1 December, 2020

Blog

Sri Lankan Muslims In America

By Imtiyaz Razak , and S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Dr. Imtiyaz Razak

The Muslims of Sri Lanka are the second largest minority after the Tamils and by demographic trends due to the ethnic conflict may soon form the largest minority.  The male ancestors of the Muslim community are believed to have entered Sri Lanka a thousand years ago through seafaring Arab traders who married local non-Muslim women, Tamil as well as Sinhalese, and settled principally in the port cities. Slowly as itinerant traders, Muslim villages were established in the interior too. Affinity with large Muslim settlements in South India meant that they would marry Tamil women more and adopt Tamil as their home language.

However, communal rivalries and Muslim elite politics resulted in Muslims explicitly declaring themselves a community distinct from the Tamils. As the Tamil revolt against the Sri Lankan state gathered momentum from 1983, Muslim masses got caught in the middle over whether Muslims were agreeable to being incorporated in a Tamil geographical unit, while the Muslim political establishment centered in Colombo offered explicit support and cooperation to the Sinhalese dominated government against the Tamil quest for justice.  The reasons behind the Muslim elites’ support are complex and difficult to understand. However, scholarly studies suggest that the Muslim political establishment supported the Sinhalese polity against the Tamil cause to win positions in Sri Lanka’s polity to maximize their trade interests.

Prof S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Muslims’ trade interests have integrated them heavily with other communities.   Sri Lankan Muslims in America understand this logic and thus progressively mix with other Muslims rather than with their Sri Lankan counterparts. Their energetic participation in community building activities in America such as establishing mosques and Islamic education centers significantly suggest their commitments to wider Islamic goals and their social and political endeavors with other Muslims in America.  Their social life is increasingly adoptive of the mores of the wider world-wide Muslim community. In some ways this is a continuation of the ongoing processes in Sri Lanka, facilitated by new wealth and accelerated by separation from the community – change away from the sari to North Indian Muslim clothes and more recently among younger girls to jeans and shirt together with a shawl to hide the contours of the figure.

Though the caste system is one of the key traits of identity formation among South Indian Muslims, it plays no significant role among the Muslims of Sri Lanka, though they too share intrinsically complicated social practices such as dowry with other South Indians.  Generally speaking, Sri Lankan Muslims desist from the practice of dowry.  It is important to mention that Islam permits Mahr, a gift in Arabic, which it mandates that a groom give the bride at marriage.

Islam strictly prohibits Muslims marrying non-Muslims unless the non-Muslim adopts Islam.  As a result, American-Sri Lankan Muslims seek partners within their own community, usually from Sri Lanka.

American-Sri Lankan Muslims maintain loosely maintained organizations such as the Association of Sri Lankan Muslims in North America. Sri Lankan Muslims have less interest in organizations run by Sri Lankan non-Muslims because of their disinterest in connecting with those who do not share their faith.

American Sri Lankan Muslims, deeply concerned about global post-cold war developments that panic Muslims across the world, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, are harshly critical about the US led war on terrorism that they see as targeting Muslims. They see a hostile milieu for Muslims in America, including Sri Lankan Muslims. Their attitudes and choices pertaining to their social and community life such as their food, clothing and thinking patterns have changed dramatically as a symbolic attachment to their religion. The recent conversion of a Sri Lankan Muslim teenager to Christianity and her running away while the US courts prevented her being restored to her parents alleging that the father would kill her, increased the sense of siege as the episode seemed to caricature and  stereotype Muslims of Sri Lankan origin.

For further reading:

1.    Q. Ismail, “Unmooring Identity: The Antinomies of Elite Muslim Self-Representation in Modern Sri Lanka,”  in Q. Ismail and P. Jeganathan (eds.), Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka, pp. 55-105. Colombo: SSA, 1997.

2.    A.R.M. Imtiyaz,  “Eastern Muslims of Sri Lanka: Special Problems and Solutions.” Journal of Asian and African Studies, Vol. 44, No 4, August 2009, pp. 404-427.

A.R.M. Imtiyaz and S.R.H. Hoole, ‘ Sri Lankan Muslims in America’, in Jonathan H.X. Lee and Kathleen Nadeau (eds), Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife [Vol. 3 ] (Santa Barbara, CA:ABC-CLIO, 2011), pp: 1068-69.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    I consider the non-allegiance to the so called fantasy land ‘Eezham’ and not subscribing to LTTE terrorism as the most grateful and most intelligent decisions made by the Sri Lankan Muslims. Pro-LTTE attempts to hoodwink the Muslims will never work, no matter what tactics they deploy. I am only reminded of the Tamil saying ‘ஆடு நனையுதுன்னு ஓநாய் அழுதுச்சாம்’ When ever I see pro-LTTE elements shedding (crocodile) tears for the Sri Lankan Muslims.

    And it is funny to see the LTTE sympathizers trying to paint their own colors regarding Muslims’ stand against separatism and LTTE.

    • 1
      0

      My Dear Rifkhana,
      Darling nobody in this world like any muslims. I live in UK, for long time. If you ask any one they will tell you.Not only in uk even europe. You all same. No body can trust you all lot. Lets face srilanka Do you beleive Sinhal or tamils trust you all lot, big nooooooooooo but leave it you rest…

      • 0
        0

        ROHAN,
        YOU SAY YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING IN UK FOR A LONG TIME. YOU ARE STILL
        WRITING IN “SINGLISH”.THE CHAP WHO PLUCKS COCONUTS, SPEAKS GOOD
        ENGLISH. MY ADVICE TO YOU IS TO FIRST TAKE A COURSE IN ENGLISH BEFORE YOU MAKE COMMENTS IN A FORUM LIKE THIS.

        TAMILS ARE HARDWORKING AND INTELLIGENT . MUSLIMS ARE GOOD BUSINESSMEN AND YOU ARE JEALOUS WHEN YOU SEE THEM DOING WELL.

        WHO CARES WHETHER YOU TRUST MUSLIMS ?

        LET ME REMIND YOU, THAT THE SINHALA KINGS DID NOT TRUST THE
        SINHALA VEDAS. THEY ALWAYS WANTED MUSLIM PHYSICIANS.

        DO YOU KNOW THAT MUSLIMS ARE SOME OF THE BEST ENGLISH JOURNALISTS
        AND TV PRESENTERS. THERE IS A MUSLIM HEADING THE SINHALA SIRASA CHANNEL.

        MUSLIMS LIVE ALLOVER THE ISLAND AND HAVE HAD NO PROBLEMS.

        MUSLIMS ARE GOOD IN ALL THREE LANGUAGES.

      • 1
        0

        But of course everybody just loves Tamils in the UK. The Met even went so far as to set up a special task force just to protect their favorite people, the Tamils (..from Tamils). Feel the love!

    • 1
      0

      The Mughals conquered most of north India and Kallathoni Muslims came from there to Ceylon. Your hair does not resemble that of the Arabs for you to claim otherwise. Go try working for the Arabs in the Middle East and you will know who you are as much as the Bangladeshi’s have realised. The first suicide bombing was carried out by a Burka woman in the Golan Heights back in 1983. 1983 Indira was assassinated therefore LTTE training took place at the Golan Heights. The fact is no one trusts a muzzie- all you can do is buy and sell. Why did you learn Tamil not Arabic; because you are kallathoni.

      • 0
        0

        IT CAN BE HISTORICALLY PROVED, ARAB TRADERS CAME TO SRI LANKA AND
        YOU WERE GOOD ENOUGH TO GIVE THEM WOMEN TO MARRY AND SETTLE DOWN.
        SINHALESE CLAIM THEY ARE DESCENDED FROM VIJAYA THE RENEGADE SON OF A LEGENDARY KING SINGHABAHU. HE REALLY WAS THE FIRST KALLATHONI.

        YOU SINHALESE ARE FROM BENGAL. YOU RESEMBLE THEM A LOT

        MUSLIMS LEARN ENGLISH, TAMIL, SINHALA, AND ARABIC.

        YOU SAY NO ONE TRUSTS A “MUZZIE”.

        YOU EXPORT YOUR WOMEN BY THE THOUSANDS TO ARAB COUNTRIES
        FOR THE DOLLARS. MUZZIES MAY NOT BE GOOD BUT THEIR MONEY IS GOOD.
        EVEN IN YOUR COUNTRY, THOUSANDS OF THEM WORK AS DOMESTICS IN MUZZIE HOMES.

        • 0
          0

          Ayman, your religion says to invite them softly not with harsh words, when misguided non-Muslims attack you should be patient and make yourself clear the teaching of Islam. Tit for tat will not do. Most of the Sinhalese are ignorant about your religion. Encourage them to study and understand your religion first. Getting angry will make them go further away, follow the example of your great Prophet Muhammed.

    • 0
      0

      Roshanaara, I had a chance to live with Sinhalese from 97 to 2001. I know how the sinhalese hate Muslim. Even my muslim friends know well how ordinary sinhalese hate them. Because of the war, they couldn’t show their anger on Muslims, but now it is their time. Muslims will taste it soon. See the latest development..
      http://www.mirror.lk/news/3885-law-college-entrance-exam-results-racially-biased

      • 0
        0

        EXAMINATION IS CONDUCTED BY THE LAW COLLEGE. DO NOT MAKE ALLEGATIONS
        WITHOUT PROOF.
        DO YOU KNOW HOW YOUR PRESIDENT AND SON ENTERED LAW COLLEGE ?

  • 0
    0

    What is that new Muslim-Tamil strange outfit that uneducated thug from the slums of Maradana in Colombo – Azath Sally – has started presumably aimed at the Muslims in the NEP? This will not fool the Tamils. This reject from the UNP-UPFA rooted in the the Colombo drug-extortion underworld is trying to do an Ashraff among the Muslims. Very unlikely he will succeed. Ashraff was an educated lawyer and was able to see ahead despite many shortcomings.

    Senguttuvan

    • 1
      0

      This is a bit harsh ,Isn’t it?

      Remember when the TNA Leader said , “Leave the Muslims to me “,soon after the LTTE was banished, and the ex General thought he was going to become the non Executive Prez and Mr RW ,the Executive PM.

      Isn’t this Mr Azath Sally’s proposition to Tamils to join with Muslim brothers and sisters as one group on equal terms better than Mr Sambandan’s demand that Muslims come under him?.

      Or does Mr Sengutuan think that this may dilute his 2 in 1 demand?.

  • 0
    0

    Sri Lankan Muslims have always been the backbone of the trading community, and have concerned themselves with good old conservative values like incentive and profit. For that they are the darlings of the UNP. Their leadership has steered them clear of ultra-nationalism. (The recent Eastern Provincial election being an exception)

    The global Muslim community on the other hand, have been plagued by a vociferous extremist element. Though the vast majority are moderate, they hardly make a whimper, and never openly criticize the global caliphate crew. They should look into this. The world is full of variety. We need to make room and accommodate all.

  • 0
    0

    I agree with Barney. The contribution of our Muslims in recent decades to Sports and the professions is remarkable. The once almost business community is producing brilliant lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, journalists and so on. They are also good and helpful neighbours tho those of us living with them in the cities and urban areas.

    Sadly, the virus of Islamic fundamentalism – characterised by a strong anti-Jewish-Israeli bias – has contaminated the thinking of some of the younger lot. That leaves room for much controversy. As for the average Lankan, while he sympathises with the Palestinians losing their land in 1948, he is not virulently anti-semitic or anti-Israeli. Members of the Rajapakse family visit Israel regularly and the regime maintains cordial relations with Israel in as much as they maintain close connections with the PLO. The average informed Lankan does not think viscerally in the Israeli-Palestinian issue and believes the process of diplomacy may eventually solve this hitherto intractable problem. Also, there are still areas locally in which we have to make headway in our path to unity and peace in an environment exacerbated by the march of contemporary socio-politics notably in the post-1980s.

    Senguttuvan

    • 0
      0

      RAJAPAKSE IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE PALESTINE SOLIDARITY ASSN.
      AT THE SAME TIME, HE IS A CLOSE ALLY OF ISRAELIS, FROM WHOM HE GOT ARMS AND ASSISTANCE TO FIGHT PRABKHARAN.
      RAJAPAKSE IS A”DOUBLE-FACED”, “FORKED TONGUE” HYPOCRITE

  • 0
    0

    Responding to reader Mr Sumanasekera’s comments I believe Mr Sampanthan made the comments mentioned in an enitrely different context. This was long after Gen.Fonseka’s bid to win the Presidency. The comment was made in respect of different formualaes put forward by the TNA to the regime to overcome stiff resistance from the Sinhala extremists when efforts were made to arrive at a solution to the National Question. You will not deny the Muslim factor is a more recent phenomena imposed by sinister forces calculated as a road-block to sabotage the on-off Sinhala-Tamil talks.

    As widely known the original significant difference between the two sides was based on Language. Until the late Ashraff emerged in the mid-1980 and took the Muslims on the basis of religion, Muslims of the NEP articulated their needs being part of the Tamil political formation post-1956. Some of them were distinguished MPs who, at times, lead some of these talks with the Sinhala Govt of the day with much aplomb and distinction.

    As to your remark I was “harsh” are you aware this punch-drunk thug has been involved in several brawls within the CMC itself?
    The ugliest was when he allegedly assaulted a CMC Commissioner in his office at Town Hall. Insiders at CMC tell me his claim to politics was that he is a close relative of Minister Fowzie. And you know what that is.

    Senguttuvan

  • 0
    0

    After the military defeat of LTTE, the gun has turned against the Muslims. The anti-Islamic forces are very active in the Island with finanancil backing of several NGOs. The jHU is in the forefront. Muslims are an integral part of Sri Lanka for well over 1000 years. It’s heartening to note a very few people who are targeting the Muslims purely out of jealous. Our family have lived for a considerable period of time with Muslims, they are religious, innocent people who love this country as we are. One should read the history to understand the contribution made by the ancestors of the present generation. To label them as ‘kallathini’ is a crime by educated people who contribute to this page. Let us love and respect them and make them partners to develop this country.

  • 0
    0

    The act of suicide bombing during war is an act of war. It was recorded in history when Japanese suicide bombers attempted to destroy Queen Mary, the British war ship, by falling into the chimney of the ship during the second world war.

    This act is neither referred in history nor spoken of as “terrorist” because it was an act of war.

    Sadly, suicide bombings cause “Colateral damage” to civilians.

    The LTTE was and is not a separatist but a liberation movement. The main objective of it was and is to liberate Tamil Eelam(TE), as mandated by the people, democratically, in 1977.

    It was running the de facto state of TE for about 20 years till 2009, defending it against the most inhuman and ruthless soldiers and GOSL, that committed crime against humanity and killed more than 70,000 Tamil civilians.

    The LTTE carried out suicide bombings against these terrible soldiers and the GOSL as acts of war. These acts therefore are not “terrorist”.

    The GOSL was too racist to recognise the liberation aspect of the LTTE and it never told this truth to its citizens, the International Community(IC) and the UN.

    Today, the Consular General of SL in Australia, in response to an article titled “Battle for our borders” in “The Australian”, even lies openly that there was no civil war in SL. He covers up the war crimes and genocide and praises the soldiers and wrongly brands the suicide bombings done by the LTTE as “terrorist”. Foolishness abounds.

    Lies, more lies and abundaant lies, propagated by SL missions abroad, made the IC and the UN to fail to bring an end to the conflict between SL and TE.

    • 1
      0

      Cool story bro. Tell it to the FBI and the 32 countries that seem to think otherwise.

  • 0
    0

    What was Dr. Imtiyaz Razick trying to say?

  • 0
    0

    I DO NOT AGREE WITH DR.IMTIYAZ. I REALLY. CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT HE IS TRYING TO CONVEY. I KNOW S.L MUSLIMS IN DIFFERENT STATES OF AMERICA, SINCE I HAVE CONNECTIONS.FURTHER I HAVE WORKED ABROAD. ONE THING ABOUT S.L. MUSLIMS IS THAT THEY ARE NOT “CLANNISH” LIKE INDO PAK MUSLIMS, HAVING THEIR OWN MOSQUES ETC.,EVEN IN SRI LANKA WE DO NOT LIVE IN “GHETTOS” AND INTERACT WITH ALL COMMUNITIES.WHILE BEING A PRACTICING MUSLIM I GIVE RESPECT TO THE OTHERS.THATS IS MY RELIGION.I TREAT OTHERS AS I WOULD WANT OTHERS TO TREAT ME. YOU GIVE AND YOU WILL GET

  • 0
    0

    I did not have any problem with Muslims. But they have started to disrepute temples. We lions are angry. We want you go back.

  • 0
    0

    >> As the Tamil revolt against the Sri Lankan state gathered momentum from 1983, Muslim masses got caught in the middle over whether Muslims were agreeable to being incorporated in a Tamil geographical unit, while the Muslim political establishment centered in Colombo offered explicit support and cooperation to the Sinhalese dominated government against the Tamil quest for justice. The reasons behind the Muslim elites’ support are complex and difficult to understand. However, scholarly studies suggest that the Muslim political establishment supported the Sinhalese polity against the Tamil cause to win positions in Sri Lanka’s polity to maximize their trade interests.<< By Dr.Imtiyaz Razak , and Prof.Dr.S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole –

    Dear All ," the Sinhalese polity against the Tamil cause to win positions in Sri Lanka’s polity to maximize their trade interests"[…].As an essential moment of domination[ Self Rule in North/East – End to Sinhalese domination with Tamils sharing political power ;-) ] relations is therefore beside the differently motivated command compliance,the domination acts stabilizing and extending in two directions: the rulers themselves have a certain legitimacy to the exercise of its sovereignty claim to secure their own power.The subjects on the other hand have at least rudimentary believe in the legitimacy of the rule, so they recognize and internalize.Moments of both legitimacy and faith-challenging-can the legitimacy of rule validity relations are derived. Legitimacy here is not to be confused with legality because legality requires a legal order, is traded in the sense shown in the Weberian theory of rule, however, that this is not always given. Legitimacy refers, besides the condition of existence in the sense of "no rule without legitimacy", but the structural principle of Sinhala Sri Lankans domination, as the form of government depends on the type of justification of legitimacy.

    Weber distinguishes in his remarks to the "three pure types of legitimate rule" three terms increased to ideal forms of rule types according to their legitimacy validity reasons: the rational, traditional and charismatic authority.

    In social reality[ Social Reality of Sri Lanka] these pure types occur in a way, but rather to more than hybrids, but only allow them a theoretical acquisition and analysis of the motives by which the rule is considered legitimate, because each of the three types including a certain legitimacy claim of rulers or legitimacy of faith ruled. :-)

    With kindest regards,

    P.V.Sri Rangan

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.