By Ishrath Zanoosey –
Muslim parliamentarians of yesteryear
In the realm of Sri Lankan politics, Muslim leaders with their majority Sinhala counterparts of the political mainstream, have immensely contributed to the progress of the nation. Yesteryear Muslim leaders, along with the other national leaders, strived hard over the years to shape the political contour of Sri Lanka. They earned the respect in parliament to fight for what was right by being honest and devoid of vested interest. They have always raised their concerns democratically on relevant national issues and issues related to the Muslim community. In this respect, late Muslim leaders like Hon. Dr. T.B. Jayah, Sir Razick Fareed, M. Falil A Gafoor, Dr. Badiudin Mahmud, M.H. Mohamed, Abdul Bakeer Markar, A. C. S. Hameed, Haleem Ishak, M. H. M Ashraff just to mention but a few, played a prominent role in parliament.
Patriotic and fine visionary leaders who stood the test of time
These patriotic and fine visionary leaders who stood the test of time, lived a simple life with minimum of fuss and fanfare. Most of all, they did not amass a big fortune for themselves. Majority of them were of impeccable stock, who owned their family businesses and were philanthropists who spent their legitimate earnings and inheritances lavishly on charitable ventures.
Demise of late Hon. M. H. M. Ashraff and emergence of splinter political groups
Founder of SLMC, Late Hon. M. H. M. Ashraff, championed the Muslim cause for unity in Sri Lanka and envisioned the importance of bringing all Muslim groups under one umbrella. Tragically after his demise in 2000, his party stalwarts did not have the impetus to continue with his good work. Eventually, due to lack of leadership, foresight and infighting among his party stalwarts, few members deserted the party giving way for the emergence of splinter groups with new leaders of different outlook.
Present generation of Muslim leaders
Today’s Muslim leaders represent various political parties and constituencies. Each party has its own rules and agendas and plays by the political rules of the game, whilst some are more focused on the voter base of their constituency rather than the interest of Sri Lankan Muslims at large. Some others have joined hands with the mainstream political parties. That said, many new entrants appear to be naive turn coats, who try to cling on to any government that comes into power and kowtow to them, by political horse trading.
Unsavoury Political gimmicks
Many of the present leaders are good at pulling wool over voters’ eyes, whilst some pay lip service with more rhetoric than action. Some play to the gallery and speak eloquently with their tongues in cheek and a handful seem to be lacking in their spoken Sinhala skills. Few other MPs are in name only and found to be passive in parliament. Some are in politics for their financial gains, perks and comforts. They put their self-interests before the issues of the common man, let alone the rumours swirling around a few other MPs on various issues, who are said to be having skeletons in their cupboards.
This attitude, obviously leaves the Sinhala community a bad taste in the mouth, not to mention, earning their wrath and may be the underlying reasons for others to stigmatize the Muslims as shrewd and untrustworthy tricksters.
Covid-19 and furore over cremation of Muslim dead bodies (Janazas)
Among other things, Covid-19 pandemic as a global scourge, is wreaking havoc and has taken a heavy toll on human lives. According to many medical experts, this pandemic is not going to end any time soon. The incumbent government, in its effort to curb the spread of virus, has categorically ordered to cremate all dead bodies of those succumbing to Covid-19, although, WHO has recommended burial or cremation in keeping with the cultural and religious rites of a community. Even so, the Sri Lankan health authorities are hell bent on sticking to the cremation only policy. Appeals to rescind the cremation order, have not realized and seen as a slap in the face of the community. The behest of the authorities to cremate Covid-19 related dead bodies has stoked a furore in the Muslim community. This Hobson’s choice has stirred controversy to ruffle feathers of the community, leaving them gripped in macabre fear and trepidation. Ensuing events have deeply shaken the susceptibility of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka and shocked the Islamic world. In the light of this, for good reasons the Muslim community see the current pandemic as a “double whammy”.
Stand-off between the government and Muslim leaders
In the face of insurmountable odds, the standoff between Muslim leaders and the Government remains a deadlock and the present leaders are seemingly embroiled in this newfound impasse. In any event, ironing out the problem at hand appears to be a Herculean Task in view of the Government’s firm stand on the cremation issue. Nevertheless, the onus is on the Muslim leaders to seriously focus on the issue and raise their concerns to find a common ground by both sides of the divide, without losing sight of the problem.
Trials and tribulations of the commoners
Today the community is at the receiving end, left in the lurch to bear the brunt of many issues in the society. What’s worse, the majority of the commoners are on a knife’s edge and could hardly make ends meet, as against the few affluent folks. The voiceless commoners in the community appears to have fallen from the frying pan to the fire, sending a chill down their spines. In this backdrop, perhaps the dithering Muslim leaders are seen by the miffed commoners as lame ducks as opposed to the leaders of the yesteryear. Apart from that, the trials and tribulations of the commoners have led them to gather steam and lampoon their leaders as having distanced from them or having turned a blind eye on burning issues.
Leaders losing credibility in the face of all odds
It is a pity to note the leaders, dragging their feet to pull out the community right away, from the current abyss, as right now, they themselves are in a quagmire sans any political clout. It is apparent that, most of the leaders are losing their credibility among their retinue of supporters and community at large. In the meantime, parliamentarian Hon. Shanaakiyan Rasamanickam, ITAK., who is eloquent in Tamil, Sinhala and English languages, recently stole the show, outsmarting other MPs, when he vociferously spoke in parliament and raised current issues related to Muslims and other communities. His speech really hit the nail on the head, raising eyebrows of many Muslim parliamentarians and obviously would have been a shot in the arm to all lame duck politicians.
Muslim community at the crossroads
Today, the Sri Lankan Muslim community is at the crossroads of a crucial juncture. Indeed, it’s high time for the Muslim leaders to get out of their slumber and pull up their socks as the clock is ticking. In short, the task ahead, won’t be a cakewalk for the leaders but a tight rope walk. This means, the leaders may have to brace for a political overture and reorganise themselves to outthink and find a consensus on the issue. Importantly, drafting a roadmap to go the extra mile at Warp Speed for the burning issue of cremation and other important problems facing the community.