Some Notes On Moors Religious Exlusivism

by Imtiyaz Razak, "The Colombo Telegraph," August 23, 2013

Dr.Imtiyaz Razak

I would like to sketch some points about Moors to help readers to understand the trend. Note that I am neither hired by external forces, as some alledged, to criticize Moors nor do I hate my own community so I criticize it.

As I pointed on my facebook wall “We need to be critical of our own choices and paths. I know well about my own community, when we think that we are the perfect and others are always bad, we actually contribute to tensions. it is the time for Muslims to revisit their actions for better,… what we all need is space for self-critical. It is hard to get that done, but it should be done to promote peace at popular level. Failure from our parts helps political actors both at home and abroad. I love my country-Sri Lanka. This is the only space I can call confidently as MY country despite my deep respect and love for both China and the US.

Moors of Sri Lanka have been winning significant socio-cultural concessions from the successive governments since the organized rise of ethnic tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese. These concessions from state were made possible due to Moor political elites’ explicit cooperation with Sinhala ruling elites. Introduction of the market economy by former President JR. Jayewardene opened the way for poor Muslims to seek jobs and other opportunities in the Middle Eastern countries. There was increase flow among Muslims of Sri Lanka, especially economically weaker sections of Moors to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries from the North and East and other parts of Sri Lanka.  On the other hand, Sri Lanka also experienced growth of tensions and conflict beyond the Tamil-Sinhala. Actually, the conflict begun to transfer from the Tamil-Sinhala to Tamil-Sinhala-Moor conflict. Tamil–Muslim riots broke out in April 1985, apparently over an incident in the town of Mannar in the north where three Muslim worshippers were said to have been gunned down by Tamil militants inside a mosque, which ruined the Tamil–Muslim cordiality. During this period, there were religious increase activities by certain groups of Sri Lanka Moors. There were new Islamic organizations and groups. Some of them won generous support from the Middle Eastern Wahabists and their organizations. My interviews for my research on Eastern Muslims suggest that there were explicit helps and communications between certain Islamist groups based in the Eastern Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka’s neighbor country.  The sources outside of Sri Lanka wanted to advance their religious and political agendas among Moors.

Sri Lanka government rather than effectively curbing such organizations either did not pay any attention to these organizations’ communications and contacts with foreign Islamic sources or paid little attention in order (1) not to disturb Moor elites cooperation in its fight against the Tamil Tigers and (2) to gain Moor youth support to fight Tamil Tigers. Some organizations from Moors of the East knew the trend very well and made use of existed vacuum for their advantages.  This paved the way for some Islamic organizations, which calls Moors to follow Islam strictly to consolidate their interests among Moors with stricter and exclusive versions of Islam. It is also important to remember that these organizations were inherently anti-Tamil. Such anti-Tamil slogans in the East helped them to win sympathy and support among poor Moors of the East. Madrasas from this region played key role to breed Islamism among students who joined Madrasas, because they provided totally free education.

I had opportunities to visit and talked to these students and teachers in Madrasa located in Ampara and Batticola districts in 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2002. I still have close contacts with some of top-level leaders in those Madrasas.  Their syllabus was and is inherently exclusive and introduces Islam traditional ways. Since most of students who go to these Madrasas hail from economically poor families, and parents are deeply religious and thus expect their kids to be “good” Muslims, they pay less or no attention either on curriculum of Madrasas or how they are being run and what they are being taught.  The sad reality is that such is the reality even in 2013. Actually, it is wrong to blame poor people for their choice to send to these Madrasas, which teach narrow version of Islam to kids. The problem is rooted in socio-economic structure of Eastern society.

Though Sri Lanka’s Southern Muslims were relatively free from Wahabists influence, liberalization of Sri Lanka economy also helped them to seek job opportunities. Those who returned to home from jobs in the Middle East, not only came with some decent money, but also stricter version of Islam. Colombo, for example, experienced growth of Islamic movements in 1990 and 2000. Some of the organizations gained blessings and finance from the Middle Eastern sources. They not only begun to spread their competing ideologies among Moors of the south, but also established mosques and other social organizations.  Some of them were functioned pricate homes because they do not want to be identified publiclt for some reasons. These organizations were able to Islamicize Moors of the South very effectively. The growth of hijabis and Moor youth wearing hates in public places, and desire to seek Islamic Politics suggest that significant sections of Moors of Sri Lanka following Islam in a way that would reject compromise and seek exclusivist approaches.

Generally speaking, societies choices, and its priorities with regard to the way common folks dress, what they study, their world views, their politics reflect the basic nature of society and its trend. In theory, it is very unlikely those who have broader word views and inclusive nature would embrace choices related to dress and other way of life based on religious ideas and exclusive way of life. On the other hand, exclusive approaches like inclusive ways are by product of social reality.  Hence, as I often argue, this trend among Moors was largely made possible mainly for three reasons: first, Sri Lanka Moors became targets of Tamil Tigers, Second, cultural concessions from state and third, global trend against the Muslims.  All three factors significantly played role for the growth of exclusivism among Moors of Sri Lanka.

It is important to point that fundamentalism can be manifested in several ways in any society. One of them is the expansion and advance of symbols such as mosques and Temple. If we notice fundamentalist trend among Muslims, such is also exist among non-Muslims both in Sri Lanka and beyond. The growth of the BBS among Sinhala-Buddhists is the perfect example to this effect. And the  origin and growth  of the Tamil Tigers were prime example of extremism among Tamils. Extremism is by product of social and political choices backed by economic preferences. No society, for that no person was born as extremists. Social and economic conditions contribute to extremism. On the other hand, in deeply divided society, one group’s choices can trigger extremism on other part. It can occur in a organized circle if there was a politicinzation. Hence, Sri Lanka’s ruling political class needs to take following acts as soon as it can to arrest extremism on all sides:

1) Strictly observe activities of all the religious organizations both Moors and non-Moors, including Buddhists.

2) Introduce syllabus to religious schools. Religious schools such as Madrasas should not be allowed to formulate their own syllabus. Syllabus should be formulated by recognized scholars.

3) There need to be committee to oversee religious school activities.

4) Foreign sources should be banned from providing financial support to religious organizations. If foreign organizations would like to contribute to religious schools such as Madrasas, such generous contributions should be channeled through state institutions.

5) Extremists religious organizations, including the BBS need to be banned.

6) Should not promise cultural and religious concessions to any groups, including Moors.

6) Take measures to arrest tensions among all ethnic groups at popular level.

Sri Lanka needs peace. Extremism and fundamentalism from any side would not contribute to promote peace and justice. Since Sri Lanka is known for competitive elections, it is very likely political forces can utilize trend of extremism. This is truly dangerous and would potentially damage ethnic harmony at popular level. Hence, Sri Lanka’s ruling class should come forward to protect all the people regardless of their deadly brand loyalties. Such inclusive actions from state should be dead blow to growing extremism, including Islamic extremism.

Comments are disabled on this page.