8 June, 2023


Muslims – An Invisible Minority?

By Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

In 1993 the University of Western Australia published a paper of mine in a collection of papers on Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. My paper had the title – The Sri Lankan Muslims – the Problem of a Submerged Minority. I wrote of my notion of a submerged minority as follows: “Ethnic discourse is for the most part written by majorities and by rebellious minorities. The other minorities from whom nothing much is heard are supposed to be by and large content, without any serious grievances, which may be a seriously mistaken supposition. Actually they may be seething with grievances and have intense perceptions of discrimination, which however they may find difficult to articulate for various reasons, or they may find that their articulation is noticed only in a perfunctory manner and then summarily dismissed. The ethnic discourse of such minorities will for the most part be spoken, not written. They are in reality submerged minorities”.

Further on I wrote: “Some observations of Edward Said about the strategies adopted by human groups in dealing with ‘the Other’ could be relevant to our understanding of submerged minorities. He observed that human societies, at least the more advanced cultures, “have rarely offered the individual anything but imperialism, racism, and ethnocentrism for dealing with ‘other’ cultures”. Said quoted Orwell’s essay Marrakkesh on the relationship between the colonial masters and the natives. The colonialist failed to notice the grim poverty of the natives. Regarding them as not quite human, not much more than a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, and “All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that fact. ‘ The natives, apart from the neo-colonial elite, were the submerged. The relationship between the majority and the submerged minority could sometimes, not always, and to some extent, be similar to the relationship between colonial master and native.

“The natives revolted against their masters, and so could the submerged minority. The recent history of Sri Lanka provides some examples, if we regard the underprivileged castes as submerged minorities, which in fact they were. It is known that in the Tamil militant groups the underprivileged castes have had an extraordinary salience, which is probably the outcome of the failure of the politics of elite level accommodation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. A.J. Wilson wrote, ‘In fact, as stated earlier, the Vellala dominated Ceylon Tamil leadership thought in terms of a partnership between their Sinhalese Goigama counterparts to the exclusion of the powerful Sinhalese Karava caste as well as other influential caste groups among the Sinhalese.’ The Tamil rebellion might be explained in terms of the failure of cross-ethnic accommodation between dominant castes to satisfy the rising expectations of hitherto submerged castes. The Sinhalese JVP rebellion might also be explained in terms of the outburst of hitherto submerged castes, the underprivileged Wahampura, Batgam and others. The JVP rebellion failed,, but it is doubtful that the economy of the Ruhuna, which was the backbone of the JVP, will ever again be neglected.

“It is arguable that the Eastern Province Muslims have emerged unlike the other Muslims, not so much because of the vociferousness of the SLMC, but because of their clashes with the Tamils.. The inference might be made that a submerged minority can only emerge through violence. The alternative should be realistic enough on commonsense grounds, which is that the grievances of a submerged minority should be heard, considered, corrected, not dismissed.. “

The volume containing my paper among others had a Preface from which I quote: “Hussain examines the invidious position of submerged minorities in bi-ethnic societies. It is vital, as he cogently argues, not to ignore the aspirations of submerged minorities in the resolution of the conflict between the major parties. The paper draws attention to the relative deprivation of the Muslim community in various spheres of life which, if unattended, has the potentiality of becoming another fissiparous issue in troubled Sri Lankan politics. Hussain’s paper is illustrative of the importance of perceptions of discrimination in complicating ethnic issues, and he correctly signals the necessity for effective State apparatuses to guarantee fair and equal treatment for all Sri Lankans”.

I must now make a clarification about the terminology I have been using. In 1993 I used the term “submerged minority’ about the Muslims, but sometime later I took to using the term “invisible minority” about them. I cannot recall my rationalization for the change at that time. It was probably partly the result of my reading Ralph Ellison’s famous novel in which he used the metaphor of invisibility about the blacks in the US, and the fact that the implications of Orwell’s essay had sunk in fully by that time. The term “submerged” can be used factually and neutrally without implying any value judgment, as when one says that a log is submerged in water. “Invisibility”, on the other hand, can be made to carry a powerful emotional charge. The French masters in Orwell’s essay failed to notice the economic misery of the Moroccan natives because they did not want anything to disturb the complacent enjoyment of their power as the master race, and all imperialism is based on the same strategy. And so, I would argue, is the majority ethnic domination over the ethnic minorities.

I am now wondering whether invisibility might be more complex than was imagined by Orwell. True, the French masters did not want their complacent enjoyment of power to be disturbed by the economic misery of the natives, but the Moroccan elite of that time were complicit with that complacency because they did not make an issue of that misery. In Sri Lanka the Muslims have been an invisible minority until very recently. That certainly suited the serene enjoyment of power by the ethnic majority. But that was made possible by the failure of the Muslim politicians to properly represent the Muslim people. However, the times they are a-changing. The Muslims are becoming visible and – unbelievable though it may seem – some Muslim politicians have been actually speaking up for the Muslim people.

(To be continued)

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  • 9

    “”The Muslims are becoming visible and – unbelievable though it may seem – some Muslim politicians have been actually speaking up for the Muslim people.””

    November 6 AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat high court on Thursday made a strong pitch for a uniform civil code and called for the abolition of polygamy in Muslim society in India as it’s a “heinously patriarchal” act.

    The court recommended an amendment of Muslim personal law saying that in this day and age, the practice of polygamy is often driven by selfish motives.

    “On the basis of modern progressive thinking, India must shun the practice (of polygamy) and establish a uniform civil code,” said Justice JB Pardiwala, while adjudicating on a petition by a Muslim man who faced bigamy charges after marrying for a second time without his first wife’s consent.

    The man was charged ​under section 494 of the IPC, for bigamy, but his second marriage is valid as per Muslim Personal Law, so he could not be prosecuted for bigamy.

    Justice Pardiwala had to quash the bigamy charges but while doing so, he said the practice of polygamy and unilateral talaq — without te wife’s consent — violates the provisions of the Constitution. He quoted Article 44 of Part IV of the Constitution, which mandates that the state must “endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory.”

    “If the state tolerates this law, it becomes an accomplice in the discrimination of the female, which is illegal under its own laws,” the judge said.

    The Quran forbids polygamy if the purpose to marry more than once is self-interest or sexual desire, Justice Pardiwala said. “… It’s for the maulvis and Muslim men to ensure that they do not abuse the Quran to justify the heinously patriarchal act of polygamy in self-interest,” the judge advised.

    Citing history, Justice Pardiwala said that when the Quran allowed polygamy, it was for a fair reason. “The Quran allowed conditional polygamy to protect orphans and their mothers from an exploitative society… When men use that provision today, they do it for a selfish reason.”

    The court said that abolition of polygamy in Hindu society was a progressive step and added that it could not be replicated for Muslims due to their “social backwardness then”. But now, in a much-changed changed socio-economic scenario, “polygamy is going into oblivion” and monogamy is becoming the reality, the court observed.

    When will the west stop seeing vermin multiply in infidel land under infidel freedom??

  • 5

    What Izeth Hussein says is that Sri lanka is still not a majority muslim country even though one third of the world’s population is Muslim.

  • 2

    “A submerged minority can only emerge through violence”. Very interesting. So what is wrong with LTTE? They perhaps did the same thing as what your East coast Muslims did. First of all Muslims must realize that they cannot survive for long by their double-tongue technique. It is typical of Muslims and their leaders. Raul Hakim will align with any party that forms the government. Getting a ministry post is his sole purpose of entering into politics.

    His followers and Muslim masses do the same.To get a comfortable trading advantage in north and east, they supported the Federal Party.Then when the government was winning the war they offered to spy on the Tamils and served as intelligent officers in the army. When atrocities were committed against other minorities like Tamils,Catholics etc,the Muslims connived with the corrupt government and a atrocious army.

    Now after Bodubala Sena attacked them they are finally realizing that they cannot survive by playing the double game for ever.

  • 2

    We want halal food ..we want Sharia court ( 4th century so called law ???)…Muslims babies should cover face even to immigration officers …early morning blast on loud speakers ..separate cemetery ..etc etc

    All available in Saudi Arabia …but doubt they will accept these converted Hindus …

    So pack your bag and leave

    BTW thoppies will get immediate passport there too..

    If there will be a vertical archeological excavation in Muslims towns here they will get Hindu ..Tamil evidences…but these jokers called themselves Arabs ..same Arabs treat these thoppies as Shits…


  • 1

    It has become fashionable to attack Muslims not only in the West but here in multi cultural Sri Lanka too. Perhaps they deserve it because of the barbaric actions of the few in ISIS Iraq and Syria. Of course, the atrocities committed by others in the name of Islam, such as Saudi Arabia are swept under the carpet as they are too rich to make enemies out of. Sri Lankan Muslims are cursed with corrupt leaders who consistently misuse the funds given to the Muslims from rich Muslims around the world. They should be alleviating the poverty instead of building more and more mosques that have no demand and lining the streets with palm trees to emulate Saudi Arabia.

    • 1

      Saudi Arabia and the UAE have huge uninhabited space and both petro-economies are in perpetual demand for workers and hands. We have nearly 2 million Muslims who claim all sort of injustice and discrimination. While it is known almost all of them came from South India, they prefer to say they are of Arab origin. Many of their priests and women now dress like Arabs.

      It is said they are planting Date-palm trees in the EP and are trying even to import Camels. Very soon they will be speaking to each other in Arabic. Can’t this fetish for Arabs and their ways on the part of our Muslims be met if our friends Hakeem and Company plead with these two “brotherly” Arab nations to accommodate our two million there. Why, even the Mosques (Makka, Medina) they are so keen about are also in the vicinity. Looks to me like a win-win situation.

      F. N. Stein

      • 0

        F. N. Stein The millions of Muslims fleeing to Christian Europe and elsewhere from their own hostile countries should give you a clue as to the generosity of the Saudis and other petro rich Muslim countries with abundant space. See how inhumanely they treat the poor Muslims who migrate there to eke out a living. I can never forget poor Rizana Nafeek who I have no doubt was completely innocent, yet beheaded in public. I never understood their motives as they received international condemnation. The ones conspicuously silent were our own Muslim leaders who perhaps did not wish to upset the very Saudis who fund them to build the mosques and plant the palm trees that nobody seems to want.

    • 2

      “”Perhaps they deserve it because of the barbaric actions of the few in ISIS Iraq and Syria. “”

      sweetie pie its from its inception over 1000 years a jihad or crusade sharia law with commerce foreign to Asia or sub continent.
      800 years of Spain/portugal rule(till 1493 New World) was jihad and sex slavery, violence.(cafrinhas came home)..then it continued to partition… how much land do you steal I_slam humanity …from hindu kush,
      buddha is okay from china it goes all the way to japan.

      “”should be alleviating the poverty instead of building more and more “

      political correctness does not apply in your defense but a spirit of resonableness would help. I_salm has no faith in any agreement of the present world ,,,
      iran will blow up when putin pukes.

      why do muslims come in drones to infidel land with infidel freedom and multiply with polygamy that they cannot integrate unless under threat as at singapore?
      get together be a community than minority race/religion.. be like the west in that aspect…then the mosque stays empty like the church yet we have faith in self’s.

  • 1

    F. N. Stein

    “It is said they are planting Date-palm trees in the EP and are trying even to import Camels.”

    You mean they are planting Date-palm trees in the Islamic Republic of Kattankudy.

    “While it is known almost all of them came from South India, they prefer to say they are of Arab origin.”

    Arabs don’t treat them as fellow Arabs but white man commands respect among the Arabs. South Asian Muslims are treated as worst as slaves.

    Hope Muslims join their brethren the Tamil/Sinhala descendants of Kallathonies if and when they decide to leave my ancestral land.

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