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
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
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
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.