Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
need not be stressed that the ever-confusing issue of the cordiality and
antagonism between the Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka deserves attention.
The younger generation of Tamils and Muslims who were born in the post-1975
period have a need to learn the history. This is because the demand for a
‘free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam’ was first placed
on public agenda in May 1976 by the then leading representatives of the
Tamils, namely Tamil United Front (TUF). It has been publicised that since
then the mutual trust and camaraderie between the Tamils and Muslims have
plummeted drastically. Is it so?
Consider the realistic analogy of the current Sri Lankan state as an
over-crowded, leaky boat with engine problems. In 1948, Sinhalese opted on
their own to be the sole navigators. Tamils as a whole have been pushed out
of the boat since 1956. Only facultative parasites (like servile academics
and journalist hacks like Lakshman Kadirgamar and K.T.Rajasingham) among the
Tamils were tolerated.
Muslims adeptly played the role of edge-sitters. They had one leg in the
leaky boat and the other leg in the water where the Tamils have been pushed
out. In the 1970s, the SLFP Cabinet which was cohabiting the political bed
with the Trotskyists and Communists even used the Muslim politicians like
Badiuddin Mahmud to literally and figuratively push out the younger
generation of Tamils from the leaky boat.
this regard, I present two published records on Muslims from the past. The
first is a 1979 research paper of Urmila Phadnis (1931-1990), which appeared
in the International Studies (New Delhi), a quarterly journal
published by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The second is an
opinion piece by M.Hamza Haniffa, which appeared in the Lanka Guardian
magazine of May 1998.
taken a photocopy of Phadnis’s research paper more than 20 years ago from
the University of Illinois library and saved it in my files for reference.
This paper, though relatively old and covering the political period from
1956 to 1977, is of worth for multiple reasons.
unlike the Sri Lankan specialists from India who swarmed the stage to
publish shoddy pieces of research tomes in the post-1983 period based on
incompetent guidance, Phadnis was indeed an acknowledged specialist on Sri
Lankan affairs of an earlier generation.
Secondly, Phadnis was neither Tamil nor Muslim and thus one can assume a
good degree of impartiality and she had not disappointed. She had reviewed
the post-independent politics of Muslims and how they romanced the Sinhalese
for political privileges and perks.
Thirdly, Phadnis’s claim for merit was her 1976 book entitled, ‘Religion
and Politics in Sri Lanka’ (Manohar Book Service, New Delhi, 376 pp). In
this book, she had presented a well-balanced birds-eye view of the symbiosis
of Sinhalese political leaders and the Buddhist Bhikkus (priests) in the
post-1948 period. Those who wish to learn a little on the slimy politics of
prime minister Solomon Bandaranaike and the activities of his once
pal-turned-revenge seeker Mapitigama Buddharakkhita Thero of Buddhist Bhikku
cabal, this is one book to look for.
Fourthly, an erroneous propaganda by partisan scribes place the blame on the
prevailing animosity of Tamils on Muslims and vice versa, on LTTE’s doors.
But, this study by Phadnis which was published before LTTE became a leading
player in the island, falsify this erroneous propaganda. The Tamil-Muslim
distrust had appeared long before LTTE came to be supported by the Eelam
Tamils. Phadnis had aptly noted when did Muslims per se switch sides in the
following sentences; “The Sinhalese-Muslim riots of 1915 strengthened the
trend towards collaboration with the British, with whom the Muslim elite had
already developed close relations. Indeed, throughout the next two decades,
the Muslims formed part of a phalanx of minorities under Tamil leadership
for safeguarding the rights of the minorities in the processes of transfer
of power. However, in the forties, the Muslims seemed to have decided to
move closer to the Sinhalese leadership.” (emphasis added)
Fifthly, Phadnis has presented a brief background on the Sinhala-Muslim
rioting which occurred in Puttalam during January-February 1976 in two
foot-notes (25 and 26). The 30th anniversary of this communal
flare-up deserves some attention of researchers as well since this
disturbance will be ignored for politically correct reasons in the partisan
Sixthly, Phadnis has presented useful thumb-nail sketches and brief
annotations on the activities of the leading Muslim politicians who played
fence-sitting political games between 1947 and 1977. These include, Gate
Mudaliyar M.S.Kariapper, his son-in-law M.M.Mustapha, Razik Fareed,
Badiuddin Mahmud, C.A.S.Marikkar, M.A.Bakeer Markar, A.C.S.Hameed, M.H.Naina
Marikkar, M.E.H.Mohammad Ali, M.C.Ahamed and M.H.Mohammed. I haven’t come
across any other research paper on Sri Lankan Muslims which provide this
type of information.
present the complete text of Phadnis’s research paper, including the 32
foot-notes. But I have omitted the four Tables presented by the author,
merely for the reasons of convenience in reproduction. The titles of these
four tables are as follows: Table 1 – Muslim population, 1971 Census; Table
2 – Muslim members of parliament, 1947-1977; Table 3 – Muslim candidates in
the General Election, 1947-1977; Table 4 – Constituency-wise breakup of
Muslim Members of Parliament, 1947-1977. But the omission of Tables per se
in the following reproduction, in my view, shouldn’t inconvenience the
reader that much since the author has paraphrased the focal items in the
text as well.
second selection presented was an opinion piece entitled ‘And now, Muslims
driven to the wall’ by M.Hamza Haniffa (the Chairman, Al Islam Foundation),
a Sri Lankan Muslim. As such, it is understandably a partisan piece. But
Haniffa had filled in some of the blanks left out by Prof.Phadnis, and also
updated the Sinhala-Muslim relationship upto late 1990s. The romancing
between the Sinhalese and Muslims had turned to rift; but for understandable
reasons, the rift is just covered up with words full of anti-LTTE gibberish
to please the ears of the Sinhalese rulers.
sum, the prevailing realistic norm in Sri Lanka is that each of the three
population groups (Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims) have distrust and
antagonistic relationships towards the other two. Muslims (predominantly
Tamil-speaking in the past decades) romanced towards the Sinhalese lately
and believed that their language shift would endear themselves with the
Sinhalese. Unfortunately, this practical strategy have failed to provide
dividends. It seems, that the only viable path for Muslims to gain the
complete trust of Sinhalese is to give up Islam and embrace Buddhism
en-masse. Unless this becomes a practical option for them (which I hardly
doubt), Muslims will always face distrust and antagonism from Sinhalese,
despite their political game of foul-mouthing the Tamils and especially the
Political Profile of the Muslim Minority of
by Urmila Phadnis, 1979
[Courtesy: International Studies (New Delhi), Jan-Mar 1979, vol.18,
pluralist societies, particularly of the countries of the Third World, the
phenomenon of ethnic diversity and its implications for the processes of
nation-building have attracted the attention of several scholars.1
By and large, the discussion has centered round the interaction between the
major minority community with the majority community. The minority ethnic
groups (in numerical terms) are, generally speaking, discussed in passing in
the process. However, in the autonomist or secessionist movements of the
major minority community, there have been occasions when the relatively
small ethnic groups have tended to assume a critical significance. In the
politics of Sri Lanka, for instance, the Muslims (comprising about 7 percent
of the total population) seem to be one of the critical factors in the Tamil
United Front’s separatist movement.
1974 the Tamil United Front (TUF) of Sri Lanka, i.e. the Federal Party and
the Tamil Congress, charged that the rights and freedoms of the minority
Tamil community in the island had been virtually denied and that the Tamils
were being discriminated against in linguistic, educational and economic
spheres. It, therefore, declared that as the spokesman of the Tamil
community it had no choice but to raise the demand for a separate Tamil
state. In its first convention held in May 1976, the TUF, redesignating
itself the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), put forward the demand for
a ‘free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Ealam”.2
This was the major election slogan of the Front in the polls held in 1977.
Discussions with Tamil leaders and youth in Jaffna as well as elsewhere
indicated that the boundaries of the proposed Tamil State encompassed,
roughly, the present boundaries of the Northern and Eastern Provinces,
having amongst its population a fairly large number of Muslims, particularly
in the Eastern Province.
paper does not attempt to delve into the causes leading to the autonomist
demands of the Tamil parties turning into the secessionist demand of the
TULF. Nor does it propose to examine the viability of the secessionist
demand. It is confined to an appraisal of the likely response of the Muslims
– the largest ‘minority’ in the proposed Tamil State and the second largest
minority in the island.
an appraisal entails first the probe into the socio-economic profile of the
Muslim community in the island in its historical perspective, then an
overview of the political behaviour of the Muslim community and the role of
its leadership in the electoral politics of the country, and, finally, an
examination of the strategies and tactics used by the various political
parties to contain, accommodate, and/or absorb their demands and safeguard
Socio-Economic Profile of the Muslim Community
1911,3 in the censuses in Sri Lanka, the Muslims have been placed
in three categories: (a) Ceylon Moors;4 (b) Indian Moors; and (c)
Malays. The Ceylon Moors are the descendants of the Arab traders whose
enterprise brought them to Sri Lanka to market their produce and also use it
as a port of call in their trade with the Middle East and the Far East.
Beginning their settlements in the island about the ninth century AD, they
took over the lucrative spice trade of the island till they were seriously
challenged by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.
Initially the Arab settlements sprang up along the south-western coast.
Their numbers were gradually augmented by the migration of their
co-religionists from India, and Muslim villages started springing up on the
eastern coast. Confronted with the Tamil community in the area in their
trade dealings, the Ceylon Moors adopted the Tamil language, and there were
intermarriages too. Thus, over the decades, Tamil became the mother tongue
of most of them, although they retained several Arabic words in their
vocabulary, which necessitated the evolution of new letters to accommodate
certain Arabic sounds in the Tamil language.5
Ceylon Moors constitute the largest segment of the Muslim community in
numerical terms, accounting for 6.5 percent of the total population of the
island. (The Malays account for 0.3 percent, and the Indian Moors are a mere
0.2 percent, of the total population.)
census held in 1953 differentiated the Indian Moors from the Ceylon Moors in
terms of their domicile. Thus, while it referred to the Ceylon Moors as
those ‘permanently settled in Ceylon’, it described the Indian Moors as
those who had been in Sri Lanka for commercial purposes and who ‘intend to
return to their homes in India.’6
the Indian Moors are those who migrated from South India to work on the
plantations; there are others, who are of even more recent origin and who
belong to the western coast of India.
Malays, the last category of Muslims, trace their ancestry to South-East
Asia, particularly Java, Sumatra, and Malacca. They seem to have come as
mercenaries with the Dutch. When the British took over the island, they
joined the Britain regiment. Though followers of Islam, they speak a
language of their own derived from Javanese and have a distinct group
geographical terms, maintains one of the official publications, ‘the largest
number of Ceylon Moors were found in Batticaloa and Amparai districts. They
also formed a high percentage of the total population of Mannar, Puttalam
and Trincomalee districts.’7 This statement, however, is
erroneous as is obvious from Table 1.
obvious from Table 1 that the Colombo District is where, numerically, the
largest concentration of Ceylon Moors is to be found, with Amparai and Kandy
ranking second and third respectively. If we consider the Muslim population
in each district as a percentage of the total district population, Amparai
ranks first, followed by Trincomalee. The Ceylon Moors account for about a
fourth of the total population of the Mannar district and the Batticaloa
district. In Puttalam and Kandy they comprise 9.8 percent and 8.2 percent of
the district population respectively.
Occupation-wise, barring the Eastern Province, where a large number of them
are cultivators, the Ceylon Moors engage in trade and commerce all over the
island. Generally they operate as petty shopkeepers, but a few of them are
also rich merchants in Colombo and elsewhere. The gem trade seems to have
been a virtual monopoly of the Muslims till recently, i.e. till the State
established the Gem Corporation. Some work as artisans and also as
craftsmen; and a few are in the teaching, medical and legal professions.
Indian Moors and the Malays too seem to be engaged in similar vocations. A
small number of Indian Moors work on the plantations. The Indian Moors are
mostly concentrated in the Colombo District and the Kandy District. In
Colombo City, there are about 5,000 Indian Moors, i.e. about 17 percent of
the island’s total population of Indian Moors. About two-thirds of the total
Malay population resides in the Colombo District.
significant to note that while most Muslims speak Tamil, a large number of
them in Colombo and in areas like Kandy (where the Sinhalese population is
dominant) opt for Sinhalese as their medium of instruction. In contrast, the
Muslims in the Northern and Eastern Provinces have their school education in
the Tamil medium. However, the professional requirements of most Muslim men
force them to be bilingual if not trilingual. The women, except those who
live in Sinhalese-dominated areas such as Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, etc. speak
Another interesting feature about the Moors is that only a small number of
them are university entrants. According to a study of university students,
the number of Muslim students in the University of Ceylon during 1942-65 was
very small in proportion to their total population.8 Most Muslim
boys based in Colombo or Kandy do not go beyond the G.C.E.(O) Level as their
parents need their services in the family trade or business. A large number
of university entrants are from the Eastern Province. This is so presumably
because the parents, being cultivators, desire their children to be
educationally well equipped to compete for Government jobs.
socio-economic profile of the Moors underlines the following facts: (1)
Notwithstanding their affinity with the Tamils in linguistic terms, they
have maintained a distinct group identity. In the cohesiveness of this group
Islam plays an important role. (2) Demographically speaking, about
two-thirds of the Moors live outside the proposed Tamil State comprising
Northern and Eastern Provinces. (3) They are numerically insignificant in
the Northern Province but account for about a fourth of the total population
of the Eastern Province. (4) Such a numerical position makes them a
significant factor – a factor to reckon with – in electoral politics, not
only in the Eastern Province but also in the other districts, including the
urbanized Colombo District and the Sinhalese-dominated Kandy District. (5)
In the economic sphere too, their involvement in trade, commerce, and
several other professions all over the country gives them a serious stake in
the integrity of the island. Any division of the country is, therefore,
bound to hurt them as a community.
in the light of such a socio-economic context that we are to find an
explanation for the attitude of the Muslims towards, and their behaviour in,
the regional and national politics of the island.
Muslims in National Politics
beginning of the twentieth century, the Muslims, like those belonging to the
other ethnic groups in the island, needed to define their attitude towards
the agitation for transfer of power. The Sinhalese-Muslim riots of 1915
strengthened the trend towards collaboration with the British, with whom the
Muslim elite had already developed close relations. Indeed, throughout the
next two decades, the Muslims formed part of a phalanx of minorities under
Tamil leadership for safeguarding the rights of the minorities in the
processes of transfer of power. However, in the forties, the Muslims seemed
to have decided to move closer to the Sinhalese leadership.9
Thus, though they opposed the scheme of ‘fifty-fifty’ (under which the
majority community was to have 50 percent representation with the other
communities sharing the rest) advocated by the Tamil leader G.G.Ponnambalam,
they yet maintained that a ‘balanced representation’ should be provided to
Besides, though they supported the Sinhalese-controlled Ceylon National
Congress (CNC) demand for self-government, Muslims groups like the Ceylon
Muslim League and the All Ceylon Moors Association continued to maintain
their separate group identities and did not join the CNC. The extent to
which the Muslim elite was willing to go along with the CNC leadership
without loss of group identity was evident during 1945-46, when
representatives of both the Ceylon Moors Association and the Muslim League
participated in the deliberations leading to the formation of the United
National Party (UNP). The UNP came into being in 1946 to contest elections
in 1947 under the new dispensation of the Soulbury Commission.
election of 1947 was preceded by the publication of the Delimitation
Commission Report, which envisaged a total number of eighty nine elected
seats with six nominated ones. That the electoral system was designed to
represent the pluralism of the Ceylonese social structure was evident from
the Order in Council of 1946. Providing the guidelines to the Delimitation
Commission of 1946, it specified, in Section 41, that, where it appeared to
the Delimitation Commission that there was ‘in any area of a Province a
substantial concentration of persons united by a community of interests,
whether racial, religious, or otherwise but differing in one or more of
these respects from the majority of the inhabitants of that area’, the
Commission might create an electorate to ‘render possible the representation
of that interest’. It also empowered the Commission to create multi-member
constituencies in areas where the communal groups were so intermixed as to
render the carving out of a separate electorate for them impossible.11
manner in which the Commission proceeded to safeguard Muslim interests in
the context of the above-mentioned stipulation is spelt out in paragraphs
66-69 of the Commission’s Report.
Colombo Municipality, where the Muslims constituted 33.3 percent of the
population, Colombo Central was made a 3-member constituency. In the Eastern
Province, where there were 126,400 Ceylon Tamils and 106,300 Muslims, the
Commission demarcated ‘four seats in which the Tamils can secure the return
of a member of their choice and three seats in which the Muslims can do so’.
In the Northern Province (having received the support of the Tamils), the
Commission carved out the constituency of Mannar with a population of 31,500
‘in spite of the fact that the provincial average for this province is 53.3
thousand’. In this constituency, the Muslims numbered 10,300.12
Similarly, in the North-Western Province, the Puttalam constituency had only
31,200 persons. The number of Muslims was just 13,700.13
Maintaining its earlier criterion, viz that on a merely numerical basis the
Muslims should be able to return members of their choice in six
constituencies, the Commission provided for four Muslim constituencies and
two constituencies in which the minority community had a ‘strong voice’.14
1959 a second Delimitation Commission was appointed. This Commission was
empowered to draw multi-member constituencies only if there was a
‘substantial concentration of a minority of citizens of Ceylon belonging to
a race different to the race of the majority inhabiting that Province’.15
Referring to the concentration of Ceylon Tamils and Muslims in certain
contiguous areas of the Eastern Province, the Commission concluded that out
of the eleven constituencies into which the Province had been divided ‘we
have so demarcated the areas as to ensure in three single-member electoral
areas the representation of the Ceylon Moors’. It also provided for a
2-member seat for Mutur and Batticaloa respectively ‘in each of which…one
Ceylon Moor and one Ceylon Tamil will have a resonable chance of being
returned’. Yet another multi-member constituency, viz Akurana, was created
(with Colombo Central continuing to be a 3-member constituency) ‘to ensure
reasonable Ceylon Moor representation’. Finally, in other areas, so far as
was practicable, the Commission brought into many of the ‘electorates carved
out by us as many Ceylon Moor villages, where there is a strong
concentration of Ceylon Moors, as could be reasonably brought in so that
they could have a strong voice if not return members of their choice’.16
third Delimitation Commission was appointed in 1974. The report of this
Commission, submitted in 1976, retained the spirit of the recommendations of
the 1959 Commission in respect of Muslim representation. It maintained that
the method of delimitation that had been adopted was ‘calculated to ensure
the existing pattern of representation’ so far as the Muslim community was
population being about 7 percent of the total population, the Muslims should
have had six representatives in a House consisting of a total of eighty nine
members (with six nominated members) in the elections held during 1947-56.
In the elections held in accordance with the recommendations of the Second
Commission, the House now having been enlarged to consist of 151 elected
members and six appointed ones, they should have have eleven
representatives. In the election of 1977, the first to be held in the light
of the recommendations of the 1976 Commission, the National Assembly having
been further enlarged to consist of 168 elected members, they should have
secured twelve seats.
far the Commissions have succeeded in their objective of ensuring adequate
representation for the Muslims through electoral demarcation can be seen
from Table 2.18
Further, a constituency-wise analysis of Muslim voting behaviour indicates
that in the 1971 census there were twelve electoral districts (single or
multi-member) where the Muslims comprised more than 20 percent of the total
population.19 And, barring a few among them (as, e.g. Galle,20
Mannar,21 and Kalkudah22), these constituencies
generally returned Muslim candidates (see Table 4). This could be explained
partly in terms of the group cohesiveness of the community and partly in
terms of the close rapport established by the Muslim elite with the rest of
the electorate such as merchants, traders, professionals, et al.
overall review of the Muslim candidates entering the electoral fray gives an
inkling of the political orientation and party affiliations of the Muslim
political elite. A close look at Tables 2 and 3 brings out the following
Over the last three decades the number of Muslim candidates has been
steadily on the increase – which shows that a large number of the Muslim
elite have developed interest in electoral politics.
The number of independent Members of Parliament at the national level came
down from twenty one in 1947 to six in 1965 and a lonesome in 1977. The
proportion of independent Muslim Members of parliament was much higher in
terms of the national average till 1965.
Party polarization seems to have made an impact on the Muslims, too. This is
evident from the results of the last two elections in which not a single
Muslim independent candidate was returned. How far party alignments have a
close correlation with a candidate’s chances (as he perceives them) is
evident from the case of the Member of Parliament from Pottuvil,
M.A.A.Majeed. Majeed successively won three elections from March 1960
onwards as an independent candidate. Though he joined the UNP in 1970, he
retained his seat subsequently too.
between the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP, which came into being in 1951)
and the UNP, on several occasions Muslim candidates contesting on the UNP
ticket have fared much better than those contesting on the SLFP ticket. A
detailed party-wise analysis of the Muslim contenders brings out this point
1947 and 1952 the UNP put up the largest number of Muslim candidates. Five
of the six Muslim members of parliament elected in the first election and
three of the seven Muslim members of parliament elected in the second
election belonged to it. This could be explained in view of the initial
close alliance between the UNP and the Muslim leadership as represented
through the Muslim League and the All Ceylon Moors Association.
1956 election the UNP suffered reverses on the Muslim Front partly because
of the almost-overnight change in its language policy from one of supporting
parity between Sinhala and Tamil for official purposes to one of recognizing
Sinhala as the only language of the country. This alienated some of the
Muslim leaders from the party. Some of them chose to contest as independent
candidates. A few contested on the Tamil Federal Party ticket.23
The March 1960 election, held soon after the assassination of
S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, witnessed a medley of candidates. The Muslims too fell
in line; forty four Muslims filed nominations. Twenty seven of these were
July 1960 the UNP had succeeded to some extent in getting back into its fold
some of the old Muslim stalwarts. Of its seventeen Muslim contestants, four
won. In 1965 it improved its position considerably. It put up ten Muslim
candidates. Of these, seven won.
ten Muslim UNP candidates in 1970, only four won. Two more Muslim UNP
candidates came in two by-elections. Meanwhile, however, the UNP also lost
the support of a Muslim member of parliament who crossed the floor and
joined the ruling United Front.
electoral ‘swing’ in the 1977 election in favour of the United National
Party (UNP) benefited its Muslim candidates as well. This was evident from
the victory of as many as ten (including the candidate put up by it in the
by-election held in September 1977 in the Eastern Province) out of a total
of twelve Muslim candidates it had put up. It is noteworthy that five of
these candidates were from the Eastern Province – part of the proposed Tamil
the SLFP, it put up only one Muslim candidate, and successfully, in both the
1952 and 1956 elections. However, after its landslide victory in 1956 as the
People’s United Front (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, MEP), four Muslim members
of parliament (two from the Federal Party, one from the UNP and an
independent candidate) joined the Ruling Front before the year was out, thus
increasing the strength of the Muslim members of parliament in the MEP from
one to five.24 In the election held in March 1960 the SLFP did
not fare well. However, in the election held in July 1960 it regained its
earlier strength so far as Muslim members of parliament were concerned (four
elected and one appointed). In the election of 1965 some of the SLFP Muslim
members of parliament either changed sides or were defeated, leaving the
party with just one Muslim member of parliament. By 1970 the SLFP virtually
reverted to its July 1960 position; although it fielded twelve Muslim
candidates, only four won; and two more came in as appointed members of
parliament. Its failure in a by-election (Puttalam) was, however,
neutralized when a UNP Muslim member of parliament – M.M.Mustapha – joined
the United Front. In the 1977 election all its sitting members lost. Only
one Muslim candidate won on the SLFP ticket, from Colombo, and that was his
first electoral battle.
regards Muslim voters in general, if the SLFP-dominated United Front’s
legislation pertaining to the take over of import-export trade and its
imposition of a ceiling on houses affected the affluent among them, the
Sinhalese-Muslim communal flare-up at Puttalam (North-Western Province)
early in 1976,25 which led to the imposition of a state of
emergency and press censorship, eroded the ruling Front’s credibility to
some extent among the lower strata of people. This was especially so because
the official version was controverted by certain Muslim leaders.26
Whatever the sequent of events, the Puttalam incident was a manifestation of
the mutual fears and suspicions between the majority and minority
communities. These fears and suspicions were, by and large, economic. To
begin with, the Muslims of this area were feeling discriminated against
vis-à-vis the Sinhalese in terms of employment in the Cement Factory at
Puttalam. There were about 2,000 workers in this factory, and hardly a
couple of hundreds of these were Muslim. According to a spokesman of the
Muslims, even these had no feeling of security because of a Buddhist monk
who, he alleged, had been inciting the Sinhalese workers to ‘get rid’ of the
Further, the State had taken over certain coconut estates owned by the
Muslims in Puttalam under the Land Reform Act. It had thereafter given these
lands, in many instances, to Sinhalese belonging to outside areas in
preference to the poor Tamil or Muslim residents of Puttalam. This led
eventually to a new type of Sinhalese settlement in predominantly Muslim
areas. The Muslims resented this development. It became a source of much
bitterness among the residents of Puttalam.
the Puttalam incident might not have been the decisive issue in the
election, its significance lay in its being a symbol of Muslim resentment of
alleged discrimination in matters of employment. It was also a manifestation
of the efforts of the Muslims to maintain their group integrity at the
Comments made by some Muslim leaders of the Eastern Province in this context
make interesting reading. While they held that the 1976 communal violence
was unfortunate, they argued that Tamil-Muslim tensions were not absent
either from their Province. Sometimes these tensions arose from
inter-village feuds and were aggravated by some of the racially partisan
police personnel. At other times they were manifestations of the frustration
engendered by the economic patronage provided by a Sinhalese or Tamil
official or political leader.
was a certain amount of caution underlying such statements so far as the
Tamil community and its leadership were concerned. An overview of the
interaction between the Muslim and Tamil political elite in electoral
politics would bring this out quite well. In the election of 1956 two
Muslims presented themselves as candidates of the Tamil Federal Party and
won. Both of them joined the MEP soon after it came to power.
July 1960 also the Federal Party fielded two Muslim candidates –
A.L.Sinnalebbe (Batticaloa) and M.C.Ahamed (Kalmunai). On being defeated,
Sinnalebbe changed his party affiliation. And he won the seat in the next
election as a UNP nominee. Ahamed resigned from the Federal Party in 1961,
on the plea that the policies of that party were not ‘in the interests of
the Muslims’.27 For the rest of the Fifth parliament he
functioned as an independent member. He participated in the 1965 election as
an independent candidate but was defeated. When a by-election was held in
Kalmunai in 1968, he presented himself as an SLFP nominee and won the seat.
He managed to retain the seat as a nominee of the same party [now the United
Front consisting of the SLFP, the Communist Party (CP), and the Lanka Sama
Samaja Party (LSSP) in the 1970 election.
Federal Party fielded three Muslim nominees in the 1965 election. Of these,
only one won. The lone successful candidate was M.E.H.Mohamed Ali, who later
moved over to the UNP. Both in 1970 and in 1977 the party had little success
so far as the Muslim candidates fielded by it in the Eastern Province were
concerned. As a representative of the sub-nationalist sentiment of the
Tamils, the Federal Party – the major constituent of the TULF – did not seem
to make headway in eliciting the support of the Tamil-speaking Muslims.28
It also might be added here that in the Eastern Province, the TULF was able
to win only four seats. As against this, the UNP fared very well. Eight of
its candidates won: five Muslims, two Tamils and a Sinhalese. A member of
parliament elected on the TULF ticket crossed the floor to join the UNP
subsequently, when the first UNP budget was submitted. This reduced the
strength of the TULF to three in the area.
the parties of the Left, they had little success in wooing the Muslims. Only
once – in 1947 – did the CP put up a Muslim candidate, but this candidate,
M.E.H.Mohammed Ali, lost that election. In the three subsequent elections he
preferred to contest as an independent candidate. The Trotskyite LSSP put up
a candidate in 1947 and again in March 1960, and both times without success.
Thus, partly because of their image among the Muslims as anti-religious
parties and partly because of their status as minor parties, the parties of
the Left failed to win over the Muslim leadership.
noteworthy that only once during the period 1947-70 – viz in the election
held in July 1960 – did some Muslims decide to form a communal group called
the All Ceylon Islamic United Front (ACIUF). Two candidates – M.S.Kariapper
(Kalmunai) and M.Z.K.M.Kariapper (Pottuvil) – entered the electoral fray
under the banner of this organization, but were defeated. M.S.Kariapper
contested the subsequent election successfully as an independent candidate.
Nothing more was heard of the ACIUF after that. However, certain Muslim
organizations – as, for example, the Ceylon Muslim League, the Islamic
Socialist Front (ISF, headed by Badiuddin Mahmud),29 etc – did
put their organizational weight behind certain candidates in the various
elections. Affiliated to the SLFP, the impact of the ISF in the election of
May 1970 ‘was far from marginal; our investigations indicated that in the
Sinhalese areas sections of Muslim opinion had been weaned away from the UNP
as a result of the ISF’s campaign’,30 In the 1977 election,
however, the ISF campaign did not seem to cut much ice.
party orientations of Muslim members of parliament indicate that though some
of the stalwarts have loyally remained with either the UNP or the SLFP,
others have changed their party labels according to political exigencies.
Whenever they have found party labels none too helpful, they have preferred
to contest as independent candidates. However, with the party system
gradually getting entrenched in the island, more and more Muslims have
tended to shed the ambivalent ‘Independent’ label. The electorate in any
case has not viewed with favour those who have chosen to contest as
independent candidates, particularly in the last few elections. Party
affiliation does help candidates, in that it makes available to them
considerable assistance, organizational and material.
point is well exemplified in Table 4 and can be elucidated further by means
of brief biographical sketches of some Members of the last three
Members of the last Three Parliaments
stalwarts in the UNP include Falil Caffoor, M.A.Bakeer Markar, M.H.Naina
Marikkar and A.C.S.Hameed.
Caffoor emerged as the virtual political successor of M.C.M.Kaleel when, in
1965, at the age of sixty two, Kaleel decided to retire from electoral
politics. A wealthy gem merchant of Colombo, Caffoor was born in 1907. He
won the Colombo Central seat on the UNP ticket in 1965 and retained it in
the 1970 election.
M.A.Bakeer Markar, a proctor of Kalutara, was born in 1917. He has been a
member of the UNP since its inception. He was Chairman of the Beruwela Urban
Council during 1951-54. He won the newly created Beruwela seat in March 1960
but has lost it in alternate elections to I.A.Cader of the SLFP since then.
Marikkar is a BA, LLB, from Canterbury (United Kingdom). Since he was twenty
eight, he has been a lawyer in Colombo. He has also taught in the Law
College there. In 1959, when he was forty two, he joined the UNP. It was in
March 1960 that he contested an election for the first time. Upon the
retirement of H.S.Ismail, who had earlier represented Puttalam in
parliament, he contested the Puttalam seat on theUNP ticket and won it. He
represented Puttalam continuously for a decade. In 1970 he lost to the SLFP
candidate. However, the victorious SLFP member died in May 1971. The
by-election held in October 1972 put Marikkar back in the political saddle
again. In the 1977 election also he retained the seat.
the younger members of the UNP mention may be made of A.C.S.Hameed, a
teacher. Hameed joined the UNP in 1956 at the age of twenty nine. In March
1960 he presented himself as one of the candidates seeking to represent the
newly created 2-member constituency of Akurana. He won. And he has retained
the seat ever since.
Members of parliament belonging to the SLFP include A.L.Abdul Majeed,
I.A.Cader, C.A.S.Marikkar, and last but not least, Badiuddin Mahmud.
Badiuddin Mahmud is one of the founder members of the SLFP (as well as of
the ISF). He was an appointed member of parliament during 1960-65 and again
Majeed entered politics at the age of twenty eight when he relinquished his
position as the principal of a school at Trincomalee in order to enter
politics. He won the Mutur seat on the SLFP ticket. He has held the seat
born in 1917, has been with the SLFP since the very beginning of his
political career. A proctor, he was once President of the All Ceylon Moors
Association. Beruwela is his major support base.
against these Members of parliament, there are people like M.M.Mustapha and
M.S.Kariapper, who have changed their party labels several times and have
yet survived politically.
Mudaliar M.S.Kariapper was born in 1899. He is a wealthy farmer, as well as
a coconut planter. He retired from his position as Chief Headman at Kalmunai
in 1947 and made his political debut that year by successfully contesting
the Kalmunai seat on the UNP ticket. On his failure to retain the seat in
the 1952 election on the UNP ticket, he took to local politics for a time
and became Chairman of the Kalmunai Town Council. He contested the 1956
election on the FP ticket but crossed the floor within six months to sit on
the Treasury bench. In March 1960 he presented himself as a candidate for
the same constituency as an LPP candidate and won. In July 1960 he changed
his party label once again. He was this time a candidate of the ACIUF, an
organization of his own creation. Towards the end of 1960, the
Thalagodapitiya Bribery Commission found him guilty of corruption. This,
however, did not deter him from participating in the 1965 election as an
Kariapper is the only member to have returned to the 1965 parliament in
spite of having beeen found guilty by the Bribery Commission. Three others
who tried to stage a come-back in 1965 to the political arena were badly
defeated at the polls. However, while the electoral verdict went in his
favour, the legal verdict went against him. Late in 1965 he was deprived of
his franchise for seven years under the Civil Disabilities (Special
Provisions) Act, on the ground that he had been found guilty of corruption
by the Thalagodapitiya Commission.
political style of Kariapper, viz that of changing political colours, has a
close parallel in that of M.M.Mustapha, a proctor. Mustapha won the Pottuvil
seat in 1956 as a nominee of the FP but joined the MEP soon after. He
contested the March 1960 election as a candidate of the LPP but was
defeated. In 1965 he was the successful UNP candidate in Nintavur. In 1970
he won that seat for the second time on the UNP ticket. In 1974 he crossed
the floor and joined the ruling United Front to beome a Deputy Minister. The
cross-over, however, proved costly in political terms; in the 1977 election
he was unseated.
brief biographical sketches and the patterns of political alignment of the
Muslim elite underline the fact that the era of Muslim ‘notables’ contesting
as independent candidates is almost at an end. The political alignments of
the Muslim elite have gradually approximated to the national pattern.
Secondly, Muslim politics has started attracting not only rich merchants and
traders but also professionals. Thirdly, the Tamil parties and Front have
not succeeded in mobilizing the Muslim elite. The Muslims are in fact
oriented to the major parties and support either the SLFP or the UNP. Even
their political organizations have not cared to display much autonomy, but
operate in alliance with one major party or the other.
Several socio-economic factors can be mentioned by way of an explanation for
such an orientation. If the spatial dimension of the Muslim community is one
reason, the economic avocations and interests of the Muslims all over the
island are another. Besides, in the competitive party system of the island,
both the SLFP and the UNP have tried to keep the elite groups of the
minority community on their side by rewarding the loyalists in many ways.
Thus, virtually in all the Cabinets, there has been one Muslim Minister and
one or two Parliamentary Secretaries. For instance, the Education portfolio
in the last government (1970-77) was looked after by a Muslim. And so was
the Secretaryship of the Cabinet. The Deputy Ministerships in the Ministry
of Information and the Ministry of Justice have also been in Muslim hands
present Cabinet has more Muslims than any other Cabinet formed since
Independence: A.C.S.Hameed is Minister of Foregin Affairs; and M.H.Mohammed
is Transport Minister. And there are two Muslim Deputy Ministers – Naina
Marikkar (Planning and Economic Affairs) and Abdul Majeed (Agriculture and
Lands). And at no time have the Muslims held such important portfolios. This
is part of the strategy devised by the UNP President, J.R.Jayewardene, to
earn dividends as much at home as abroad.
begin with, the 50-year old Hameed may, among other things, also provide an
emotive link between Sri Lanka and the Muslim states, some of which have
shown keen interest in the politics of the island. His membership of the
Cabinet also gives a secular orientation to the politics of Sri Lanka
without antagonizing the Sinhalese community, which constitutes the
majority, because the Foreign Minister is the representative of Akurana,
which is in the heartland of the Sinhalese-dominated Central Province. (He
has represented Akurana without a break since 1960.) Thus, a Muslim Foreign
Minister representing the Sinhalese heartland may be an excellent emissary
abroad to explain the conditions of the Muslims in the island and the
impracticability of the Tamil demand. Further, if Majeed belongs to the
Eastern Province, so does the Tamil Minister of Justice. Also, Puttalam, the
constituency represented by the Deputy Minister of Planning, is adjacent to
the Eastern Province [sic!; Note by Kantha: not Eastern Province, but
Muslims themselves have greater weightage in the present Government than
they have ever had. This is especially true of the Eastern Province, which,
with twelve seats, has two of its Members of Parliament holding Ministerial
posts. Ironically, this is a situation for which the credit must go in some
measure to the TULF.
in the past, as we have already mentioned, the Muslims used to look to
Colombo for solution of their political and economic problems, not to
Jaffna. ‘We only want due recognition of Tamil as an official language,’
said an eminent Muslim leader, ‘but we are against any partitioning of the
island. Sri Lanka is already a small country, and it cannot be sustained if
it is further partitioned. It [i.e. a partition] is neither feasible nor
practicable. In any case, only one-third of the Muslims are in the Northern
and Eastern Provinces. The rest are scattered all over the country, and we
have close connexions with them.’
‘Besides, what will be the position of the Muslims in a separate Tamil
State?’, questioned another Muslim leader. In the event of a partition the
Muslims would become a ‘mini minority’ within a minority. ‘No Muslim would
like to be a minority [sic] in a so-called Tamil State in which
another minority will assume majority status. It would militate against our
own self-preservation as a community.’32
would thus appear that in the context of the demographic characteristics of
the Muslim community and the past political traditions and present
strategies of the UNP Government, the Tamil Front may find the Muslims of
the area not only a major constraint but a rather serious imponderable in
realizing its ideal of a Tamil State.
(1) E.g. Rajni Kothari, ed., State and
Nation-Building: A Third World Perspective (Delhi, 1976); Rounaq
Jahan, Pakistan: Failure in National Integration (New York,
1972); and Iqbal Narain, ‘Cultural Pluralism, National Integration, and
Democracy in India’, Asian Survey (Berkeley, Calif.), vol.17,
no.10, October 1976, pp.903-17. For a detailed bibliography on the
subject, see S.N.Eisenstadt and Stein Rokkan, eds, Building States
and Nations (London, 1973), vol.1, pp.277-397.
(2) For the text of the resolution, see Ealam Tamils
Association, Tamil Liberation Front (London, 1976).
(3) At the census held in 1824 the population of Ceylon
was classified by caste, with the Europeans and Burghers appearing as
separate castes. In the census reports prior to 1901, the Muslims were
divided as Moors and Malays. See Ceylon, Department of Census and
Statistics, The Population of Sri Lanka (Colombo, 1974), p.43.
(4) The Portuguese borrowed the word ‘Moor’ from the
Spaniards and bestowed it indiscriminately upon the Arabs and their
descendants. James Emerson Tennent, Ceylon (London, 1860), vol.I,
(5) Mohamed Mauroof, ‘Aspects of Religion, Economy and
Society among the Muslims of Ceylon’, Contributions to Indian
Sociology: New Series (Delhi), no.6 (1972), pp.67-68. Also see
S.Arasaratnam, Ceylon (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1964), pp.117-123.
On the controversy as to whether the descendants of the Moors are of
Tamil or Arab nationality, see P.Ramanathan, ‘On the ethnology of the
Moors of Ceylon’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon
Branch, Colombo), vol.10, no.36, p.1888; and I.L.M.Abdul Azeez, A
Criticism of Mr.Ramanathan’s Ethnology of the Moors of Ceylon
(Colombo, 1957) (originally published under the auspices of the Moors
Union, Colombo, 1907).
(6) Ceylon, Department of Census and Statistics,
Census of Ceylon: 1953 (Colombo, 1960), vol.3, pt 1, p.v.
(7) The Population of Sri Lanka, note (3), p.46.
(8) D.L.Jayasuriya, ‘Development in University education:
The growth of the University of Ceylon, 1942-1965’, University of
Ceylon Review (Peradeniya), vol.23, nos 1-2, April and October 1965,
(9) K.M.de Silva, ‘Hinduism and Islam in
post-Independence Sri Lanka’, Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social
Studies (Colombo), new series, vol.4, nos.1-2, January-December
(10) E.g. in a memorandum submitted to the Soulbury
Commission in 1945, the Ceylon Moors Association demanded 12 seats in
the legislature of 100 members. Ceylon Moors Association, Memorandum of
the Ceylon Moors Association to the Chairman and Members of the Royal
Commission on Constitutional Reform (Colombo, n.d.).
(11) Ceylon, Report of the First Delimination
Commission: Sessional Paper XIII, 1946 (Colombo, 1946), p.6.
(12) Ibid, p.23.
(13) Ibid, p.24.
(15) Ceylon, Report of the Delimitation Commission:
Sessional Paper XV, 1959 (Colombo, 1959), p.10.
(16) Ibid, p.12.
(17) Sri Lanka, Report of the Delimitation Commission:
Sessional Paper 1, 1976 (Colombo, 1976), p.9.
(18) It may be mentioned here that the tabulation
provided by Woodwards is at variance with the data provided in the
publication of the Department of Elections on the elections held during
1947-70 as mentioned above. According to this, Ceylon Moors won eleven
seats, not ten, in July 1960. Calvin A.Woodwards, The Growth of a
Party System in Ceylon (Rhode Island, 1969), p.258.
(19) The constituencies where more tha 20 percent of the
electorate is Muslim are: Nintavur (72.08 percent), Kalmunai (69.62
percent), Pottuvil (53.31 percent), Mutur (two members – 44.37 percent),
Colombo Central (three members – 42.65 percent), Puttalam (35.62
percent), Batticaloa (33.99 percent), Kalkudah (29.26 percent), Mannar
(28.13 percent), Beruwela (26.19 percent), Galle (21.47 percent) and
Akurana (two members – 20.38 percent). For details, see Ceylon,
Census of Population, Preliminary Release, No.2 (Colombo, 1972).
This gives us the constituency-wise break-up of religious groups. The
percentages were calculated on the data thus obtained.
(20) The case of Galle can be explained partly on the
basis of the dominantly Sinhalese Buddhist ethos of this constituency of
the Southern Province. Only once during the period 1947-70, in March
1960, did a Muslim (A.M.Ismail) contest this seat. He obtained only 131
votes and lost his security deposit. This was partly also due to the
personality of W.Dahanayake, who retained this seat almost continuously
from 1947 to 1977. (He failed in the March 1960 elections.) Dahanayake
is viewed as a well-wisher of the Muslim community, one who facilitated
the education of Muslim boys by opening several Muslim schools when he
was Minister of Education during 1956-59. He, however, lost the seat in
the 1977 elections to a UNP candidate.
(21) If the predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist ethos of
Galle can be said to account for the virtual absence of Muslims from the
electoral fray, the predominantly Tamil character of Mannar in the
Northern Province provides the rationale behind the Tamil candidates
winning the seat since 1947. The only occasion on which a Tamil
candidate failed to get elected was the by-election of February 1974. On
this occasion a Muslim won on the UNP ticket by a narrow majority of 99
votes. In the 1977 elections the seat was won again by a Tamil.
(22) Kalkudah is a coastal constituency sandwiched
between two multi-member seats, Mutur and Batticaloa, both of which have
been returning at least one Tamil candidate since 1960. This explains,
to some extent, the fact that only once – in 1956 – was a Muslim Member
of Parliament returned from this constituency. In the 1960 elections the
seat was held by a Tamil on the FP ticket. Since 1965 it has been held
by one Devanayagam, on the UNP ticket.
(23) For a succinct account of the attitude of the
Muslims in the 1956 election, see I.D.S.Weerawardana, Ceylon General
Election, 1956 (Colombo, 1956), pp.193-5.
(24) These Muslim members of parliament were: (1) Sir
Razik Fareed – Colombo Central (originally UNP); (2) M.S.Kariapper –
Kalmunai (initially FP); (3) M.M.Mustapha – Pottuvil (initially FP); and
(4) M.E.H.Mohammed Ali – Mutur (initially an independent candidate).
Information culled from Ceylon Daily News, Parliament of Ceylon, 1960
(25) Speaking in parliament on 3 February 1976 on the
incident, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike stated that for some time
communal tension had been building up between the Sinhalese and the
Muslims at Puttalam. Early in January a Sinhalese bus conductor was
assaulted by some Muslims at the bus stand. At this the entire staff of
the Ceylon Transport Board at Puttalam threatened to go on a strike
unless the bus stand was shifted elsewhere. Consequently the bus stand
was moved temporarily to a site near the railway station. This disturbed
Muslim business interests. The Muslims found the removal of the bus stop
inconvenient for their business, and in retaliation some Muslims set
fire to a bus in Puttalam town on 14 January 1976.
This was followed by a series of incidents between the
Muslims and the Sinhalese business establishments, and the Sinhalese set
fire to several Muslim houses in villages close to the town. Soon after,
the Muslims started attacking the buses and lorries plying through the
town and manhandling the Sinhalese crew and passengers. When the
Superintendent of Police in charge and his deputy went with a police
party to bring the situation under control, they found a crowd of about
1,500 Muslims gathered in the market near the turn-off to the Mannar
road and the mosque. According to the Superintendent of Police and his
deputy, they were armed with clubs and firearms and began to fire at the
police. The crowd moved back to the mosque premises, but even as it did
so, it kept on firing at the police party. The police returned the fire.
In this shooting, six persons lost their lives, and about four were
injured. Ceylon Daily News (Colombo), 4 February 1976.
(26) The last portion of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s
statement, however, was controverted by some of the leading Muslims.
They maintained that on every Friday the turn-off to the Mannar road and
the mosque used to be kept blocked to enable the Muslims to hold prayers
in peace. The police removed this blockade. This upset the Muslims, and
they gathered to discuss the issue of blocking the road on Friday and of
re-establishing the bus stand in its former place. The police ordered
them to disperse. The Muslims refused. They walked into the mosque. The
police then fired at them. This led to Sinhalese-Muslim assaults and
counterassaults and loss of life and property. Based on interviews with
several Muslim leaders in Colombo during May-June 1976. Also see the
letter dated 12 February 1976 from M.C.M.Kaleel, President, All Ceylon
Muslim League, to prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
(27) Parliament of Ceylon, 1960, note (24), p.116.
(28) Vijaya Samaraweera, ‘Sri Lanka’s 1977 general
elections: the resurgence of the UNP’, Asian Survey, vol.17, no.12,
December 1977, p.1206. For a detailed analysis of the votes polled by
the TULF in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, see ‘The Mandate of
Tamil Ealam’, Economic Review (Colombo), vol.3, no.4, July 1977,
pp.12-14; and Tissa Balasooriya, ‘Tamil mandate from Ealam: Fact or
Fiction?’, Tribune (Colombo), vol.22, no.14, 24 September 1977,
pp.10-11; and vol.22, no.15, 1 October 1977, pp.14-16.
(29) Apart from these groups, there are Muslim
organizations concerned primarily with the socio-cultural amelioration
of the Muslims. Mention might be made in this context of the Islamic
Moors Cultural Centre, the Islamic Secretariat (a conglomeration of
20-odd Muslim societies), and the Young Men Moors Association.
(30) A.Jeyaratnam Wilson, Electoral Politics in an
Emergent State: The Ceylon General Election of May 1970 (London,
(31) Information for the biographical sketches has been
culled from the following publications of the Ceylon Daily News:
Parliament of Ceylon, 1947 (Colombo, 1947); Parliament of Ceylon,
1956 (Colombo, 1956); Parliament of 1960 (Colombo, 1960);
Parliament of Ceylon, 1965 (Colombo, 1965); and Parliament of
Ceylon, 1970 (Colombo, 1970). Data relating to the 1977 election
have been gathered by means of interviews with various Muslim leaders.
See note (18).
(32) Based on interviews with several Muslim leaders
during May-June 1976. Also see interview of S.A.Rashid and M.C.M.Kaleel
by Shirley Candappa, in ‘The Muslim community in Sri Lanka and race
relations’, Logos (Colombo), vol.16, no.2, August 1977, pp.56-59.
And now, Muslims driven to
the wall - by M.Hamza Haniffa
[Courtesy: Lanka Guardian, May 1998, pp.16-17]
spate of incidents involving Sinhalese and Muslims in the past few years in
a number of Sri Lankan towns and villages ranging from Galle in the Southern
Province, Beruwela, Alutgama and Kalutara in the WP [Western Province] and
Ugurasspitiya, Madawela and Akurana in the Central Province culminating in
the riots last month in Galagedera have caused tension, apprehension and
anger among Muslims, who constitute the second largest minority in the
the earlier riots did not cause much damage and were brought under control
quickly by the police (supported in some cases by stationing of soldiers),
the incidents in Galagedera last month have raised fears amongst members of
our community that it will not be the last one but may be a prelude to more
serious attacks on Muslim lives and property. In all the incidents so far
the Muslims have been at the receiving end. At Galagedera mobs torched and
destroyed not only about 50 shops and homes belonging to Muslims but also a
number of mills belonging to members of the community as well estates. The
attacks which lasted for a few days subsided for a day or two and continued
sporadically for a few more days.
is causing concern not only among Muslims but even among government
authorities and a number of Sinhala politicos is that all these riots broke
out over minor quarrels between individuals or small groups belonging to the
two communities but balooned into serious clashes with a communal twist. The
Galagedera riots, for example, began with the opposition to a Muslim trying
to ply his trishaw for hire from the town centre provoking opposition from a
few Sinhalese who had a monopoly earlier.
argument that ensued had within hours flared into a major anti-Muslim war.
The police force in the area is now being accused by leading Muslim
politicos like the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress [SLMC] General Secretary, who
is Deputy Chairman of Committees in parliament, Rauf Hakeem and
organisations like the All-Ceylon Muslim League of not only inaction but
even connivance. In fact, Mr.Rauf Hakeem during the debate on the Emergency
in Parliament (early April) went further and charged that there seemed to be
an ethnic bias in the police force, adding that the usual government
response of transferring the police station Officers in Charge (OICs) after
the incidents was like the proverbial locking the stables after the horses
political observers and analysts suspect that there are hidden hands or
forces behind these attacks on Muslims which they say are now becoming more
frequent. The monthly Al Islam trilingual paper that our Foundation
publishes, the longest-published Muslim journal in Sri Lanka, has on many
occasions during the past few years drawn the attention of the government
and public to this anti-Muslim trend, particularly in the media and even in
stage dramas and tele-dramas where the intention seemed to be to create
suspicion and enmity among the majority Sinhalese, particularly Buddhists
question is who is going to gain by Sinhala-Muslim antagonism. In the
community, there is a strong feeling that only those plotting to divide our
country a la Bosnia and cause chaos and mayhem, like the LTTE and their
supporters or subversive organisations in the South would profit from a
second ethnic/religious battle against Muslims and Sinhalese.
Certain political observers also suspect certain NGOs behind the conspiracy
because opposition from Buddhist organisations and the Sangha to their
attempts to convert Buddhists could be covered and diverted by shifting the
focus on imaginery dangers from and so-called exploitation by Muslims.
‘Al Islam’ has on a number of occasions quoted statements from community
and religious leaders on the atmosphere of suspicion and hatred being
created by certain individuals, organisations and sections of the media
which only lead a slight match to ignite a conflagration.
Fortunately, Sinhala Buddhist-Muslims’ friendly relations go back many
centuries, as historians and scholars like Dr.Lorna Devarajah (The
History of the Ceylon Muslims: Thousand Years of Harmony) have pointed
out, and despite a few aberrations like the 1915 riots, the two peoples have
lived side by side in harmony to their mutual benefit. From the days of the
Sinhala kings, as Dr.Devarajah and similar historians have recorded, the
adherents of Islam have been allies of the Sinhalese not only fighting
foreign invaders like the Portuguese shoulder to shoulder, but even helping
put the country on the world map through trade ties. The Sinhalese kings and
even the Sangha reciprocated by rewarding Muslims for these services and
loyalty, which certain mischievous forces are now trying to make the
Buddhists our nation forget.
Muslims, in modern times too stood for a united Ceylon opposing claims by
Tamils for ‘fifty-fifty’, and our leaders also supported the introduction of
the Bills to make swabasha the national languages of the country. Later,
when the Tamil political parties and the armed militants demanded Eelam,
despite claims by the Tamils that their struggle was for Muslims too (under
the label of Tamil-speaking peoples) and offers of plums of office after
Eelam is established, Muslims, not merely in the South but even in the North
and East, where one-third of the total Muslim population in Sri Lanka lived,
said ‘NO’ loudly and clearly to the Tamil entreaties.
this during this period after 1983, Muslims have suffered tremendously with
members of the community being massacred in the hundreds (even whilst
praying inside mosques) by Tamil terrorists, turned into refugees by the
thousands, with the entire Muslim population in the North told to quit with
just 24 hours notice by the Tigers, leaving behind properties, buildings and
insitutions (schools and mosques) worth billions. In the East, thousands of
acres of rich paddy land owned by Muslims cannot be cultivated at present
because these are either under LTTE control or in areas which are unsafe.
there is a growing anger, almost exasperation, amongst Muslims, when
Sinhalese individuals and organisations make statements utterly derogative
of them, and act to prevent them from acquiring facilities which are
available to others, and object to construction of mosques or calling for
prayer (Azan) which does not exceed three minutes.
course, Muslims understand that the overwhelming majority of Sinhala
Buddhists do not support such attacks and opposition to Muslim activities,
which many observe is not only illogical given Muslim opposition to demands
for separation, but also smack of utter foolishness, stupidity, once they
think of what could have happened if Muslims, particularly in the East, had
not stood as a barrier, an obstacle, to Tiger penetration and expansion into
Sinhala areas, in the NCP [North Central Province] or even Uva.
their own if the Tamil terrorists could hold back and even inflict big blows
on the armed forces and important targets, civilian and military, will not
those who are spreading poisonous propaganda against Muslims and even
instigating riots against them, pause to reflect on the scenario with
Muslims on the opposite camp, is a question posed by many intelligent
individuals amongst both Sinhalese and Muslims, although it is shocking to
find university dons like Professor H.M.D.R.Herath who told the Sinhala
Commission in May that Muslims had collected elephant dung from Dalada
Maligawa lands and built mosques from monies obtained from such work. Herath
received a stinging repost from Muslims who said that the only place where
there was dung in elephantine proportions must be in the Peradeniya
hoped that through utter stupid provacative statements like this and actions
to stop Muslims receiving due rights whether in the economic, educational or
religious sphere, and frequent mini-pogroms, the majority community will not
play into the hands of those who are really national enemies by pushing a
community which throughout the centuries has lived and worked in solidarity
and harmony, to the wall.
is required is quick action to nip these eveil designs in the bud, and ‘Al
Islam’, four months ago banned headlined a call by ex-Foreign Minister
A.C.S.Hameed for Muslims to probe this growing anti-Muslimism amongst
Sinhalese. A dialogue between community and religious leaders of both
communities, may be a positive step to stop this drift towards a new
ethno-religious calamity. A calamity in which there will be no winners but
only losers considering not only the international political fallout adverse
to the country, which could be a bat, the Tigers could hit the Sinhalese
with, by pointing out Sinhalese cannot live with any others, but also due to
the economic and human aspect with more than 200,000 Sri Lankans living and
earning billions for Sri Lanka from the Muslim Arab states.