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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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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia > Tamil Muslims & Tamil Eelam

International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996


Peer Mohamed
Tamil writer from Malaysia

There is a significant difference between Muslims living in Sri Lanka and Muslims belonging to other countries of the world. Whereas Muslims living in other countries speak different languages, belong to diverse ethnic groups and different cultural backgrounds the Muslims of Sri Lanka are Tamils both by virtue of their ethnicity and also by the language they speak. It is therefore important that the Muslims of Sri Lanka, who are distinct from the Tamils only because of their religion, realise that their future is inevitably linked to the Tamils of Eelam when Tamil Eelam becomes a reality. It should be our duty to impress this fact upon the Muslims of Sri Lanka.

I come from Malaysia, a country which consists of different ethnic groups speaking different languages. In view of some incorrect and misleading statements made by the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mr Kadirgamar during his recent visit to Malaysia, I consider it would be appropriate on this occasion to clarify the true situation of the Muslims in Sri Lanka.

At the outset I must state that successive governments of Sri Lanka have been engaged in driving a wedge between the Tamils and Muslims in that country in order to suppress the Tamil national struggle and to destroy the Tamil homeland.

It should be noted that Tamil is the mother tongue and language of the home in every Muslim household in Sri Lanka. These Muslims speak neither Sinhalese nor Arabic or for that matter any other language in their homes. You will only hear Tamil songs in their homes and their deep love of the Tamil language can be gauged from the fact that they even risk their lives listening to Tamil music even when it is manifestly dangerous for them to do so in a war zone. It is rather unfortunate that these Muslims who are united to a man when it comes to their religion do not respond in like manner when it comes to their ethnicity. The same is unfortunately true of Tamil Muslims not only in Sri Lanka, but also in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia, Singapore or for that matter of Tamil Muslims living anywhere in the world.

It is important for the Tamil Muslims in Sri Lanka to realise that now is the time for them to identify who is likely to secure their rights and afford them protection. If they grasp this opportunity and throw their full weight behind the Tamil National struggle they will be assured of a secure future. Failure to do so is fraught with uncertain and gloomy prospects. If only the Muslims would join the Tamils in their heroic liberation struggle and share their sacrifices they would not only form part of the glorious history but also lay the foundation for a safe and secure life for their community in the future Tamil Eelam. On the contrary , if they continue to sit on the fence at this crucial moment in history they will regret to see their case go by default.

Although Tamil Muslims are generally conscious of their Tamil ethnicity, there is a reluctance in some sections of the community to openly identify themselves with the Tamils. It must be emphasised that religion is the only factor that distinguishes the Muslims from the Tamils and it should be no reason to alienate them from the Tamils. They should be no different from other Tamils who have embraced either Hinduism or Christianity. No one can deny the fact that but for their religion Muslims are Tamils by virtue of ethnicity and language.

It must also be mentioned that history records numerous instances in the past when Muslims had actively participated in Tamil political struggles and even gone to prison for the Tamil cause.

Some people say that the Muslims are descendants of Arabs. However, it cannot be denied that judging by the language and culture of the Muslims spread across the length and breadth of the island they are more akin to the Tamils and to the Tamil way of life. If they owed their origins to the Arabs, their language would have been Arabic or at least they would have been speaking Sinhalese, the language of the people in whose midst they have been living. It is significant that Muslims living in the heart of Sinhalese country had never abandoned Tamil as their home language.

Although there are several reasons for the clamour for a Tamil Eelam, the people who became the first and most badly hit victims of the struggle have been the Muslims. They are the ones who have been at the receiving end of the worst forms of Sinhalese chauvinist and communal attacks. They have been targeted out of envy because many among the Muslims are successful traders and prosperous land owners.

A good look at the official census figures of the Sri Lankan government would prove beyond doubt that the Muslims are the worst affected victims of the conflict in Sri Lanka. It would be obvious from the statistics that Muslims who constituted 39% of the population of the Eastern Province in 1946 were reduced to 32.2% in 1981 whereas the Sinhalese who made up only 9% in 1946 increased to 24.9% in 1981.

If only the Muslims had been vigilant and resisted the sinister moves of the Sinhalese who had been conspiring to deprive the Muslim community of their legitimate place, Amparai and Puttalam districts wouldn't have become what they are today. It must be noted that every demarcation of districts and the redefining of boundaries were intended for the sole purpose of converting them into Sinhalese majority areas and not for the sake of administrative convenience as it was often claimed.

Muslims constitute only 7% of the total population of Sri Lanka but when they join hands with the Tamils who are engaged in the struggle for liberation, their numbers will rise to 28%.

The Muslims who were in a position to influence the outcome of elections in a large number of constituencies under the old electoral system were rendered virtually impotent under the new system of proportional representation based on administrative districts Muslim have been politically orphaned.

The Muslims who had been leaders in the gem trade of Sri Lanka from ancient times but were dislodged from the position by the creation of a corporation dominated by the Sinhalese who ensured that the gem industry came under their total control.

I can cite numerous instances of how the Sinhalese have deliberately plotted to undermine the economic well being of the Muslim community. A classic case was in Puttalam where an entire bus station was demolished and a new one built at another site solely for the purpose of ridding the Muslim traders in the former place and giving all the business premises to the Sinhalese.

Muslim businesses are continuing to be attacked in several other parts of the country. As a result Muslims lands and businesses are gradually passing into Sinhalese hands and Muslims are being impoverished.

It is often claimed that Muslims have been given ministerial positions in Sinhalese governments. However, these were nothing more than dummy positions with hardly any real power. These ministers were not able to come to the rescue of the Muslim community when they were faced with dangerous situations on numerous occasions. When the Muslims came under attack by Sinhalese communalists in Puttalam in 1976 and Galle in 1982 these so called ministers could not give them any protection or even condemn the attackers. These ministerial positions only helped to project a favourable image of the Sri Lankan government to the outside world.

When the Tamil Muslims staged a peaceful demonstration against the invitation to Mossad by the Sri Lankan government the Sri Lankan armed forces opened fire in several places.

Muslims cannot afford to continue to ignore their ethnicity and language any more. It is only by joining hands with the Tamils in their liberation struggle that the Muslims will be able to ensure a bright and secure future for their community. Muslim leaders who live in Colombo for their self interest should join hands with the Tamils in the larger interest of the Muslim community. They should recognise the fact that they are different from the Tamils only because of religion and that they are one with the Tamils by reason of language and ethnicity. The earlier this fact is acknowledged the better it is for the Muslim community.

Minister Kadirgamar who visited Malaysia recently said that Tamil Muslims are being oppressed by other Tamils and that Muslims mosques are being destroyed by other Tamils, when in actual fact such destruction had been the work of Sinhalese communalists. I earnestly hope that this conference would contradict and condemn such falsehood.

Communal minded Sinhalese leaders had started the attack on the Muslims as far back as 1915. In fact the anti - Muslim riots of 1915 was the first communal riots in the island. Being the target of the very first communal troubles in the country the Muslims have every right and qualification to join the Tamils and contribute to their struggle for national liberation.

It is my fervent hope that the Tamil Muslim community would become fully fledged partners with the Tamils in the future Tamil Eelam.



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