By Aboobacker Rameez –
This is in response to the recent article titled Moors of Sri Lanka are not perfectly peaceful appeared at Colombo Telegraph by Dr Imthiyaz, on whom, I have a great respect as an academic who largely deals with issues concerning ethnic conflicts and minority issues in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world.
However, I beg to disagree with his latest article in which he seriously lambasted the Muslims as being not a peaceful community in Sri Lanka. At the outset, let me stress that the Moors (also known as Muslims) have never joined with the separatist movement in Sri Lanka that fought against the government forces for many decades. Many people concede that had Muslims joined hands with the rebels fighting for the Ealam project in North East, things would have been different. The government at the early stages of the war was ill equipped to deal with the separatists. Muslims due to their refusal to ally with the paid dearly in terms of life and wealth, even this author has lost one of his close relatives in the attack of the separatists in 90s. It is also to be noted that the Southern Sinhalese also had two insurgencies in 70s and 80s with the frustrated youth as a result of mass unemployment and poverty gripping the country at that time.
Muslims, unlike their Tamil and Sinhalese counterparts, have never been involved in any insurgencies. The Muslims have always remained as a peaceful and harmonious community with a great deal of integration with other communities such as Sinhelese and Tamils in the Island.
Let’s now deal, in a constructive way, with some of the points Dr Imthiyaz raises in his article
1) Is he trying to say that construction of new madrasas and mosques, and increase in the number of Muslim women choosing to cover their bodies modestly in what is called habaya and hijab (not necessarily nikab-face cover) are a proof of Muslims being not peaceful or offensive to other faiths or religion, thus causing conflicts or mayhem with other communities in Sri Lanka?
2) If increase in the number of Mosques is a sign of Muslim fundamentalism in Sri Lanka, what is, then, of the Buddhist statues being erected in every nook and corner of the country, including the North and East, the predominant Tamil speaking areas in SL, especially in the post war scenario with no regard whatsoever to the legal dimension of the country.
3) What is wrong in Muslim women choosing to dress modestly in habaya and hijab without exposing their flesh to others, except their husbands, as no one has the right, in my view, to object to the half-naked girls parading in the streets?
4) Majority of mosques in Sri Lanka were built having obtained legal permission from the authorities concerned. Even such legally built mosques are now on the brink of collapse following attacks on them. No benevolence is shown by the authorities for fear of reprisals from the extremists elements and its patrons. Grandpass mosque is a living example of this reality.
5) Rise of Wahhabism or Wahhabi movements in Sri Lanka is a cause of concern for not only Dr Imthiyas, but the extremist elements such as BBS, SR and its patrons as well. The fact that the Wahhabi movements are nurturing literal interpretation of Islam does not necessarily mean that they are stirring emotion or poisoning the minds of Muslims against other communities in Sri Lanka as the BBS and the likes do. Wahhabi movements never dare to go to the extent of destroying or replacing the Buddhist temples or Hindu Kovil with Mosques. Most importantly, Wahhabi movement is not a recent phenomenon in Sri Lanka as it gained foothold in 70s and 80s. Thus, attributing the rising madrasas, building mosques and women choosing to cover their bodies with habaya and hijab to the Wahhabi movement as a recent phenomenon is totally irrelevant. In addition, it is notable that there is an excellent relationship exists between the wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka, and such relationship benefits our government economically and diplomatically, even in the international arena such as Geneva. If the government of Sri Lanka or BBS is seriously concerned about the Wahhabi movement in Sri Lanka, it can possibly ask the government of Saudi Arabia for not sponsoring such organization in the country.
6) He also noted that tensions are likely in a society where there is politicization of relations/symbols to win votes. What is the relevance of this statement into the context he is discussing? Wahhabi Movements in Sri Lanka are not advocating for political positions. They are more a secular minded people. They only promote religious dogmas as per their understanding. If at all there is any threat to the co- existence of various religious communities in Sri Lanka, I would argue, that it comes from Muslim (and other) political parties including the BBS in Sri Lanka, which we all know, are running on the emotions of the people to ensure their political clout in their electorates.
By and large, the piece of writing that he has contributed is a clear reflection of the Orientalist perspective towards the Others, Muslims, for that matter. There is no doubt, what so ever, that his article has added flavor to the stale curry that the BBS and its patrons have been preparing to poison the minds of the majority against Sri Lankan Muslims over the last few months. This kind of caricature of Muslims in general and the wahhabis in general would only reinvigorate the BBS and their ilk.
*The author, who is presently a PhD research scholar at National University of Singapore, is a lecturer in Sociology at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka. He can be contacted at email@example.com.