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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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CONTENTS OF
THIS SECTION

Last updated
29/10/07

More on the Muslim Question:Two Published Records from the Past - Sachi Sri Kantha, 28 January 2006
On the Mischievous Game of Muslims - Sachi Sri Kantha, 27 January 2006

The Tamil-Muslim Question:  Again - Jana Nayagam, Tamil Guardian, 21 December  2005

Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims- Sachi Sri Kantha, October/November 2005
Memorandum of Understanding between the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, October 2005
 “Restored ancestral Tamil-Muslim affinity and solidarity is the need of the time”  - Abdul Jawath, Vice President, Federation of Mosques and Muslim Institutions, Kattankudy, 14 February 2005
 Ancient Eastern village caught in cycles of violence, K.N.Tharmalingam, Northeastern Herald, May 2004.
New Year’s Bloody Dawn – Karativu 1985, K.N.Tharmalingam, Northeastern Herald, October/November 2003
State and Muslims desecrate ancient Tamil village - K.N.Tharmalingam, Northeastern Herald, May/June 2003
 The gruesome threshing floor in Udubankulam,K.N.Tharmalingam, Northeastern Herald, February 2003.
Sri Lanka Muslims: Tamil Converts or Arab Descendents? - Shan Ranjit, 29 October 2000
And now, Muslims driven to the wall  - M.Hamza Haniffa, 1998
The Muslim Factor in Sri Lankan Ethnic Crisis  - Ameer Ali , 1997
The forced evacuation of Muslims in 1989 - Nadesan Satyendra, 1996
Tamil Muslims & Tamil Eelam  - Peer Mohamed, 1996

LTTE's Eelam Project and the Muslim People - Dharmaretnam Sivaram, 1992

Islamic Revivalism in Harmony and Conflict: The Experience in Sri Lanka and Malaysia  - Ameer Ali, 1984
The National Question & the Muslims  - V.I.S.Jeyapalan, 1981
Political Profile of the Muslim Minority of Sri Lanka - Urmila Phadnis, 1979

Offsite Links

Arabs, Moors and Muslims: Sri Lankan Muslim ethnicity in regional perspective
McGilvray
Contributions to Indian Sociology, 1998
Marakkala-an eAnthology of Sri Lankan Muslims
Muslims & Sri Lanka
Meelparvai
M.H.M. Ashraff, 1948-2000
Sri Lanka's Muslims -Andrew Forbes, 2001
Osama's shadow on Sri Lanka?, 2002

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MUSLIMS & TAMIL EELAM

An Introduction to the Muslim Question

- From a paper presented at the
International Federation of Tamils Conference "Towards a Just Peace"

February 1992


The origins of the Muslims in the North-East of Sri Lanka, as accepted by many historians are obscure. It has not been established whether they are the descendants of the Shafi Sect of Muslims who migrated to Sri Lanka from Arabia as far back as the nineth century or those of the migrant Muslims who became a settled community in the early twelfth century.

The Muslim elite has also been refuting the point of view of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, a Tamil member of the Executive Council of Ceylon, that the Muslims of Sri Lanka including those settled in the North-East originated from South India and were Tamils who embraced Islam.

The same elitist group, while admitting that the Muslims use Tamil as their everyday language and their ancestors took Tamil women as their partners, denied that they were culturally similar to the Tamils. This group also maintained that they were a distinct religious and ethnic group.

The Muslims of the North-East who constituted only 38% of the total Muslim population of the Island engaged themselves mainly in agriculture and fisheries for their livelihood, whereas the rest of the 62% living in the South are primarily traders and businessmen. The Southern Muslims are also educationally and economically more advanced than those of the North- East. This accounts for their dominant political role and leadership.

The Muslim political leaders, mostly from the South, decided the destinies of their brethren in the North-East. They also fully aligned themselves with Sinhalese political parties which formed the successive governments and implemented the repressive measures which affected the rights, liberties and freedom of both the Tamils and Muslims.

This clearly explains the lack of consciousness and non- participation of the vast majority of the Muslims of the North-East in the non-violent agitations and liberation struggle of the Tamils. Their leadership, by keeping their people out and avoiding involvement, achieved their two objectives of earning the sympathy of the majority Sinhalese leaders in power and maintaining their separateness as a distinct ethnic minority different from the Tamils.

This isolation of the Muslims and their leaders, however, should not in any way affect the decision of the Tamils to secure and guarantee the safety, rights, freedom and development of the Muslim minority in the traditional homeland of the Tamils. Steps taken for a just peace in the Island of Sri Lanka, therefore, should include this as a key element in the agenda for any lasting and just peace.

HISTORY

Muslim elitist writers highlighted in their writings the consorted stand of their leadership that the first Arabic settlers of the Island were Hashemites, a migratory tribe who left Arabia in the seventh century because of persecution as a result of a change in the ruling dynasty.

This was purely to refute the hypothesis advanced in the latter part of the ninteenth century that the Ceylon Moors/Muslims were descendants of South Indian Tamils converted to Islam.

Their objective was to distiguish the Ceylon Muslim from the coast Moors of South India and the Ceylon Tamils.

However it is believed that a few hundreds of Shafi Muslims of the Shafi Sect began migrating to the Island as far back as the nineth century. They came as traders and extended their interest from import/export trade to internal trade. By the beginning of the twelfth century Muslims were emerging as a settled community. They were scattered along the coastal areas but some of them moved into the interior. A considerable number of those settled in the coast of the then Eastern and Northern provinces earned their livelihood by engaging in agriculture, fisheries, and local crafts.

It is also believed that the Muslims who settled in the Southern sector of the Eastern Province took Tamil women as their partners. The arrival of the Portugese hindered the traditional occupation of the Muslims of the South, namely trade. These Muslims were also subjected to persecution. However the economic activities of the Muslims of the North-East remained unaffected even after the arrival of the Portugese to the Island.

The revival of Buddhism and the entry of the emerging class of Sinhalese traders into the arena resulted in a clash of trading interests between the Sinhalese and Muslim traders. This also promoted economic competition which culminated in a number of clashes between the two groups. In the meantime, antagonism against the coast Moors was building up in the Sinhalese areas because of their pawn-brokering and money-lending activities.

An attempt was made in this hostile atmosphere by the coast Moors to interfere with the religious activities of the Buddhists at Gampola in the Central Province which sparked off the riots of 1915.

Even though these riots did not affect the Muslims of the North-East, the attitude of Sir P Ramanathan in taking a positive stand against the harsh action of the British colonial Government to curb the riots and his support for the Sinhalese did not meet with their approval.

This also strained to some degree the relationships, generally between the Tamils and Muslims.

When the demand for 50/50 representation in the proposed parliament was placed before the Soulbury Commission as a panacea for the minority problems in Ceylon, the All-Ceylon Moors' Association which represented the entire Muslim population withdrew its support for this proposal.

This action of the Moors' Association had a dual purpose.

Their contention was that supporting the 50/50 proposals of the Tamil Congress would tantamount to accepting Ramanathan's hypothesis that they were descendants of Tamils who embraced Islam and would go against their own identity as a religious ethnic group. By their not supporting this move and taking a pro-Sinhala stance in independent Sri Lanka, they would according to them safeguard their trading and commercial interests.

CURRENT SITUATION (1992)

Many attribute the present state of affairs in the East to the Second Eelam War in June 1989 and the collapse of the talks between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lanka Government. But the fact is that the relationship between the Tamils and Muslims had been strained for sometime before the Second Eelam War and even before the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.

Again, any meaningful consideration of the Muslim question cannot be separated from a consideration of the strategy adopted by the Sri Lankan Government to deny the Tamils a separate homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Over the past several decades, the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan Government has adopted three main strategies to counter the Tamil demand for recognition of the Tamil homeland.

Firstly, planned state aided colonization and settlement of Sinhala peasants.

Secondly, the establishment of a permanent military divide at Manal Aru to drive a wedge between the North and East.

Thirdly, securing a permanent rift between Tamils and Muslims in the East by making land as the bone of contention.

Security forces have not succeeded in de-linking the supply lines to the East at Manal Aru. But the Sri Lankan government has succeeded in creating a rift between the Muslims and Tamils in the East. However, there is no guarantee that the Sri Lankan government will not let down the Muslims in the long term perspective. In the event that Tamils are defeated in the East, Sri Lankan government will have no further use for the Muslims.

Again if the Tamils progress towards their goal of separation what of the Muslims? In the alternative if the Tamils decide to consider any make-shift solutions, what then could be the solution for the Muslims? Finding a solution for the Muslims will be the main factor that will be going against a peace settlement.

In the early 1980s, when the liberation struggle of the Tamils intensified, in the East, several Muslim youths joined it. Some became martyrs. But when it came to a question of reprisals by the Sri Lanka army, the Muslims because of their separate identity, enjoyed a measure of security.

Those Muslims who did not like to lose this privilege tended to maintain a 'neutral' attitude towards Tamil militant groups. However, even in the mid 80's, till the emergence of the Jihad movement created by the Sri Lankan Government, the relationship between the Muslims and the Tamil militant groups was generally speaking, not hostile.

The Government created the Jihad movement mainly to prevent the Tamils and Muslims from joining forces. They felt that in this way, they could destroy Tamil militancy in the East. With the emergence of Jihad, the relationship between the two communities deteriorated. Jihad and its sympathizers opposed the presence of Tamil militants in the Muslim community.

There were sporadic incidents of violence. The suspicions between the two communities became sharper. As the Sri Lankan army was always in the background, the Tamils claimed that they were the most affected by these clashes. But the confrontation was not as fierce, as it is now. There were clashes in '85, '86 and '87.

These clashes increased with the induction of the Indian Army in 1987 and 1988. When the Indian Army entered Tamil homeland, it was seen as a force supporting the liberation of the Tamils. In the North, it perceived as the force which saved the Tamils from 'Operation Liberation'. In the East, it was seen as a force against those Sinhalese colonists who threatened the Tamils and as a force which strengthened the Tamils who had been attacked by the Muslims.

The Tamil groups who came along with the Indian Army took revenge on the Sinhala colonists as well as those Muslims who had earlier harassed the Tamils. As a result many Muslim villages were badly affected. Muslims who were already prejudiced against India because of their affinity towards Pakistan, hated the Indian Army as well as the Tamil groups. This hatred made them turn towards the Tigers and support them in larger numbers. It was at this stage the Muslim Congress entered the political scene.

Muslim Congress is a party based on religion. It had mosques as its base. They participated for the first time in the December 1988 Provincial Council elections. The Muslim Congress which was opposed to India highlighted in its election campaign the atrocities perpetrated by the Indian forces on their women and the desecration of their places of worship. This emotional appeal succeeded tremendously.

The Muslim Congress emerged as a powerful party in the East based, on religion. The Muslim Congress opposed the Tamil national liberation struggle. It feared that the Muslims would get immersed in Tamil nationalism and lose their religious identity.

Within a short span of their political existence, the Muslim Congress had to face and take decisions on complicated emotional issues. Such decisions which were taken in haste, showed a sense of political immaturity. There was then a sudden transformation and the Muslim Congress spoke in support of the Indian Army's presence in Sri Lanka.

This turn about by the Muslim Congress, according to informed sources, was due to the fact that the leader of the group had been indirectly intimidated by an armed group, supposedly pro-Indian. Thereafter, it was alleged that he had received financial assistance from the Indian Government. Later two hundred Muslim youths were reported to have received training at the hands of the Indian Army at Uppukarachi in the Akkaraipattu area.

Thus when the Second Eelam war started, the Muslim Congress supported the Sri Lanka Government. It lacked the foresight to ponder on the after-effects of such an attitude on the Muslims.

Propaganda against the Tigers commenced in mosques in the East. Tigers did not lay restrictions on their Muslim cadres regarding their religious observances. At the mosques these cadres listened to the propaganda aired against the Tigers. They were also treated as outcasts and exhorted to defect with their arms. After such exhortation twenty Muslim youths deserted with arms and joined their fold.

Many other Muslims who were in rival set-ups against the Tamils, joined their ranks and supported the Army. The Tamils least expected such desertion from their ranks and they still hold the view that they were deceived by the Muslims. It was hatred towards the Indian army which drove them into the Tiger-fold. This support was withdrawn as suddenly as it came.

This sudden turn could be attributed to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. Regardless of these facts, the spark that set off the Second Eelam War was ironically concerned with an incident in which a Muslim tailor figured.

Today the Muslims have been displaced in the North. They have no protection in the East where they have to be under the full protective power of the Army. In such a predicament where they have to be at the mercy of the Army, the Muslims have mostly lost their bargaining power with the Sri Lankan Government. This plight has to be interpreted as a humiliating political defeat for the Muslim Congress.

 

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