Colombo Telegraph

Patriotism, Allegiance And Loyalty Of Sri Lankan Muslims To Mother Lanka

By Rifai Naleemi

Dr. Rifai Naleemi

It is imperative to examine and gauge the true nature of Muslim peoples’ patriotism to mother Lanka. Particularly, this is a timely needed subject in the context of prevailing current debates about Muslim people in Sri Lanka.  Muslim population in Sri Lanka according to the recent census constitutes 9. 2% and do they really have loyalty and allegiance to this land?  Do they love this land as the majority people of the land do? Or do they have loyalty to another land in the world map? Do they belong to Saudi or Pakistan or do they belong to somewhere else.  A strange mystery   has been created in the mind of some people that minority people do not belong to this Island and it has been debated by some section of people at least in utter arrogant to say that this country belongs only to the majority people alone and others are just visitors or unwanted guests. Does such political rhetoric help any one in Sri Lanka?    What a wrong perception is this? What evil perception is this? Who is going to benefit from this type of propaganda?  I shall examine some of these questions in this article.

Sri Lankan Muslim people are not new arrivals to the Island rather they have been living more than 1000 years and it is historically documented that Arab traders settled in this Island in pre-colonial periods.  During the Silk route trade between Middle East and South Asian countries Arab people used Sri Lanka as one of their trading hubs. Since these periods of history Muslim people have been living in this Island generation by generations. The bulk of Sri Lankan Muslim population is a mixture of different ethno-linguistic and cultural groups. The entire Muslim population of Sri Lanka Muslim people constitutes of Arab, Indian, Afghanistani, North/south Indian, Malay and Indigenous Srilankan People. There is no doubt that many inter-marriages took place with other communities and still some Muslim families have families of names/house names of Singhalese people.

Thus, historical origin, antiquity and history of Sri Lankan Muslims people could be traced from early period of Sri Lankan history. It is not my objective here to trace historical origin of Sri Lankan Muslim people rather it is my objective here to examine the true nature of Muslim loyalty to Sri Lanka and to gauge if any Muslim people have done any treason to Mother Lanka since ancient time up to now.

The meaning of loyalty in Islam

Before we examine this issue we would like to shed some light on the meaning of loyalty and allegiance in Islam: What is the doctrine of loyalty in Islam? Does Islam accept any sense of nationalism or loyalty to any piece of land/country/tribe or ethnic groups or clans?  In fact, Islam demands from Muslim people to have full faith, allegiance and loyalty only to God alone not for nay temporal / earthly matters of these types. Muslim people believe that very thing in this universe belong to God and we people too belong to him alone and our full loyalty should be to Him alone. Theologically speaking this is the true loyalty and it is the eternal and real loyalty. In this sense, languages, castes, tribes, colour and country all are temporary and materialistic realities ant these are confined to this world alone.

In a recent survey in England among Muslim people a question was asked: Are you a Muslim or British first? More than 90% of Muslim people said that we are Muslims first and foremost then we are British born people. This is a theological question for any Muslim and unfortunately the interviewer did not have deeper understanding of Islamic theology and put this question to Muslim people simply from western political and social perspectives to gauge the level of Muslim peoples’ loyalty to Great Britain.  It would not be theologically and religiously fitting to say that our loyalty belongs to any land on earth rather our true loyalty should be only to God alone:  people in Saudi do not say that our loyalty belong to Saudi land. People Pakistan do not say that our eternal loyalty belongs to their land or tribe or language rather Muslim people believe that we belong to Allah and we return to Him:

Islamic communities are not formed or originated on the basis of language, colour, race, ethnicity, tribe, lands or nationalism of any particular geographical or ethnical enclaves.  You do not choose your colour, you do not choose your language or you do not choose your place of birth or you do not choose your race: These are bestowed upon you by God beyond your control and you have no choice on these sociological issues. In Islam nationalism, patriotism to any particular piece of land or ethnicity or language does not become bedrock of Islamic ideology or Islamic doctrines.  On this Islam goes beyond all worldly and physical considerations and drives its ideology from God alone. The Holy Quran depicts the true believers of international Muslim communities are one Ummah: This description is beyond all languages, ethnicity, nationality, and geographical enclaves and limitations. In this sense any one embraces faith of Islam from any part of world or nay class of people or any linguistic groups becomes an integral part of wider Muslim ummah:  It is faith that makes bond and brotherly relationship between Muslim people: In this any Muslim living in Non-Muslim government also becomes part and parcel of International Muslim community.

Then people might ask us.  Do not you have any affection/ love to your own country? Do not you love for the country of your birth?  Do not you have any sense of patriotism to your mother land?  Does Islam teach to show love and affection to the lands where Muslim people are born and brought up?  It is a natural instinct of people to be attached to places of their birth, families, villages and countries of origin.  I have been living in the UK for more two decades now and yet, my nostalgia always goes back to my country and my village where I was born and brought up. It is a common human feeling for all people. Islam goes along with this natural sentiment and its respects this human instinct and indeed, it does encourage having  patriotic national feeling of your own village/ town/district and country:  There is no harm in having such feeling as long as such patriotism does not lead into prejudice, injustice and discrimination.

Does this notion of Islamic ummah deem to be detrimental to our love and affection to our mother land or to abide law and order in the countries we live in.  No, not at all. Islam instructs us to love our mother lands: It demands us to abide with laws and orders of our native places. Today, a large percentage of Muslim people migrate from Muslim countries into Non-Muslim countries in the Western European nations and when they get citizenship in these countries very often they will be asked to take oath sometime giving affirmation that they would abide with laws of the country: Such undertaking does not contrast Islamic teaching of loyalty and allegiance to Islamic faiths: This oath is between you and that government that guarantee you protection and return you laws and order in this land: This an agreement and Islam instructs to honour any agreement.

Islam indeed, recognises and acknowledges patriotism of each persons: Indeed Allah created mankind into different groups and nations: so that we human beings know each other, understand each other,  and appreciate one another, It is the beauty of divine design. There is no harm in having affection towards one’s language and tribes and yet we should not have mania and craziness about our language to extent to look down all other tribes and language: We should not have superiority complex because of our language or tribe. That is wrong and Islam condemns such feeling.  Yet, having nationalistic feeling is not wrong with these conditions.

Prophetic examples on patriotism towards native people:

Do we have any prophetic model or examples to justify patriotism in Islam?  Yes, of course the prophet himself had some sentimental patriotic feeling towards his place of birth: It is well known saying of the prophet that prophet said on the eve of his migration from Makka to Madina: looking at the soil of Makka prophet said that “ you are the beloved place for me. If the people of Makka had not chase me out I would not have left you”. This is natural feeling of every one towards his own place of birth. Even the companions when they migrated to Mania they had nostalgia feeling about their life in Makka and they wished that they come back to their native place one day:

Moreover, when different people come to see the prophet he used asked them the names of their tribe in reorganization of their tribes:  We know well that prophet once praised Salman al-Farisi tracing his Persian origin. All our Muslim scholars are nick named with their tribal or village names: al-Bukhari hails from a place called al-bukhara, al- Qurtubi from Qurtuba, and Imam al-Shatibi from Shatiba. Thousands of Imams like these imams related the village affiliations to their names to show their patriotism and identity?  This is an Islamic tradition to attribute our Islamic scholars into their places of birth: This has been for many centuries that this shows that they had some sentimental patriotism towards their places of birth and nothing wrong in that.  This helps us to trace their historical origin and identity.

Muslim patriotism during the colonial periods:

Muslim lands were occupied for more than five hundreds years by different colonial powers such as French, Italian, Dutch/Portuguese and English. During these periods Islamic scholars engaged in freedom struggle and patriotic speeches and poems were made in this freedom struggle: from Jamal-al-Din Afghanis to Imam Hassan Al-Banna all Muslim intellectuals and scholars motivated people to enhance nationalistic feeling and there is nothing wrong in that as along as such feeling does not undermine universal brotherhood, justice and equality of humanity: In India sub-continent many Muslim sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Indian lands and like that in many Muslim land people  laid down their lives to free their lands from occupation;

Our pioneers in Sri Lanka fully participated in the freedom struggle of Sri Lanka. Though we in Sri Lanka did not make any political or military struggle to free the Island from British and yet, during the colonial periods many Muslims people did fight along side Sri Lankan kings to safeguard it form invasions of the Dutch and Portuguese.

Even during the independence time Muslim people unanimously voted with Singhalese members to secure independence of Sri Lanka from British Empire.  ¾ majorities was required by Soulbury commission to secure Sri Lankan Independence and Tamil congress led by Ponnampalam did his best to get support of Muslim members to get his own Tamil Elem then, but People members unanimously supported Senanayake and he managed to secure 51 votes. This was a historical turning point in Sri Lanka history and had Muslim members gone with Mr Ponnampalam the history of Sri Lanka would have been different today: British would have created Tamil Elem long time ago or they would have created another Kashmir in Sri Lanka long time ago yet, it is regrettable that some Singhalese people are becoming seemingly ungrateful to all service and sacrifices Muslims made for the integrity of this Island.

Even throughout the pre-independence history our leaders made many contributions and they had shown their patriotism to the nation: they never made any conspiracy to divine this country and they never collaborated with any one to divine this Island and they never made any treason in Sri Lanka: It has been Muslim leadership’s dream to develop and enhance this Island not merely on communal line rather in a national line: from DR TB Jaya to modern time Muslim political leaders we have had a dream in this Island of Sri Lanka: that dream to contribute  to  the progress and development of this Island as Sri Lankan with due recognition to diversity of culture and language and religions.

What happened in Sri Lankan history since independence was that we have failed to create any Sri Lankan Identity as Sri Lankan people collectively: Each community begun to think in its on communal line: Tamils feel that Singhalese are trying to dominate them and Singhalese feel that their mere existence is threaten by the separatism and diversities of cultures and religions. All other minorities begun feel that their mere existence is threatened by the rapid development of Buddhist extremism.  It is not myth to say that in recent years a growing trend of anti-Christian and Muslim drift has been orchestrated by some extreme elements without any proper geopolitical knowledge and without foreseeing any dire consequence of such extreme trends:

Countries like India,Malaysia, and Singapore with its all diverse cultures, ethnicities and religious managed to maintain their own national identity:  Malaysian whether is Buddhist, or Hindi or Muslim feel proud to say that he or she is a Malaysian.  We do not need to tell you about Indian nationalistic feeling: We have not seen any nations so proud about their nationality like Indians: They are so proud about their nationalism or nationality: It may be Indians from North or South or from West or East: it may be Muslim or Hindu or people of other religions in India. All are proud to be Indians: yet, we in this small Island do not have that sort of national identity or nationalistic feeling between us: Do not we see that When Indians play Cricket with Pakistan Indian Muslims whole heartedly support Indian team rather than Pakistan team and do not we see that a large proportion of Indian Muslim army officials work in the Indian army to protect the sovereignty and integrity of India?  Otherwise, how could this huge country with hundred of ethnic groups hold its grip on the power.

India was ruled by Muslims for more than 700 years and Muslim people have had all their cultural and religious monuments in India. Thaj Mahal was build in the name of Mumthaj by then Muslim ruler. Do you see that any Indian government tries to destroy this historical monument simply because it comes from Muslim history?  Why do not have such broader and wider concept of national identity in Sri Lanka? Why do we still think in confined communal line in Sri Lanka? We have failed to celebrate the beauty of our diverse culture, languages and religions: It is generally believed that Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are world major religions. People in Sri Lanka are practicing these four religions and this gives more beauty to our nation and yet, we have greatly failed to appreciate such diversity.

To be continued

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