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HomeTamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Muslims & Tamil Eelam > The National Question & the Muslims - a Socio Political Analysis

The National Question & the Muslims
- a Socio Political Analysis

Excerpts from a book first Published in Tamil, 1981
by Allai Publications, Jaffna, Tamil Eelam


1. The general characteristics of Muslims in Sri Lanka

28 % of the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka are Tamil speaking Muslims,officially called Sri Lanka Moors.

The Moors are second largest section of the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka, constituting 93.16 % of the Muslim population. So, generally, the term 'Muslim' means Tamil speaking Muslims. In Sri Lanka they are the basic stock of the Muslims.

According to the 1981 Census the structure of the Tamil speaking people, and the Muslims, is as follows:

Tamil-speaking people, ethnic division:

Ethnic group

Sri Lanka Tamil

Indian Tamil

Sri Lankan Moor

Total Tamil-speaking people











  People of Muslim religion, divisions:


Sri Lanka Moor

Malays (Java)

Bohra, Meymen and others

Total number of Muslims











Tamil-speaking Muslims (Sri Lanka Moors) belong to the Sunni school, following Saafi sect. Baard-Bohra social group, generally known as Bais, are following the Shia school.

Generally Malays and Meymens also belong to the Sunni school. Meymen belong to the Hanafi sect. Because of this Malays and Meymen do not live apart like the Shia Bohras. They have more connections with Tamil-speaking Muslims.

Meymen and Bohra, who originated in North India use Urdu and Gujerati in their homes. Most of them are involved in wholesale textile and consumer trade and live in the towns. Malays, also called Javas, are the descendants of soldiers brought from the island of Java during the Dutch colonial period.

40% of the Muslims living in Sri Lanka, live in their traditional homelands in Tamil speaking regions. The other 60%, living in the Sinhalese region, mostly live in towns in their traditional Muslim wards, and in rural areas in traditional Muslim villages.

Generally, the Muslims living in Tamil areas live as rural people involved in economic occupations related to agriculture and fisheries. In Sinhalese areas Muslims predominantly live in big and small towns, are involved in private commercial activities, transport, and marketing of animal husbandry and agricultural goods.

The educated people and middle class work in professions and in the public sector. Such activity is so far found only among Muslims living in cities like Colombo and Kandy within the Sinhalese areas. As an exception there are in areas like Kurunegala and Kandy districts Muslims owning coconut and rubber estates, or working as paddy farmers.

Upper and middle class Muslims are in Sinhalese areas traditionally found mainly in Kalutara and Galle, and in Kandy District. Rich people are mainly working in private enterprises.

Among Muslims living in Tamil areas, education and the developing of a middle class is predominant only in Jaffna. But here, in Jaffna, only 1.6% of the total population is Muslim.

Jaffna Muslims are generally not involved in agriculture but in rural small-scale economic activities and public and private employment. However, a small section of the Muslims living in Nainativu, not urban, are involved in maritime activities like diving for clams and fishing. Among Muslims living in Chemma Street in Jaffna Town terrible poverty exists.

Because of this socio-demographic background the possibility of a Jaffna-oriented Muslim leadership did not exist.

So most of educated Muslims in Jaffna sold their services to the Colombo commercially based leadership. Also, this commercial elite in Colombo has the opportunity to control the eastern Muslims through their commercial, professional, and religious relationships (NETWORK?).

Because of this situation, since the beginning of this century, Muslim leadership happened to be the leadership of the Colombo-based, upper-class whose commercial interests dominated. They, to promote their interests, left the future of the ordinary Muslims living in their traditional Tamil-speaking areas, and in Sinhalese areas in their traditional villages and wards, at the mercy of the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists. Because of this attitude of betrayal on the part of the Colombo leadership, the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist state, and the Sinhala colonists, have in Tamil regions taken several hundred square miles of land from Muslim areas and its extensions, and in Sinhala regions from Muslim villages.

The shrinking of the boundaries of Muslim areas and villages should be understood against the background of a growth-rate among Muslims which is higher than among other ethnic groups.

2 The special characteristic of the demographic structure of the Muslims and its consequences

The demographic structure of Muslims differ from that of the Tamils and Sinhalese in three aspects:

1. Living in a socio-geographical setting divided between Tamil-speaking and Sinhala-speaking regions

2. With the exception of Amparai, whether it is in Tamil-speaking or Sinhala-speaking regions, living in scattered and small communities without geographical continuity

3. While Tamil-speaking, 60% of them are living in Sinhala-speaking regions in segregated enclaves

Unlike the Tamil and Sinhalese who are mostly living in their own linguistic regions, Muslims do not have this characteristic, as only 40% live in the Tamil-speaking region. This needs our attention. More than this, and complicating everything, Muslims live scattered all over Sri Lanka. Because of this scattered living, they do not have the social geography to emerge as a nation or to build a strong movement or party. In this respect they face many practical difficulties related to communication and differing socio-economic interests.

Most of the Muslims living in Sinhalese areas create difficulties for uniting with other Muslims and developing a strategy to defend the common interests of all Tamil-speaking people...



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