Friday 28 June 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Sri Lanka

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is actually a Buddhist dominated country with Hinduism, Islam and Christianity as its three minority religions. After Hinduism, which is about 12.6% of its populations, Muslims constitute about 10% of its population or some 2.1 million Muslims living on the Island.

Muslims arrived the island in the 7th century when Arab traders were trying to find new trade routes. By the 8th century A.D., Arab traders had taken control of much of the trade on the Indian Ocean, including that of Sri Lanka. Many of them settled down on the island in large numbers, ushering in the era of Islam. From 16th to `9th century, Arab Moors, Javanese (Muslims from the central and eastern parts of the island of Java, in Indonesia) and Malaysian Muslims added to the growing Muslim population on the island. Their descendants, now the Sri Lankan Malays, adopted several Sri Lankan Moor Islamic traditions while also contributing their unique cultural Islamic practices to other Muslim groups on the Island.

The arrival of Muslims from India during the 19th and 20th centuries has also contributed to the growth of Islam in Sri Lanka. Most notably, Pakistani and South Indian Muslims have introduced Shafi'i and the Hanafi school of thought into Sri Lanka. Despite this, most Muslims on the island still adhere to the traditional practices of Sunni Islam.
Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, mosque in Pettah area is one of the oldest mosques in Colombo [Photo: Wikipedia]

Presently, Muslims in Sri Lanka are handled by the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department, which was established in the 1980s to prevent the continual isolation of the Muslim community from the rest of Sri Lanka. Muslims of Sri Lanka, mostly continue to derive from the Moor and Malay ethnic communities on the island with smaller numbers of converts from other ethnicities, such as the Tamils.

In Sri Lanka as a whole, Muslims suffer from low literacy rates and systematic discrimination. As a result, only few Muslim politicians have managed to secure ministerial jobs or diplomatic positions. During the 26-year Sri Lankan Civil War, the Muslim community was “the target of discrimination, political violence, massacres and ethnic cleansing” by the rebel Tamil Tigers and the government-backed Sinhalese nationalists. On August 3, 1990, LTTE gunmen entered the Meera Jumma mosque of the Muslim-majority town of Kattankudy, “locked the doors to prevent escape and began firing into the crowd” of 300 worshipers. Using automatic weapons, they killed more than 100 people.  During the 1990s and 2000s, the LTTE killed 1,050 Muslims and forced 120,000 of them to leave their homes, lands, businesses and possessions behind in the north. The government has largely ignored the internally displaced Muslims, and there “has been no government inquiry into the LTTE’s massacres and expulsions of Muslims or meaningful apology.”

There are 749 Muslim schools in Sri Lanka, 205 madrasas which teach Islamic education, and an Islamic university in Beruwala (Jamiya Naleemiya). Al Iman Schools in Colombo was the first organization of Islamic schools of its kind, teaching an integrated Islamic curriculum since 2008. In the early 20th century there were few Muslim professionals in accounting, medicine, engineering, etc., but at present they are exceeding the national average. Due to the lack of opportunity in Sri Lanka, many Muslim professionals are emigrating to get jobs abroad, such as to the Middle East, United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. The Moors have had better social and economic mobility, mainly due to the historic head start they had in getting education and government jobs under the British colonial rule.

The life of Muslims have recently gone under a major change since the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings. No one is really sure in the government or even among Muslims as to why the bombing did take place in the first palace. Whatever the reason and agenda, this brought to fore the presence of radical National Thowheeth Jama'ath, a Salafi influenced organization, was behind the bombings, leading to increasing censorship of Salafi movement in Sri Lanka.

And since early this year, the life of Muslims has undergone a major change. Most of the Muslims denounced the tragic incident and in fact are in forefronts demanding that the perpetrators to be caught and held accountable for the harm they have inflicted on people of many diverse communities and the fact that the actions of these extremists are antithesis of the teachings of Islam – a religion which promotes peace and unity.
Anti Muslim sentiments [Photo: AFP/BBC]

Despite the Muslim stance and stand against the terrorism, the backlash has been brutal as Mosques and Muslim-owned shops have been vandalized or set on fire. In the north-western town of Kiniyama, hundreds of people stormed a mosque, destroying windows and doors and burning Korans, according to witnesses. The attack was triggered by a group of people demanding a search of the building after soldiers inspected a lake nearby looking for weapons, as reported by the Reuters news agency. A large pasta factory was burned near Minuwangoda, with the owners accusing police of standing by while employees were trapped inside. 

Although, the government says that security forces have restored calm to streets in the areas affected by violence and insist officers are preventing revenge attacks on Muslims, the unrest prevails in Muslim dominated communities. There is concern among Muslims that their fears about retaliatory violence were not acted on soon enough.

The daily anti Muslim charges rather look silly but enough to harass them. One Muslim woman’s crime was to wear a shirt printed with a ship’s helm. Her accusers said it looked like the wheel of dharma, so she must be mocking Buddhism, the religion of the majority. A young Muslim man was nabbed for having three sim cards in his pocket, and a broken memory card. True, he worked in a phone shop, but police insisted he must have snapped the memory card to hide nefarious contents. A rich Muslim doctor was accused of having secretly sterilized 4,000 women by pinching their Fallopian tubes. More than 700 of the supposed victims have complained, enraged by rumours of a fertility “jihad” against non-Muslims. 

A top Buddhist monk,Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thero, called for violence against members of the religious minority, and stoning the Muslims. The monk, who heads the Asgiriya Chapter, one the largest and oldest Buddhist chapters in Sri Lanka, went on to call for a boycott of Muslim-owned restaurants, reinforcing a long-standing and unsubstantiated rumour that Muslim restaurants served their Buddhist customers food spiked with sterilization medication. "Don't eat from those [Muslim] shops. Those who ate from these shops will not have children in future," he told worshipers at a temple in the central district of Kandy, where that same rumour had unleashed days of anti-Muslim riots last year.

After the Easter bombing in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist nationalists are exploiting anti-Muslim sentiment and Muslims are living a life on a razor's edge:
Unfortunately, I could not find anything positive about the life of Muslims in Sri Lanka. Perhaps the Easter attacks have marred everything, even the good image of Muslims and their contribution to the country. Perhaps there would be better days some day!!

Author's Note: The data above has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | Main Source:  Wikipedia | Other Sources : | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
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