What “Muslims” Are We? A Moment Of Truth!

“The Tamil nationalist lobby across the Palk Straits is basically postulated on the traditional Muslim Tamil politico-cultural unity. In fact some of the staunch defenders of the LTTE in Tamilnadu are Tamil nationalist Muslims who belong to the secessionist fringe of the Dravidian and Naxalbhari movements.”

by S.M.M. Bazeer

“If there is a knower of tongue here, fetch him;
There is a stranger in the city
And he has many things to say” - Mirza Ghalib ( Urdu poet)

(November 04, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The writer was appalled by the appeal made by Prof. Jawahirullah to the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, M. Karunanithi stating that “he should remember the Muslims in his effort to bring peace to the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka.” He also suggested that “it is the need of hour that both Tamils and Tamil Muslims should join together to fight the Sinhala racism”.

Prof. Jawahirullah, the president of the TMMK ( Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam ) , has come out openly, for the first time with regards to salvaging the “ Tamil Muslims “ of Sri Lanka. (Sri Lanka Guardian -October 24th). The concern of the TMMK is genuine unlike other Tamilnadu Muslim political parties but it is a misguided appeal at the wrong time to the wrong person. It would have been more appropriate for the TMMK to have voiced their concern about the civilian causalities of the war zone rather than seeking help from M. Karunamithi to protect the “Tamil Muslims” or “Tamil speaking Muslims”. As far as the writer is aware the TMMK is the most powerful Muslim people movement in Tamilnadu, and one of its founder members, Moulavi P. Jainulabdeen has always condemned the LTTE for its atrocities against the Muslims. The movement’s newspaper; “Unarvukal” (consciousness) has never failed to reflect their antipathy towards the LTTE. The writer had a brief meeting with PJ in Chennai in January 2000 with regards to the matters of mutual interest.

Prof. Jawahirullah has also highlighted the “Tamil Muslim” historical contributions to the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka, dating back to the time of Dr. AMA Azeez. Nonetheless, he has missed the turning points that impacted on the

distinctive Muslim Identity, which the Muslim leaders fought tooth and nail for centuries. He has also failed to take note of the fact that two thirds of the Muslims who live in the south of Sri Lanka are not only Tamil speaking but also Sinhala speaking, despite their practical language being Tamil.

“Tamil speaking people” or “Tamil Muslim” is merely a political language that has been adopted by the Tamil politicians to hoodwink the Muslims, who live in the North and the East as they speak Tamil. Prof. Jawahirullah has also referred to the Sri Lankan Muslims as “Tamil Speaking” without delving deeper into the history of the Tamil-Muslim identity confrontation that emerged from the time of Ponnambalam Ramanathan in 1885, who refused to accept that the Muslims were “ Moors” by race, and obstinately argued that they were ethnologically Tamils. This was the onset of an identity crisis between the “Moor” or “Muslims” and the “Eeelam Tamils”. ILM Abdul Azeez vehemently countered Ramantahan’s illogical classification of the Moors to be “Tamils”.

Prof. Jawahirullah was also factually incorrect in his reference to Dr. AMA Azeez that he resigned from the ruling UNP to oppose the enactment of the Sinhalese Language Act in 1956. However, Azeez resigned from the UNP when the UNP parliamentary meeting supported the “Sinhala only” policy, which was enacted by the ruling SLFP Government headed by SWRD Banadaranyake in 1956. Dr.AMA Azeez, being an outstanding educationist and a statesman, looked well ahead of time as to how the long fought distinctive identity of the Muslims would suffer from the implementation of the “Sinhala only” Act. His concern was correctly decoded by Dr. Saleem Marsoof, P.C.

“Senator Azeez's main misgiving in regard to the 'Official Language Bill' was that, he thought that it posed a challenge to the separate identity of the Muslims as an ethnic group distinct from the Tamils, which the Muslims had been trying to preserve even during the pre-independence period.”

His fear later became a reality and indeed posed a threat to the distinctive identity of the Muslims due to their linguistic affiliations, and the consistent manipulation of Tamils.


Prof. Jawahirullah did not categorically say about who forced the Muslims to leave the North or who killed the Muslims in various parts of the East, but illustrated what happened to the Mutur Muslims at the time of the LTTE’s encroachment and the resultant army attack on Mutur. He also arrived at the conclusion that it was an example of how “Tamil Muslims” were attacked by the LTTE and the “Sinhalese racial army”. Nonetheless, He seemed to have missed the fine points of the capture of Mutur by the army and the restoration of peace in Mutur after years of LTTE’s atrocities on the Mutur Muslims. His use of language; “Sinhalese racial army” does appear to be unacceptable to the Muslims of Mutur eventually felt that they would have suffered a similar fate of the Northern Muslims had the Sri Lankan army not valiantly fought against the LTTE and kicked them out of Mutur. His example and concluding remark would not in anyway help the Muslims of the East where the army is still on the defense line to protect the civilians of all ethnic groups from the LTTE.

It was another interesting anecdote that also appeared in the Sri Lankan Guardian on the 8th of October. The news displayed that Kunnamkudi R.M. Haniffa , had observed a token fast in prison , in support of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Muslims of Sri Lanka , especially in the North and the East , have heard or read about Kunnamkudi Masthan , a Sufi Muslim Poet , who followed Hindu tradition of spiritual poetry and lifestyle like that of Patinathar, a Hindu Cittar.(hermit)

Another Muslim who is associated with Kunnamkudi and who drew the attention of the Sri Lankan Muslims recently is Kunnamkudi R. M. Haniffa. He was the founder member of the TMMK along with the famous religious preacher P.Jainulabdeen. He has never played a prominent role in the TMMK as he is involved in religious preachings albeit being a founder member of the TMMK. Kunnamkudi R.M. Haniffa has been languishing in prison for 11 years, as a suspect in a bomb explosion in Kovai and the Indian Police appeared to have associated him with a “Jihad” front of an unnamed organization, despite obviously knowing that he was a member of a socio- religious organization, TMMK.

Tamils and Tamil Muslims

On the one hand, a Tamilnadu TMMK Muslim may well argue that the language can be used to identify with their religion as Professor. Jawahirullah designated the Tamils by their religion, such as “Hindu Tamils”, leaving alone the “Christian Tamils”, but on the other hand, Tamilnadu Muslim League has always used the rhetoric that “ Islam is our path; rejoicing Tamil is our language” ( Islam engal vazhi: inpaththamil engal mozhi” ) ., This tradition has been adopted from the time of Ismail Sahib (Kaithe Millath) whose All India Muslim League, had political alliances with the DMK ( Diravida Munnetra Khazhkam ) on an understanding that the DMK motto “ Onre Kulam Orvane Thevan” ( All are one and the God is one) was very much in line with the basic principle of Islam “ Thowheed” ( Oneness of God). This long political bondage and understanding between the Tamils and the Muslims in Tamilnadu brought them closer together, to a singular racial identity based on their language and region. As time went by the All India Muslim League became confined to party for the Tamilnadu and Kerala Muslims. The Sri Lankan Muslims have always kept a “political distance” from the Tamilnadu Muslims, especially with the Muslim League.

Sheik Dawood ; the Tamilnadu Muslim League leader also applied the same terminology that Muslims are also “ Tamils” , thus ridiculed the history of the Sri Lankan Muslim’s ethnic struggle, against the Tamil dominance, for centuries . He seemed to be the descendant of Ponnambalam Ramanathan., who got in the way of Muslims being appointed to the Legislative Council. Skeik Dawood entered into a controversy when he advised the Sri Lankan Muslims in a meeting in Colombo in August 2004.

“The Muslims living in Sri Lanka should not hesitate to identify themselves as Tamils. I am proud to say I am a Tamil by race”. His declaration made the Sri Lankan Muslims angry and resulted in him leaving the country with an unrelenting farewell. A Muslim journalist, Bathusa (pseudonym of the writer) wrote in a Sri Lankan Muslim weekly, that he (Sheik Dawood) had the right to call himself as he wished but should not enforce his view on the Sri Lankan Muslims. Bathusa also stated that “Sheik Dawood did not know the history of the Muslims who had suffered from domination and atrocities committed on the Muslims by the Tamils.”

He also participated as a guest speaker in a Human rights meeting of the Sri Lankan Tamil community in London in September this year, where he was reported to have made the same blunder that the Sri Lankan Muslims are Tamils. Nevertheless, one of the panel speakers, Mohamed Nishthar confronted him about the imposition of identity on the Sri Lankan Muslims and argued with him that the Muslims were “Soonakars” (Moors). At times, the confrontation initiated by Ponnambalam , is very much enlivened by the South Indian “Tamil-Muslims” like Sheik Dawood. Inkulab (A well-known Tamil poet in South India) and Al- Haj. Abdul Jabbar ( A LTTE sympathiser and a political commentator of the pro LTTE radio in London). The irony is that the LTTE supporter, Kumar Ponnambalam had a different view before he indulged in the ultra Tamil nationalistic terror politics of the LTTE.

The late Kumar Ponnambalam , who was posthumously honoured by Pirabakaran as “ Mamanithar ” (Great man) for his staunch support for the LTTE, acknowledged this in a seminar in Colombo in April 1998 “…It must not be forgotten that the Moors, by and large, resent being lugged together with the Tamils into the category of the Tamil-speaking people and the resentment and objection ahs been there for close on a century. But the Tamils, for reasons of selfishness and convenience still refer to the Moors as belonging to the class of Tamil-speaking people much to the annoyance of the more politically conscious Moors.”


A section of Tamilnadu Muslims have always been actively supporting the Tamil struggle as they perceive it to be part of their Dravidian political affiliations.

In the early days of the Tamil armed struggle, there were instances where the Tamilnadu Muslims showed their solidarity with the “Eelam Tamils” in highly emotive and insensible way, which exceeded the fundamental principals of their religious belief.

For example, Sajhahan , a Muslim in Tamilnadu doused in petrol and set fire to himself to demonstrate his support to the Tamil victims in Sri Lanka during the time of MGR. Prabakaran was pleased with the act of this “Muslim Tamil” and sent his condolences to his family.

This kind of idiocy was repeated by the action of another Muslim in Tamilnadu , known as “Rahim” who attempted to set himself on fire a few years ago in opposition to the Sri Lankan Army’s excesses.

It is reported that South Indian costal belts were procurement points for the LTTE until recently. It was alleged that Vaiko’s (V. Gopalasamy) deputy, who is a Muslim, had been arrested by the Indian Authorities for his role in smuggling boll bearing to the LTTE, a few months ago. Vaiko is the mouthpiece of the LTTE who was even reported to have justified the expulsion of the Muslims from the North by the LTTE, and unashamedly called them as “traitors” at a recent conference in Norway. It is reported in the Taminadu Legislative council’s proceedings of 23 August 1996 that Karunanithi disclosed the fact that members of Vaiko’s MMDK Youth Front had been arrested when attempted to smuggle goods to the LTTE. M. Karunanithi also admitted that the smugglers in Tamilnadu make use of the LTTE whether or not the LTTE make use of them.

The writer also notes what Thamotharam Sivaram , aka Tharaki wrote in early 1990’s about the Tamilnadu Muslim connection.

“The Tamil nationalist lobby across the Palk Straits is basically postulated on the traditional Muslim Tamil politico-cultural unity. In fact some of the staunch defenders of the LTTE in Tamilnadu are Tamil nationalist Muslims who belong to the secessionist fringe of the Dravidian and Naxalbhari movements.”

Sivaram also wrote “ the south, south-eastern coastal stretch of Tamil Nadu which still functions as LTTE’s lifeline is dominated by a large number of Muslim villages and towns that have been traditionally friendly towards the Tamil groups even at times when the Tamil Nadu police imposed a total ban on all smuggling activities. Some Muslim business men used to allow their vast coconut plantations on this coast for the use of the armed Tamil groups including the LTTE.”

At the time the writer was concluding this article, there was a meeting in Kuwait conducted by the Social Justice Forum of the Kuwait Tamils who comprised of members of Tamilnadu Political parties, in condemnation of the Sri Lankan government and this meeting was chaired by the Muslim League Organizer in Kuwait, Dr. Anvar Batcha and some other “Tamil Muslims” from Tamilnadu. It is no surprise that the Tamilnadu Muslim would prefer to call themselves either “Tamils” or “Tamil Muslims” . Nonetheless, they have no right whatsoever to enforce their identity on the Sri Lankan Muslims.

The writer also noted the reply of what the former leader of the SLMC, MHM Ashroff’s reply to a question posed a journalist in Tamilnadu with regards to the support of the Tamilnadu Muslims to the Sri Lankan Muslims, just about a week before his death in a helicopter crash.

Q: “The Tamils of the Tamilnadu plays a substantive role in the Sri Lankan Tamils’ struggle. The support of the Muslims of Tamilnadu could influence Sri Lankan Muslim politics. Why have u not taken any action concerning this?

A: Insha Allah we have been considering that; we thought about it earlier, when we came to Tamilnadu, some brothers also requested. As far as I’m concerned I believe in Allah’s help without any foreign help”. (Morning Star October 2000)

The writer subscribes to the view of Ashroff but encourages the Tamilnadu Muslims to consult the Muslims of Sri Lanka whether they need their help like what as previously asked of Ashroff, prior to making appeals to anyone or embark on any supportive activities because we are not “Tamil Muslims” but “Muslims who happened to speak Tamil.

The use of the word “Tamil Muslim” has misled a website host, Chidar in Germany, to unwittingly attach the Tiger flag to the Tamil translation of Quran as if the Tamil is the sole or main language of a country which depicted by a “tiger flag”. The irony is that the same web host has correctly attached the Indian flag to the Hindi and Malayala translation of the Quran.

The writer is aware that Prof A. Marks has acknowledged in his book on the Prophet Mohamed (Sal) that Prof. Jawahirullah had helped him in providing materials in his effort to write the book, “ The Prophet That I saw” ( Naan Kanda Nabikalar”. When the writer held a personal discussion with Prof. A Marks with regards to North and the Eastern Muslims, he admitted the singular identity of the Muslims who can not be lumped together as Tamils, or Tamil speaking. He has also had his point of view published in a website; “The Eela Struggle has left all perception and political philosophies including socialism and democracy; wiping out all other fellow movements; transforming as an authoritarian struggle based in Jaffna. As a result of this, today, Daliths, people of eastern province has not only turned away from the “Tamileela demand” but also stand against it “. My kind appeal to Prof. Jawahirulla and the like to get clarity from people like Prof. A Marks with regards to the Muslims of the so called “Eelam”.
- Sri Lanka Guardian