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Who are “Moors”


"The term Moor is usually that which describes one of the Islamic faith among the Berbers, Black Africans and North Africans of the Almoravid dynasty. They held political power in the Iberian peninsular around the time of the Ummayid Caliphate. The term Muir is also referred to the people of African origin in the Mauritanian region. Those of the faith were generally called Moors during the height of Spanish rule. Moorish architectural and religious influences was seen in many places when I visited Granada, Cordoba, Valencia."

by Seran Senguttuvan
(April 05, Colombo, Sri Lankan Guardian) Mr. M.I.M. Noordeen in an able critique (LG/April 01) of another writer unfortunately stains an otherwise good article by bringing in the Tamils quite un-necessarily. In the process he also misleads himself – vide “unlike the un-united Tamils the Muslim community is united” I would have allowed this slight to pass without comment under normal circumstances. However, one cannot but notice in recent times many initiated Muslims here appear to invoke this engineered fallacy far too often - more for electoral mileage.

Tamils being an ancient race, admittedly, are subject from time immemorial to many identities and structures in the social order. Some of these come to conflict with the modern overview . The Ages of Reason and Enlightenment of the early part of the 18th century in Western Europe - thanks to egalitarian thinkers of the time coming from England, Germany, France and Holland in particular - changed the philosophical contours of the world. The sum total of their thinking was justice and reason should be the prime sources of political power and legitimacy. These were dangerous thoughts during those days of monarchial power and order. Some of these reformists were put to death for "treason" "corrupting the young" and "instigating public disorder" – though the ruling elite put forth different reasons as in the case of Socrates and Jesus Christ. Many of these philosophers were influenced by the thoughts of Plato, Diogenes and other thinkers of Grecian-Roman vintage.

Heirarchial differences that began with traditional avocation in the Tamil-Hindu societies are today slowly but surely giving away in a world that provides opportunities in a hundred different ways of livelihood – as opposed to the Agro-based village social order of old India. Then one had to be satisfied with one’s Karma in work as prescribed by the Brahminic belief of Brahma. Mr Noordeen appears to be far too well read for me to point out to him the iconoclastic social changes brought in by EVR Periyar and friends – followed by other social reform movements in the post-1950 period. The pathbreaking movie “Parasakthi” made super stars of actor Sivaji Ganeshan and the present Chief Minister of Tamilnadu Shri M. Karunanidhi. It is to this silent and peaceful social revolution the Brahminic hold in the high political positions of Tamilnadu held by leaders like Raja ii, Bhaktavatsalam and others gave way. This saw men from the lower tiers of society like Kamaraj to the political helm. Former Chief Minister CN Annadurai, mentor of Karunanidhi and MGR was a non-Brahmin - though not from the depressed castes. MG Ramachandran and now Karunanidhi to follow too were non-Brahmins. The caste barrier is breaking among the Tamils both in India and Sri Lanka is an undeniable fact that education and justice is holding sway. Inter-caste marriages are seen more often among the million Tamils In the diaspora as well within the Island. This is more among the Christians than Hindus till now. So that the caste-based disunity Mr Noordeen mentions is slowly receding into the background. One should not mistake differences in age old societal tiers to political disunity. That Mr. R. Sampanthan from the North-East is now the unanimous leader of the Tamil political formation in the Island is further proof that unity among Tamils is now far more pronounced and proceeds to a society that will unite despite differences seen in the earlier order. Total unanimity, however, in a democratic structure, is far too much to expect even in what is accepted as the more developed societies in the West.

I do not want to take this matter into sensitive areas in our already confused land except to point out to Mr Noordeen his comments “that Muslims here are, unlike Tamils, united” is arguable. He either does not know what is happening in the country or has made a weak attempt to hide the truth. Surely, recent incidents in Beruwala, Puttalam and Kattankudy – where killings and shootings among the Muslim faithful were the order of the day in recent times goes to suggest there is, sadly for all of us, greater disunity among Muslims than ever before. It is not uncommon now for some of these religious groups to ask for Police protection during their normal Friday Jumma prayers - that was once a peaceful event. One also hopes greater unity among Muslims locally and a recognition of their strength in the global brotherhood will stand in favour of that poor girl Rizana Nafeek - subject to severe physical and mental torture in a country of the book and faith.

The term Moor is usually that which describes one of the Islamic faith among the Berbers, Black Africans and North Africans of the Almoravid dynasty. They held political power in the Iberian peninsular around the time of the Ummayid Caliphate. The term Muir is also referred to the people of African origin in the Mauritanian region. Those of the faith were generally called Moors during the height of Spanish rule. Moorish architectural and religious influences was seen in many places when I visited Granada, Cordoba, Valencia.

South Indian Muslims – from whom the bulk of our own Muslims come from – prefer to call themselves Tamil Muslims, which is what they are- as Mr Noordeen concurs. The highly respected Scientist and former President of India Abdul Kalam takes pleasure in so identifying him. There were a few Arabs here in the course of their sail-boat trading ventures centuries ago who settled in the littoral areas of the Island but they were a small number. As Aristotle was to write “One swallow does not make a summer” says it all.

Irrespective of what they prefer to call themselves, what language they wish to speak or how they wish to dress the fact is the Muslims of Sri Lanka are an integral and welcome part of the National tapestry. Their contribution to our trade, culture and welfare has gained respect and national acceptance.

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