23 June, 2024


Reform & Sri Lankan Muslims

By N.M. Rishard

N.M. Rishard

“Reform” is one of the widely used terms in modern world, in which a bunch of theories and concepts are introduced by the scholars in order to make changes in their particular context. Meanwhile, reform is a dynamic as well as a progressive process that might take several decades to move a society from one level to another. By looking into some experiences of reform projects all around the countries we can summarize that some ended up with failure and others with success. It’s noticeable that every ethnic or religious group has its own way forward for reform when it comes to pluralistic society. Muslims of Sri Lanka is also not an exceptional community and they have been involving in reforming process for decades. Following paragraphs prefer to shed light on major two spheres: Islamic movements and Muslim religious leadership.

Muslims in Sri Lanka have formed several movements that maintain different approaches to practice and preach Islamic principles and norms. While observing each of these movements, we can categorize them into three namely Traditional, Literal and Reform. Movements that depend on traditional approach do not pay specific attention to the social affairs of the society as well as country. They have a policy that they never interfere or interpret the political scenario. Further, they won’t come forward to change the evils that are rampant around them. Rather, they content merely with practicing some rituals. Instead of depending primarily on human efforts for succeeding in social reforms which is supposed to happen gradually, they await for divine miracles to be descended from sky.

On the other side, some reform movements that have been working for decades are making effort to reform the society as well as to contribute the nation. They argue that Islam emphasizes on social engagement and reformation and the latter can be happened gradually not radically. The ways they follow in order to reform the society are moderate and gradual. They totally agree that educating the public is one of the premier ways to cultivate their mind, heart and actions. The point where some intellectuals disagree with them is, they mostly depend on adaptation reform rather than transformational reform. However, they appreciate them for their internal serious discussions, which have emerged only few years ago, on how to come forward to communicate and contribute in national issues such as uplifting education and protecting the environment from pollution.

Literal approach is practiced by some movements and they have divided into number of groups. They mostly interpret the premier sources, AL-Quran and prophetic traditions, literally and don’t prefer to go beyond literal meaning. The main different between reform and literal approaches is the former focuses on the text and context while the later concerns on the text only without having a deep understand on context. Reform approach has dialectical and dual ways process and the literal approach has only one-way process. Scholars from reform approach strongly believe that the dialectical process is one of the essentials during interpreting the text, in which, at the beginning, the interpreter looks at the particular environment where the Quranic verses were applied and how the prophet Muhammad handled and managed to solve the social issues like poverty and discriminating women. Then he comes to current context aiming to apply the fundamental ethical frame in order solve, manage or reduce the particular problem.

This would be a very brief introduction to the approaches of the movements that prevail within the Muslim Community in Sri Lanka. There is another thing to be reiterated when we discuss on the reform projects of Sri Lankan Muslim society. All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU), which is considered as the leading institution and has more authority and power than others, is mostly depends on Traditional approach. Its reflections and implications can be seen in thoughts and activities of most of its members, who graduated from very traditional Madrasas. Similarly, this reflects in its legal opinions that are frequently uploaded in their websites and published in leaflets. The particular institution has been in practice of traditional approach and adopted strict policies with regards to implementation of Islamic Jurisprudence. Apart from that, it does not have enough courage to welcome or include other approaches into the institutional frame. “Exclusive approach” is maintained by the institution instead of “Inclusive approach”. This may cause a worst impacts and consequences in reforming project of Sri Lankan Muslims. Muslim intellectuals like university lecturers, experts and professionals are somewhat reluctant to absorb this type of approach. Establishment of National Shoora Council (NSC), which consists of academicians and experts from various fields in order to confront the modern challenges, is a vivid testimony for afore said reluctance. This hypothetical statement should be tested via a research work.

None of Sri Lankan Muslims will disagree on the point that ACJU should adopt ‘inclusive’ approach instead of ‘exclusive’. However, they will disagree with the point, from where the reform project should be started. Here I wish to indicate some basic points that are very essential when it comes to dealing with crisis in religious leadership.

1.    As of me, I would say the curriculum of Madrasa (Arabic college) is primary root cause for this crisis. It should be revisited, reversed and reformed. Most Madrasas, from where the future religious leaders are produced, depend merely on classical books alone rather than maintaining a balance between traditional and modern. It is undeniable that the Madrasa student should be educated both text and socio-economic political context where he lives. He should be taught even basic knowledge on history, politics, new world order, comparative religions and so on.

2.    ACJU should design a pragmatic mechanism to adapt inclusive approach keeping aside discrepancies and dissensions. As elaborated earlier, currently, traditional approach has a great influence in this organization and other approaches are marginalized to some extent. It can be observed in each and every decisions and legal opinions that have been published by ACJU. Religious personals from various movements and approaches, without any discrimination, should be included considerably. This will create an amicable atmosphere where traditions and approaches can meet together, discuss the issues and come to fruitful conclusions. I strongly believe that this is not an easy task meanwhile it is not an impossible task too.

3.    Muslims have another alternative option. National Shoora Council is healthier than ACJU structurally even though the former was initiated only few years ago and the latter has been working for decades. Experts, activists and professionals from various fields such as economics, politics, psychology and religion have been predominantly included by NSC while only religious clergies are permitted to have membership in ACJU. Current situation is quite complex. It would be very difficult to confront contemporary issues without having profound knowledge about the socio- political context. From this background, strengthening NSC also would be a preferable strategy for Sri Lankan Muslims in order to uplift the society as well as to contribute the nation. The rivalry that can be emerged in upcoming years between these two institutions is unpreventable.

These are only few suggestions that can be developed in future. Moreover, it is worthy to note that critical researches on Muslim organizations and their approaches must be carried out in order to come up with optimum solutions for internal crisis.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Abolish ACJU .
    It is outdated .

    It has no good scholars to identitify and make meaningful reforms.
    It is politically influences.
    It is now down to politics .
    It is literal school of thought ..
    It is looking forward to control Muslim community…
    It thinks that people support them ..
    But not at all..only some sufi and outdated people will go with them .
    It is waste of time and energy .
    Let us abolish it ..

  • 4

    Things to be abolished cannot be reformed.

    • 3

      Of course ..
      That is true .
      Things to be abolished..
      How could be reformed?
      What a joke?

    • 4

      A beautiful saying to put the whole thing in a nutshell.


    • 0


      And the long list of things still survive under the pretext, either they have gone through reforms or undergoing reforms. Imagine, if a minority’s ACJU is protected this much due to political influence, the amount of influence the majority concerned is receiving from political angle..

  • 7

    What about Dr Shukri Director of NALEEMI? Who has signed the Faiz Mustafa’s report along with ACJU.

    Show me a single Islamic Theologian who has signed Saleem Marsoof’s report?

    Dilhara Amarasinghe?
    Suhada Gamalath?
    Sharya Scharenguivel?

    Don’t just blabber!

  • 5

    Have seen how Python coils-up its prey before devouring it, likewise a deviant satanic cult called thableeq is encircling the ACJU, as you are aware, these innovators of new and weird things into religion (known as bida’h) are part of its internal problems. As you also would very well know that erudite Islamic scholars of international repute have condemned this cult group of thableeq as TRANSGRESSORS, which operates only in the Indian subcontinent, therefore there is a dire need to get rid of this group and remove the bad apples from ACJU itself, then a turnaround may be expected, as you suggest for those people who still wish to have this organisation, given if it can function as a moderate, impartial, non-materialistic & non-political entity.

  • 4

    Dear Iqbal ..

    Tablighi is comparatively better than Wahabi idiots …
    Tablighi did not support Isreal ..
    But wahabi..with Saudi agents ..
    Tablighi did not support Saudi governments for its killing of people in yemon. But salafi groups do ..
    Now who is better .
    Forget about local ones and their limits .
    But today the real threat to Islam is from all Salafi groups ..
    They are real enemy of Islam ..
    Saudi is destroying Islam in the name of their politics .
    You will see soon more

    • 5

      @Lankan 3
      You see when you have a pre-conceived notion, your judgement can be flawed. To make your point you compared Thableeq to something which I didn’t mention in my comment. I don’t belong to any group but strive as much as possible with the grace of Allah (swt) to be rightly guided. That said nobody will disagree with you if you want to call the present Saudi Rulers as infidels, enemies of Islam and humanity or even monsters, as the world is witnessing the atrocities they’re committing in the Middle East, which unfortunately you and I cannot stop; however, when you insult a much-revered Reformer like Sheikh Abdul Wahab and his followers as idiots you are committing blasphemy and there is a tendency you’re self-inflicting a curse, (I don’t wish you misfortune) yet better be careful next time. When the Ottoman’s were defeated they created and spread this myth of Wahabism, so now everybody repeats it like a parrot. As for Thableeq I have few relatives & friends involved in it as well, they’re good people but their concept & ideology doesn’t comply with (Aqeeda), the Islamic belief system, so why would one waste his time engaging in it.

      • 0


        Your laborious efforts to rightly defend and deservedly sanitize the morbid ignorance surrounding the noble scholar Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Rahimahullah deserves praise. In an era where Muslims have virtually refused to seek true knowledge instead succumb to calculated propaganda essentially aimed at maligning and demonizing true Islam it occasions for true reflection.

  • 5

    Bloody humbugs idiots. It all are like the Sinhala native idiom says – where are you going, coconuts in the bags. Let it be Muslims, Tamils or Sinhalese, they are all good masters at creating and prolonging problems and issues. They all get highly thrilled and greatly enjoy it. For most of them, it’s their full and past time activity. All of them never want to slove issues fast, so that people could live well. Man! Women are our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, and they are our flesh and blood. So how could men treat them differently, and below their dignity. The Holy Quran and Rasoollulah’s Sunah have givin the highest place for the wemon. That’s why Rasoollulah’s said the Jinnah is at the feet of the mother. So please brothers and sisters, don’t play foodball with these things for they effect lives of innocent wemon and kids. I’ve seen and experienced the pain and hardships of these wemon and children when the men walked out of them without any mercies, and not doing anything to care for them. The men Qathies are biased, not educated enough or trained well to deal with these phathic issues, and they most of the time take side of men. Hence, there should be some form of women respresntation to give a better hearing to the women and kids, so this wouldn’t be against religion. These things are found in and working well in all the Muslims majority countries like – Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan etc. ACJ couldn’t say they are the masters of every thing and all to have look only to them, no way, there are many good scholars and laymen/wemon who have very sound knowledge in all these matters so their insights and views too counts greatly in this.

  • 4

    The real solution for all the problems among Muslims is for Muslims to become truly Islamic not just in appearance and in being ritualistic but in actual practice in EVERYTHING they do. The vast majority of Muslims today, not just in Sri Lanka but the world over, are Only Muslims by appearance Not in practice. The spirit of Islamic Teachings about Life and Living is not to be found. I have my doubts as to whether even the Madrasahs pay any attention to it.

    Whoever is concerned about reformation of Muslims, MUST look for ways and means to inculcate the Spirit of Islam among Muslims. That is the ONLY way and there is NO Other way.

  • 5

    Brother Rishard 1

    The members of the local Muslim Community must decide whether they are :
    Muslims, who are Sri Lankans (i.e. Sri Lankan Muslims), or
    Sri Lankans, who are Muslims (i.e. Muslim Sri Lankans)

    The questions of ‘reformation’ are contingent upon the perceptions of the Muslim community regarding this basic identity problem.

    Sri Lankan Muslims (as defined above) would seek to strengthen their basic identity as ‘Muslims’ by becoming more exclusive and hence extremist in their demands.
    Muslim Sri Lankans (as defined above) would seek to strenthen their basic identity as ‘Sri Lankans’ by becoming more inclusive and hence empathetic in their demands.

    The adherents of the ‘SLM’ school of thought believe (falsely, in my opinion) that their goal should be to achieve an Islamic way-of-lfe which closely resembles that of the first generation of Arab Muslims. They conveniently choose to forget that the Holy Quran is for all-people, for all-times and for all-places. The text of the Holy Quran was used to address an audience who were uneducated, ignorant and illiterate and who treated their women as chattel slavery. Unfortunately however, the Holy Quran was subsequently interpreted (by chance or design) by ‘scholars’ as sanctifying the Arab way-of-life and promoted as being the ‘Islamic ideal’. This is the modus operandi of the Literalists. This is the direction in which the local Literalists are attempting to move the ‘sheep’ through the use of fear.

  • 5

    Brother Rishard 2

    For instance, a recent article in CT informed the readers that “the Qur’an in Surah (Chapter) 04 (An-Nisa: Verse 06) has used the term ‘until they reach the age of marriage’ without assigning a numerical value.” and the writer (a Literalist) agues that to fix a numerical value “on a calendar age [at 18 or 16 yrs.] will be damaging to the Muslim Ummah as a whole”. By leaving the age of marriage open, the writer is advocating the adoption of the established animalistic sexual behaviour of medieval Arabs by the local Muslims. Why animalistic ? Because in the animal world, the Alpha males instinctually copulate with young females in their group no sooner such females reach sexual maturation – even though these young females may be their own off-spring. The fact that the Arabs in a Muslim-majority country have interpreted the Holy Quran to rationalize and perpetuate (and thereby sanctify) their sexual behavior does not mean that it must be the norm for all Muslims, especially those residing in minority-Muslim countries like Sri Lanka.

    If the local Muslim community truly desires some degree of reform, they have no alternative but to approach this issue as (Muslim) Sri Lankans and not as (Sri Lankan)Muslims. In the process, the Muslim community will strengthen what they have in common with the other religious communities and dilute the differences without having to compromise on any of the tenets of Islam.

  • 8

    Brother Rishard 3

    The ACJU were once Traditionalists (to use the writer’s classification), but they have over the past 15 years become intransigent Literalists. there is only a thin line seperating the former from the latter. The primary role of the Theologians was to guide and advise members of the community on matters pertaining to Islamic jurisprudence. Whether or not the members, individually or collectively, chose to heed the guidance / advice of the scholars is not the responsibility of the ACJU. On the Day of Judgement, the Almighty will not punish the ACJU for the foibles of individual members of the community. The ACJU will not be held accountable for the ‘misdeeds’ of the masses. So why then is the ACJU attempting to emerge as Enforcers of Islamic Jurisprudence to the local Muslim community ?

    The National Shoora Council came into being at the height of the recent anti-Muslim agitations for the primary purpose of establishing peace, harmony and reconciliation between the Muslims and Buddhist communities. Sadly, they failed miserably to do so. Worse still, the NSC has since lost it’s way and has been hijacked by politicians and extremists who are using it to further their own agendas. The NSC has failed to realize that the absence of ‘war’ does not mean the advent of ‘peace, harmony and understanding’. The issues that nearly set the country on fire – halaal, black abaya, external mosque loudspeakers, population growth and mosque-building – are still unresolved and possess the potential to assume volcanic proportions the next time.

    Depending therefore on the ACJU or the NSC to give some kind of lead to any ‘reform’ movement is a non-starter.

  • 2

    Reforms to SL Muslims can not happen until an individual is reformed. An individual can not be reformed until there is majority/minority complex is there.

  • 1

    Not quite sure as to what N M Rishard is saying in ~ “Reform & Sri Lankan Muslims”.
    ‘Democracy’ the world over is drifting away from ‘Ideal Democracy’ in which all citizens are equal. The Lankan democracy has gone into an ‘election only’ version. Lankans are told of the necessity of ‘second class citizens’. ACJU accepts this because it can be stretched to the (perverse?) view “Lankan Muslim women are Lankan Muslim home chattel”
    ACJU is powerful enough to intimidate Lankan lawmakers are intimidated with possible loss of Muslim votes. To ACJU silencing Muslim activists is chicken-feed.
    ACJU never raised an eyebrow over the prevalence of the culture of corruption/nepotism/impunity.
    To cut a long story short: MMDA1950 and ACJU must be dumped.

  • 3

    ACJU is defunct. The wise judge, Justice SM in his wisdom has suggested reforming the archaic MMDA(1951). Unfortunately Muslim S L politics has greatly influenced the ACJU and the present first Female Justice Minister seems to be a pawn in the hands of the ACJU and is silent on this suggested reform causing suffering in a large segment of young marriageable Muslim girls.
    The current lawful practice in SL is akin to that of the ancient desert Arabs who burried their newborn female babies alive in preference to only live male babies; surely the SL public should be agast of this reality; very quick progressive action is needed.

    • 3


      What evidence do you have for your allegation:

      “suffering in a large segment of young marriageable Muslim girls.”

      Do you have any facts and figures? If so, why don’t you produce it?

      • 0

        No facts or figures. I know the community well.
        Try doing a survey of the Muslim community if you are really interested in getting answers to your scientific curiosity.

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