14 August, 2022


NGR Regime’s Crusade Against Madrasas

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Over the last two years, and since that Easter Sunday infamy of April 2019, ultra-nationalist politicians and their apparatchiks, the Secretary General of Bodu Bala Sena, and certain sections of the Sangha had joined forces to demand the closure of all madrasas in the country. Just to please these agitators, the Yahapalana regime decided to register all madrasas with the government, which did not satisfy this mob. The Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa (NGR) regime, which is facing crises on multiple fronts, politically, economically, in public health and foreign relations, has now embarked on a crusade against madrasas. Accordingly, the Minister of Public Security, Admiral (retired) Sarath Weerasekera (SW), either on the order of President NGR or in consultation with him, has decided to close down around 1000 elementary Quranic Schools and bring the rest under some form of government control, the details of which are not clear yet. This announcement was a follow up to an earlier one that banned imports of books on Islam authored by Muslim intellectuals and writers whom the regime considers extremists. Incidentally, even copies of the Quran have been confiscated by the police for scrutinizing their content. What is the real objective or the agenda behind this crusade? It is a question that worries not only Muslims but also others who are alarmed at the emerging symptoms of totalitarianism in Sri Lanka.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Galagoda Atte Gnasara | Picture courtesy Shehan Gunasekara Facebook

The main argument behind the crusade seems to be that madrasas are teaching Islamic fundamentalism, which produced and will produce, if allowed to exist, Muslim extremists like Zahran Hashim and his ilk. Taking that argument on its face value, did the spread of Che Guevara’s revolutionary extremism in university campuses in the 1970s lead to the closure of all universities? Similarly, did the spread of LTTE’s separatist ideology in many Tamil schools in 1990s convince the government to close such schools? The killings and destruction caused by Wijeweera’s JVP and Prabakaran’s LTTE were, quantitatively and qualitatively, of far greater scale than what Zahran and his murderers accomplished in 2019. Why then did madrasas become the collateral for the Easter massacre? Is it to deflect the criticism by Christian leaders like Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit, who is accusing the government for not catching the “boss”, who masterminded that macabre act? Or is it one more step to demonize the Muslim community, and part of a sinister agenda to de-Islamize Muslims in the name of de-radicalization?  Is there an input from China, which is already de-Islamizing its Muslims in Xinxiang? Or is the regime repeating what Stalin tried to do with Muslims in the former Soviet? Or is this a delayed response to BBS Secretary Ven. Gnanasara’s failed appeal to the previous regime to place the Muslims under their care for “molding”? Whatever it is, this crusade will certainly add more to the mounting criticisms against this regime internationally.

To begin with, let us make one point clear. There had been calls for reforming and modernizing madrasa education, at least since 1990s.  Given the context of today’s rapidly expanding world of knowledge, those reforms are absolutely imperative if religious education among Muslims were to produce piety blended with scientific rationalism. In a sense, it is the failure on the part of those who establish and operate madrasas to modernize and initiate changes to keep pace with a tele-techno-scientific knowledge world that has led to the current situation where a government, without any expert knowledge about madrasa education and the role it plays in the community, and in order to save its own skin for mishandling the investigation of the Easter carnage, has picked in haste and dubbed this historic institution as the mother of Islamic extremism and producer of killers like Zahran. Does SW, who is heading this crusade know one basic truth about Zahran, i.e., he was not the product of any madrasa, but a reject and a truant who dropped out and came under the influence of ISIS, and ended up as a self-promoted backyard imam?   

Madrasas and Quranic schools have been in existence in this country for almost 150 years. If their mission was to teach extremism and produce extremists, as SW and his supporters claim, why did it take that many years to produce just one Zahran? Is it not a testimony for the failure of madrasas to produce enough extremists? In short, there is absolutely no case to charge madrasas for what happened in April 2019. They have become the smokescreen for a regime that does not know or does not want to reveal the true identity of the real “boss”, who masterminded the carnage. Having arrested Noufer Moulavi and Hajjul Akbar, both with madrasa educational background, and having declared prematurely by SW that they were the mastermind behind the carnage, it dawned on him that closing down madrasas should be the next logical step.

As the American spiritual author Wayne Dyer (1940-2015) once said, “the highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about”. This seems to be the truth about the anti-madrasa crusade. The mob behind this crusade neither knows what fundamentalism is, nor the difference between that and extremism. They also don’t seem to have any knowledge about the history and contribution of madrasas to human civilization and the role they played in Muslim life in Sri Lanka. It is time the Muslim community leaders and particularly its intelligentsia take measures to educate these ignoramuses.

The concept of fundamentalism is not Islamic in origin but started in late 19th century Protestant America where the Protestants believed in the inerrancy of the Bible and preached to believers that they should adhere to the fundamentals of their religion. If Christianity is a religion of love, compassion and peace what could be wrong in adhering to its fundamentals? The same sort of belief prevails in other religions too. No religion advocates violence and extremism, and those who follow the fundamentals of those religions are considered by their respective communities as the most pious.

Islam is no exception to this rule, and if madrasas are accused of preaching fundamentalism, i.e., to adhere to the five pillars of Islam and teachings of the Prophet, they should be encouraged to do so and not condemned. Outside madrasas, movements like the Tabligh Jamaat, a few of which are now banned by the government, preach exactly the same ideal. The real criticism against these madrasas and religious movements is not that they advocate fundamentalism, but they teach a kind of orthodoxy, which makes their students and followers become obsessive with life in the Hereafter and not with facing and tackling the problems in this life. Madrasas were once at the forefront of knowledge and progress but stagnated and became moribund because of the rise of orthodoxy and conservatism.

Unfortunately, this stagnation has turned a historic educational institution into a vehicle for transmitting yesterday’s knowledge and not laboratory for producing tomorrow’s knowledge. This is why reforms are desperately needed. There is indeed a running battle between Muslim conservatives and modernists in this regard. Given the necessary incentives the local community in Sri Lanka has the talent and even resources to undertake necessary reforms. Instead of closing them the government should set a time limit and provide incentives to carry out the changes.

Through their educational role madrasas provide an alternative route for thousands of Muslim families who would otherwise find it hard to educate their children through government schools beyond the primary level. The family background of a vast majority of madrasa graduates would bear testimony to this fact. The piety and discipline imparted through madrasa training make those students models of good behaviour and law-abiding citizens when they pass out. This is no different from what the Pansala schools do for Buddhist kids from poorer families.

However, there are some rotten apples that need be thrown out. After 1980s, a number of madrasas were established with foreign funds, especially from Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. Saudi funds in particular came with strings attached. Wahhabism penetrated with its ultra-conservative ideology into madrasas funded by Saudis. Even teachers and textbooks were dispatched directly from Saudi Arabia to these madrasas. That Wahhabi indoctrination led to intra-religious rivalry and fights for sectarian supremacy within the Muslim community, as happened in Kattankudy, Beruwela and few other places. Those madrasas along with other Wahhabi practices should be weeded out. There is also a need for rationalization of the remaining ones. Where is the Muslim leadership to spearhead this task?

One should also remember that it was the Saudi funded madrasas in their tens of thousands in Pakistan that produced the Taliban and so called mujahideen freedom fighters, as they were described by President Ronald Regan. They were armed by the United States to chase out the Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Later, when Al-Qaida under Bin Laden recruited the same mujahideen to fight against the “US and Crusaders”, the notoriety earned by those madrasas tarnished all madrasas in the world. The freedom fighters of Regan soon became extremists and terrorists for President George W. Bush and his Western counterparts. That sticker of extremism and terrorism got stuck through the Western media, and unfortunately, madrasas are now viewed as cradles for extremists and terrorists. The dastardly act of Zahran and his mad bunch provided an excellent opportunity to paste that sticker onto all madrasas in Sri Lanka too. The rest is what we observe today.

A worrying piece of information is circulating that Ahnaf Jassim, a young Muslim poet, who was arrested on charges of writing poems in Tamil, which encouraged extremism, was later found to be untrue when his book Navarasam was read by Tamil Scholars. This author too read that book and found no evidence in it to promote extremism. The police then altered their charges and claimed that his poems on love and romance were sexually provocative and would be damaging to young readers. This is ridiculous because, in which case the entire corpus of Tamil literature on love should be banned from schools. What is terribly worrying is that the police are now accused of torturing this young man and forcing him to confess that the prestigious Naleemiya Institute in Beruwela had been teaching fundamentalism to its undergraduates. Even the poet’s father had been harassed by the police and been asked to compel his son to confess to that effect. This is nothing but paranoia and desperation on the part of a government that is fast losing its popularity and looking for any excuse to close down any Muslim educational institution, just to safeguard its vote bank. If the regime suspects even Naleemiya’s education is promoting extremism through fundamentalism then even that institution may soon fall under its axe.

In short, this crusade is a splendid illustration of how a desperate regime acts desperately in times of mounting pressures and losing popularity. In the meantime, the Catholics who suffered in that horror, and Muslims who had nothing to do with it but forced to suffer as collateral, will continue to demand justice and the identity of that “Boss”, who engineered that bloodbath.

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 7

    That ‘Boss’ whon engineered the bloodbath resides above the clouds.
    Everybody knows it but constrained by polical correctness. Including the Cardinal. They are wasting our time.
    Some rascals are trying to make political capital out of it because some other rascals previously made political capital out of it – these are the most despicable b******* who have not an iota of sympathy for the victims.
    Visit Kattankudi once and follow the latest news from Pakistan to see the shadow of the ‘Boss’.
    Our boss thinks he can ‘deradicalise’ Muslims – he is going to waste a lot of public money.
    Muslim writers are busy trying to lead us down the garden path.


    • 7


      “Our boss thinks he can ‘deradicalise’ Muslims – he is going to waste a lot of public money.”

      What has happened to you soman?
      You seem disheartened by the actions or lack of it by your Single Handed Tiger Slayer.

      Kamal, Sarath Weerasekera, Shavendra …. and others believe they were able to
      de-radicalise 12,000 (per your own figures) members of LTTE’ cadres. Now you are undermining their confidence by highlighting their inability.
      Should not we consider an enemy agent?
      If you are not with your boss you are against MOTHER Sri Lanka which is unacceptable.

      Soman, you better advise your boss to start de-radicalising his own disparate supporters, the Saffron Brigades, core racist contingent, corrupt professional politicians, his clan, and his own b***s carriers.

    • 1

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  • 6

    ‘Those madrasas along with other Wahhabi practices should be weeded out. There is also a need for rationalization of the remaining ones. Where is the Muslim leadership to spearhead this task?’
    I cannot agree more. Every group has its rotten apples and the larger the group the more rotten apples you will find.

    • 4

      Madrasas are not really the issue. Eliminating them will not eliminate Wahabism, Salafism or any fundamentalist terror. It is hard to combat bigotry that breeds underground. The government is targetting Madarasas for cheap political gain.
      That besides, pro-West Muslim Liberals are on the horns of a dilemma.
      On the one hand, they readily fall for imperialist propaganda, endorse the imperialist world order, and side with imperialism (or at best play ‘neutral’) in key global conflicts.
      On the other, they fear isolation within a community offended by the current anti-Muslim onslaught of imperialism.
      It is not an easy tightrope walk.
      It is chickenfeed to denounce SB chauvinists, but takes courage to adopt a principled anti-imperialist stand.
      Imperialism and the Gotabhaya clique are on the same side vis-a-vis Muslims.

  • 5

    Long overdue. Good move.

    However, Rajapaksas want Wahabism for politics. Divide and rule.

    Most Muslims (over 80%) do not follow Wahabism. They are UNP/SJB voters. Wahabi Muslims are a minority within the Muslim community so they need state protection. In return they vote for Rajapaksas. Modi is doing the same thing in India. Wahabi Muslims and Shia Muslims (an unlikely combination!!!) separately vote for BJP/NDA. Other traditional Muslims do not vote for them. Both Rajapaksas and Modi are playing with fire.

    So don’t expect the Madrasa busting operation to extend to Wahab schools.

  • 10

    Dont compare the LTTE to islamic terrorism.
    LTTE was fighting to regain a small area of a small island.
    Islamic terrorists want total world domination.

  • 9

    why did it take that many years to produce just one Zahran?
    There is a time and place for everything.
    Muslims first disconnected from their tamil identity.
    Then proceeded to help sinhala rioters destroy tamils
    Then helped the armed forces attack tamils in the former war zone
    Then with the help of arabs, expanded across the island while sinhalese
    were busy trying to wipe out tamils.
    The muslim behaviour in public underwent visible changes. They started
    creating undeclared no go zones for non-muslims. Once they get settled in an area
    they deliberately make it very hard for others to buy land or property within.
    They build their houses like fortresses. Mosques and madrasses pop up everywhere.
    Their women in growing numbers wear full burqas and niqabs.
    Then you see men like zaharan who openly attack non-muslims. They do this
    when they become confident they can now assert themselves more openly on others.

    • 5

      The perfect example of an anti Muslim comment, with talking points straight from anti Muslim sources.

      P.S They may be building their houses like fortresses because they know there are vicious mobs led by saffron robed terrorists that like to attack innocent people in their homes, businesses, and loot their stores, every time hate (like your comment) is spread among the ignorant and the racists.

      • 4

        The classic knee jerk reaction when muslims are exposed with their colonization agenda is to scream ‘islamophobia’, the same way those impostor jews scream ‘anti semitism’ when their behaviour is exposed also.
        I have criticised sinhala supremacists and the LTTE also.
        Check all my comments on this site if you can be bothered sifting through it.

  • 7

    Don’t worry. It is not genuine.
    The PCoI’s recommendation to ban Madrasas is to pit Muslims against Sinhalese, and, its recommendation to ban Bodu Bala Sena is to pit Buddhists against Muslims.
    The PCoI’s other recommendation to prosecute former President Sirisena is to pit Buddhists against Catholics.
    It is the Rajapaksas who took Muslim burial issue to the UNHRC, the same way they were behind LTTE diaspora’s war crimes allegations against our Army.
    Gotabhaya appointed his personal lawyer, Ali Sabry as the Justice Minister.
    Then he appointed another Muslim buddy as the President of the Appeal Court.
    Then Gotabhaya and Ali Sabry increased the number of judges in the SC enabling Gotabhaya to appoint his Appeal Court Muslim Buddy to the SC. Why? To appoint his Muslim buddy as the CJ, one day.
    Moreover, they are planning to appoint another Muslim buddy in the AG’s Department as the AG.
    They also changed a number of state regulations to favour Muslim businessmen.
    They also made several attempts to increase Muslim participation in the Police and the Judiciary, deviating from usual practice.
    Now, the Rajapaksas+Ali Sabry are hell bent on SELLING Port City to China.
    How many Muslims will be in the PORT CITY COMMISSION? You tell me (Haamuduruwane!).
    The year 2021 marks a Year of Striking Revelations about the Rajapaksas!

    • 7

      ” It is the Rajapaksas who took Muslim burial issue to the UNHRC, the same way they were behind LTTE diaspora’s war crimes allegations against our Army.”

      It took nearly 12 years to understand the motives of Rajapaksas for you Sinhalese. You cannot deny the fact the your army is still on the side of Rajapaksas and they are being used by Rajapaksas to massacre of Tamils in 2009. I know the ordinary military men and women just followed the orders of high ranking military commanders order which was directed directly from Rajapaksas. The same army will be used against Sinhalese if they become a threat to Rajapaksas way. Rajapaksas has now sent a clear warning message to Srisena, weerawansa, gammanpila, vasudeva and Buddhist Monks who are on the way to block China.

      • 5

        “You cannot deny the fact the your army is still on the side of Rajapaksas and they are being used by Rajapaksas to massacre of Tamils in 2009.”
        Definitely the Army is with Rajapakshes because they increased the moral of them by treating them well and calling them as ‘Ranaviruwo’ instead of ‘Army Kaarayo’.
        Guys who faced a humiliating defeat and suffering from ‘Defeat-Syndrome’ are trying hard to tarnish the image of Rajapakshes and Sri Lanka Armed Forces that eliminated Tamil terrorists who massacred Sinhalayo for three decades by spreading the lie that they massacred Tamils in 2009. This is a blatant lie fabricated by Tamil Diaspora.
        It was LTTE that massacred Tamil civilians who tried to escape from the human shield formed by LTTE to protect themselves. Sri Lanka Army liberated about 300,000 Tamil civilians from the clutches of LTTE. What LTTE did was a war crime. They should be charged for that by UNHRC.

  • 7

    Are there church schools in Saudi ?

    If no, aren’t you a hypocrite ?

    • 2

      deepthi silva

      “Are there church schools in Saudi ?”

      Are you planning to send your great grand children to faith school in Saudi?
      In case if they do not have faith schools in Saudi why don’t you consider sending them to Vatican or UK?

  • 6

    Universities did not teach Che Guevara’s revolutionary extremism. I do not think separatist ideology of Tamil politicians was taught in schools. But in some Madrasas Wahhabism that produce extremists and fundamentalists have been taught.
    Madrasas are notorious for producing extremists. Pakistan also closed down Madrasas. Governments in Sri Lanka should have done this long time ago.
    Buddhist monks are not against Muslims or Madrasas but they are against Wahhabi Muslim extremism which is becoming another headache for Sinhala Buddhists. King Senerath who gave asylum to Muslim refugees when they faced persecution by Portuguese might not have anticipated that Sinhala Buddhists will face this kind of a problem.

    • 4

      Eagle Blind Eye

      “Buddhist monks are not against Muslims or Madrasas but they are against Wahhabi Muslim extremism which is becoming another headache for Sinhala Buddhists. “

      You may be right Buddhist monks are not against Muslims or Madrasas however Sinhala/Buddhist saffron clad racists are.
      What did you study at Sinhala/Buddhist Sunday Schools? How to hate non Sinhala/Buddhists, how to hurt them, how to steal their land, premises, businesses, …… ?

      You are a pathetic lot.

    • 2

      Dear EE.
      Monks in Sri Lanka are well-fed, because the poor bring them so much alms.
      However, the food in Parliament appears to be even better! Gnanasara is currently an advertisement for the Grand Restaurant in Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte.
      Mung hira bath kayuthu aying!
      I feel like contesting the next elections!

      • 4

        Go and see the situation in the North and East. Sinhala Buddhists who provided arms to monks were chased away by Tamils and Muslims. Now Tamils and Muslims have encroached land belong to temples and have created Tamil and Muslim settlements. You want Sinhala Buddhists to turn a blind eye to what is going on in their country in the name of reconciliation?

        “Monks in Sri Lanka are well-fed, because the poor bring them so much alms.”

    • 2

      Eagle Eye ” I do not think separatist ideology of Tamil politicians was taught in schools”
      ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha LMAO
      what an implicit admission by Eagle Eye that it was the Sinhala Racism that gave birth birth of separatist ideology of Tamils

      • 3

        You misunderstood what I said. What I meant was school teachers who get paid by the Government would not have dared to teach separatist ideology of Tamil politicians in schools as claimed by AA. Tamil politicians taught separatist ideology to Tamils in the North.
        Separatist ideology is not a result of Sinhala racism because it emerged during British rule. It was a result of racism among Vellala Tamil politicians. Their racism was unleashed by GGP by giving a racially charged speech at Nawalapitiya in 1939 denigrating the Sinhala-Buddhist culture, its history and the people. SJVC took it further by forming the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (toned down as Federal Party in English) in 1949 which had as its hidden agenda the establishment of a separate state.

  • 4

    Our police officers are expected of doing something nobody is able to:
    Differentiate between a radical Muslim and a normal Muslim.
    By definition a radical Muslim is one who has ALREADY exploded a bomb. Then again if he/she did not die with the bomb then the individual is not fully radicalised.
    Our police officers will have to chase them all the way up to Paradise.
    Further they are expected to interpret Quaran! Again something there is no agreement among themselves – Saudis want Israel help to nuke Iran.
    What a mix up we have fallen into!


  • 6

    “The main argument behind the crusade seems to be that madrasas are teaching Islamic fundamentalism…”

    Maybe not all madrassas, but many are doing this. At these madrasas, students memorize and recite Quran for up to 10 hours a day. The issue is not that they study Quran, but that they study only Quran. One cannot expect to be a productive member of society if his/her knowledge is limited to one book. To be fair, Orthodox Jews do the same thing. As with conservative Muslims, they live in their own communities and follow rigid dietary, hygiene, and marriage laws. Some of these customs conflict with the normal laws of the land, for example, child marriage. The long-term implication is not just the creation of Zaharan-types, but lack of assimilation, leading to friction with the other groups in society.

  • 1

    The author of the article admits that Wahabism is a movement that wants to revert to the original teachings of Prophet Muhammad. The author says “Islam is no exception to this rule, and if madrasas are accused of preaching fundamentalism, i.e., to adhere to the five pillars of Islam and teachings of the Prophet, they should be encouraged to do so and not condemned.”
    That sounds fine, but what does the first pillar of Islam say “The Shahada declares belief in the oneness (tawhid) of God (Allah) and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s messenger. In Shia Islam, a statement of belief in the Wilayat of Ali is added. Prophet Muhammad has himself testified to his relatives that “there is no god but Allah and I am His messenger.”
    Herein lies, the problem. Islam declares “war” on other religions that do not accept Allah as the only God and Prophet Muhammad as the last messenger of God.
    This teaching in simple terms is fundamentalism. Wahabism wants Muslims to stick to fundamentalism that includes one God Allah and one Prophet Muhammad. Although Islam means Peace, the history of Islam reveals otherwise.
    The first three Caliphs who succeeded Muhammad were assassinated! Islam spread far and wide and quickly due to military conquests of territory. 1/2

  • 4

    Arab empire ruled over a population that was overwhelmingly non-Arabs were treated as second-class regardless of whether or not they converted to Islam,
    Muslims invaded and ruled Hindu India for over 700 years. During this period one-third of the population were converted to Islam mostly by the sword. Today’s Pakistan, Bangladesh. Afghanistan was carved out of Hindu India.
    Today, the countries that are at war with each other are exclusively Islamic like Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan Somalia and Syria.
    In Nigeria, Boko Haram an off-shoot of ISIS is engaged in a deadly armed conflict in the name of Islam! Ameer Ali should explain why Muslim countries are in turmoil and prone to fight one another if Islam denotes peace.
    So Wahabism bankrolled by Saudi Arabia is real and active. The Islamic University at Batticaloa was built by political bigwig M. L. A. M. Hizbullah exclusively for the Muslims was funded by Sheiks of Saudi Arabia. 2/2

  • 0

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  • 0

    Write say – (i) Saudi Madrassa’s a threat but circle back to blame GoSL. Its the fault of Moderate muslims like Ali who have allowed are Muslim community in SL to become radicalized. He swing in Aussie land while allowing this community to hijacked.

    Ali – (i) why does SL Muslims needs 1000’s of Madrassa? How many Marassa’s are available in SL in 2021 (ii) do these children’s in learn GoSL national curriculam? (iii) When other religions children’s learn math’s, science, social sciences do these kids learn the same or learn Arabic? (iv) do they sit for O/L and A/L exam – these students from Madrassa’s? (vi) If all other other religious schools are learning Sunday school, are these happening for all 5 days? (vi) the are the students going to be Mulla’s at mosque?

    Can you educate us?

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