that one should know and clearly understand about Islam is what the word “Islam” itself means.

    The religion of Islam is not named after a person as in the case of Christianity which was named after Jesus Christ, Buddhism after Gotama Buddha, Confucianism after Confucius, and Marxism after Karl Marx. Nor was it named after a tribe like Judaism after the tribe of Judah and Hinduism after the Hindus. Islam is the true religion of “Allah” and as such, its name represents the central principle of Allah’s “God’s” religion; the total submission to the will of Allah “God”. The Arabic word “Islam” means the submission or surrender of one’s will to the only true god worthy of worship “Allah” and anyone who does so is termed a “Muslim”, The word also implies “peace” which is the natural consequence of total submission to the will of Allah. Hence, it was not a new religion brought by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Arabia in the seventh century, but only the true religion of Allah re-expressed in its final form.

    Islam is the religion which was given to Adam, the first man and the first prophet of Allah, and it was the religion of all the prophets sent by Allah to mankind. The name of God’s religion Islam was not decided upon by later generations of man. It was chosen by Allah Himself and clearly mentioned in His final revelation to man. In the final book of divine revelation, the Qur’an, Allah states the following:
    “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”. (Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:3)

    ALLAH NAMED OUR RELIGION ISLAM AND THOSE WHO FOLLOW IT MUSLIMS.

    NISHTAR GET BACK TO BASICS!!!!!!!!!!!

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      AYMAN

      “Marxism after Karl Marx.”

      When did Marxism become a religion?

      Its a news to me perhaps that I don’t have access to modern communication systems.

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      AYMAN

      “The word also implies “peace” which is the natural consequence of total submission to the will of Allah”.

      Are there any Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian Atheist, Agnostic, and other Allah?

      If you meet any of the above Allahs please ask him to speak to me. I need to find some answers to certain mundane question. He/She/It seems to be hiding from us for a long time.

      Assuming there are several Allahs representing each religion are they all amicably sorting out their differences without any Western mediation?

      “The name of God’s religion Islam was not decided upon by later generations of man.”

      Why always man not woman, god must have been a sexist, was he?

      “ALLAH NAMED OUR RELIGION ISLAM AND THOSE WHO FOLLOW IT MUSLIMS.”

      Come on you can do better than this.

      Peace be upon you.

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        Allah is One and Islam is the ultimate religion of the whole mankind. Since Allah created the first of the mankind, Prophet Adam (Peace be upon Him), Allah has sent several Prophets and several Religions from time to time for the better living of mankind and Prophet Mohamed (Peace be upon Him)and Islam is the last of them. This is what has to understood than making crude observations based on blind assumptions.

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    Why is this debate?
    Muslims of Sri Lanka already remain divided as groups with different religious concepts, different political allegiances, etc. This division has made the community vulnerable to attacks from various quarters under various pretexts. The recent examples are the campaigns of the BBS, Sinhala Ravaya and other communalist groups which caused a fear psychosis in the community and threatening its peaceful existence. The Muslim community became defenceless against the various attacks, saving for the few within who courageously stood-up for the community and few liberal thinking individuals, civil society and groups in the wider spectrum of the Sri Lankan society who stood for the Muslims, the situation would have been worse alarming. In such a context what has to be asked is whether it is wisdom to promote an open debate on the title or name that the community should adopt to secure its rights and strengthen its political status in Sri Lanka. Will not such a debate give the message of another division within the community thus providing more ammunition to persons and groups who have a score to settle with the Muslims. Years ago, at a time when certain politicians in the community, with the sole objective of harnessing the votes of some sections of the community at elections, campaigned under the slogan ‘Moors votes for Moors’ almost created a serious rift within the community. Thanks to providence, or whatever, this campaign did not hold fast, and over the years the use of the term ‘Moors’ became lesser and lesser significant in the community, excepting it remained in the Birth Certificates, the use of it for Govt. requirements and being used by some sections in the community to claim a sense of higher credibility or superiority within the community. Any attempt to revive the slogan of ‘Moors’ again for whatever reasons would be to recreating the unpleasant past.
    While concurring with the responses to the article from ‘Seyed’ and ‘Lukman Harees’ which I consider contain sensible views I would also reproduce the concluding portion of the historical speech delivered by Marhoom A. M. A. Azeez on the subject ‘NAME OF OUR COMMUNITY MOOR OR MUSLIM’ on the occasion of the inauguration of the Ceylonese Muslim Union on 30th October 1949, which he concludes saying –
    “Let us not forget that in Independent Lanka with its ideals of political unity in the midst of cultural diversity, our community has a special contribution to make, and to make that contribution, is our duty and our privilege. That contribution cannot be made by us as Ceylon Moors because as Ceylon Moors we have no language of our own, no literature of our own and no ideals of our own. We can make that contribution only as Ceylon Muslims with our heritage of Islam, which has enunciated the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice and has practised a kind of brotherhood which is a model and an example to the world. With this glorious heritage of ours we can certainly help our sister Communities build a New Lanka that can withstand the ills of lawlessness, materialism, and godlessness with which world is afflicted today. We shall therefore not stray from the right path and shall proudly call ourselves Ceylon Muslims now as well as in the future. Even as our fathers and forefathers were proud to call themselves Ceylon Muslims and we shall with confidence repudiate racialism in our midst and refuse to be a party to the dethronement of Religion in our Community.”
    In the course of his his address he had to say this too: ‘ It is most appropriate and significant that we have met together during this month of Moharram, sacred in the annals of Islamic History when Hazarath Imam Hussain, the beloved grandson of our Holy Prophet (on whom be peace) demonstrated to the world for all times that death was to be preferred to the surrender or sacrifice of any fundamental principle, and that there are always ideals animating Communities in which there can be no compromise of any kind whatever the circumstances be.’
    In the light of Mr. Mohamed Nisthar’s article, and the on-going discussions on it, it would be useful to read fully the whole address of Marhoom Azeez which contains other useful views on the subject and to consider whether his views would be useful in approaching the issue.
    The full text if posted in the A. M. A. Azeez Foundation web.
    My thinking on the matter would be that consideration to political situation and other circumstances are necessary in finding solutions to the problem of the community but such consideration should not be in a manner forsaking our most revered religious principles and also any engagement of individuals, groups or organizations in any form should be with the sole objective of rectifying existing differences within the community in its long term interests but not with the aim of seeking popularity for ones thinking which would be detrimental to the community’s interests. And the debate should be in that direction.

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      Preserving ones roots/heritage is part and parcel of a Muslim.

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