Non –Tamil identity of Muslims- 1

Some Critical Notes on the Non-Tamil Identity of the Muslims of Sri Lanka, and on Tamil–Muslim Relations

Demotix Images :
Muslims at Penang, Malaysia performing their "tarawikh" prayers during the eve of first day of Ramadan. Muslims around the world congregate for special evening prayers called “Tarawih” during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. 31 July 2011
by A.R.M. Imtiyaz, Temple University, Philadelphia And S.R.H. Hoole, University of Jaffna
Courtesy: Journal of South Asian Studies


(August 01, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) The ethnic civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities that ravaged Sri Lanka in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and which ended in May 2009 has attracted great interest from scholars of ethnic identity. Both the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups employ language—Tamil and Sinhalese—as their primary ethnic marker to support their distinct ethnic formations. As for the Muslims, while the vast majority living in the north and east share many things with the Tamils there including the Tamil language, Muslims in the south have divergent interests based more on trade and commerce. Under a predominantly southern leadership, the Muslims who speak the Tamil language with some borrowed Arabic words seek a social formation based on religion to win a distinct ethnic recognition—distinct from the Tamil ethnic group. The result has been a deep rift between the Muslims and the Tamils, making a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s problems elusive. These issues have been relatively under-researched. This study looks at Sri Lankan Muslim identity and the Muslims’ relations with Tamils. In particular it interrogates some aspects of the identity discourse developed over the years by the south-centred Muslim elites who align with the Sinhalese political class. We argue that the Tamils’ northern leadership has been insensitive to Muslims—that they have played into the hands of the Colombo government by persecuting Muslims in their midst on the pretext of responding to government-instigated violence among local Muslim youths.


The construction of identity plays a significant role in the social formation of any political group. In Sri Lanka, language is the primary ethnic marker in the social formation of the two major ethnic groups—the Tamils and Sinhalese. The Muslims of Sri Lanka are the second largest group after the Tamils and share close linguistic and cultural ties with them, including the Tamil language; however, they prefer to be recognised by their religious and cultural identity, and claim they have a distinct ethnic group identity. This Muslim position expresses the key differences between the two Tamil-speaking communities. This paper discusses Tamil–Muslim relations and the key Muslim arguments that Muslim elites and politicians often employ to justify a distinct Muslim identity formation apart from that of the rival Tamil identity.

Both the minority Tamils, who made up 12.7 percent of the population in 1981,1 and the majority Sinhalese who claimed 74 percent of the population in 1981, base their respective identities on distinct languages—Tamil and Sinhalese—and symbolic mythical pasts. However, the Muslims of Sri Lanka, or more concisely the group commonly identified as Moors, claim that they are a distinct ethnic group despite their use of Tamil as their mother tongue.

Also contributing to Muslim social formation are markers based on descent from seafaring Arab traders who arrived from the 4th century AD onwards. The earliest stratum of Arab traders are likely to have been Christian, as indicated by the archaeological finds of a Thomian cross,2 and an early Christian baptismal font,3 from the pre-Buddhist Anuradhapura period (161– 137 BC). But most of those who came later were converts to Islam. These included not only Arabs, but low-caste Hindu converts from the Malabar region of South India.4 These converts had no Arab blood, but to judge from what we see today it would appear that they internalised the traditions of Arab descent into their faith system, identifying with Arabia as their putative place of origin; so also the more recent converts from the lower castes to Islam.5 Surprisingly, compared to converts from other communities, Tamils have ‘the least pronounced hereditary stratification’ along caste lines.6

The Muslims of Sri Lanka claim that the violent conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese has unfairly affected their interests and security, and seek just redress for the problems caused to them by the conflict.7 This first part of this paper will examine the factors pertaining to the identity formation of the Muslims or Moors.

The Sri Lanka Muslims or ‘Moors’

The Muslims, who practise Islam and speak Tamil, are a significant portion of the minorities in Sri Lanka. In 2001 they constituted 7.9 percent of the island’s total population.8 The term ‘Moors’ was introduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. They used it to refer to people they regarded as Arab Muslims and their descendants.9 Moreover the term was applied solely on the basis of religion: it said nothing about their origin.10

Initially the Muslims mainly inhabited the coastal areas of Sri Lanka but over time some of them moved into the interior. Today the majority (62 percent) live in the south of Sri Lanka, amidst the Sinhalese (Table 1). The remaining 38 percent, though, are established in the Tamil-dominated north and east, the region claimed by the Tamils as their traditional homeland.11 In a context where census-taking has become politicised, it is noteworthy that Muslims have become a majority in the Amparai District of Eastern Province which is part of this region.12 When the Tamil insurrection flared in the 1980s, most of the Muslims pointedly stood aside. This is one of the main reasons the Tamil Tigers (the LTTE or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) were always opposed to Muslim participation in any peace talks.

Nevertheless, at this time many Muslims were members of the Tamil Federal Party and a few did participate in the armed uprising. This was alarming to the -

Table 1

Sinhalese government. Therefore, pushing a policy of divide et impera, President J.R. Jayawardene sent one of his southern Muslim ministers, accompanied by his henchmen, to attack Tamils in Karaitivu village south of Batticaloa, and the two communities fell into the trap. With their prejudice against Muslims, the Tigers reacted with extreme violence. Too late, the presence of outside Muslims was exposed by Minister S. Thondaman who represented the hill-country Tamils. Muslim leaders of the east like A.L.A. Majeed protested, but to no avail.13 As the violence continued, the communities—seemingly inexorably—went their different ways.

A central aspiration of the Muslims in contemporary Sri Lanka, according to McGilvray, is their desire to develop a non-Tamil identity based on Islam.14 Radically-shifting political developments ‘have made them realize that their interest lies in holding fast to the religion of Islam and not to any ethnic category’.15 But the Muslims of the north and east blame the Tamils for pushing them in this direction. Gripped by demographic anxiety and locked in competition with the Tamils for control over economic and land resources, they turned to religion as a way of bolstering their cohesion.16 This was a key factor in the formation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) in the mid 1980s (at a time when the Muslims had established informal and formal contacts with the Sri Lanka state forces with a view to fighting against the Tamil Tigers).

However the Muslims living in the south and west of Sri Lanka have not shown any similar inclination to support an exclusive Muslim party, despite also being increasingly marginalised by the majority Sinhalese. Why not? There are two major reasons. Firstly the Muslims from outside the north and east believe that the Sinhalese-dominated United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) accommodate their needs, especially those of the Muslim political elites who lead them, because these parties have given some significant (and not-so-significant) ministerial portfolios and positions to Muslims, in addition to substantial business benefits. Secondly, unlike their brethren in the north and east, these Muslims are not confronted with organised violence at the hands of Sinhalese-Buddhist extremist groups targeting their identity and existence.

This situation in the south is unlikely to last much longer, however, as the Sinhalese-Buddhist extremists are ideologically committed to establishing complete Sinhalese dominance over the entire island. For instance, in the presidential elections of January 2010, the only two serious candidates were the president, Mahinda Rajapakse, and his one-time commander of the Sri Lankan army, Sarath Fonseka. Both hold hardline views on the ethnic question. Rajapakse said:

You must remember my political legacy and constraints. During my election I received few Tamil [votes]. . .. I was elected primarily by a Sinhala [sic] constituency on an election manifesto which made it clear that an ultimate solution to the ethnic crisis could be evolved only on the basis of a unitary state.17

And statements attributed to Fonseka had an even sharper tone:

I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people. . .. We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country.

We are also a strong nation. . .. They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.18

In any democratic country the majority should rule the country. This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74% of the population.19

It seems there is little space for minorities in the ruling mentality. Moreover there is a concerted move to marginalise the minorities politically, by bracketing them ideologically with global jihadi movements. According to the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a militant Buddhist party which is still part of Rajapakse’s coalition government, the ‘Malik Group, Osama Group, Deen Malik Group and Mujahideen Group. . .are some of the Muslim terrorist groups operating in Maligawatte (in Colombo)’.20

Understanding the Muslims’ Non-Tamil Identity

In Sri Lanka the north-eastern Muslims, who share close blood, linguistic and cultural ties with the Tamils, prefer to be recognised by their religious and cultural identity which has played a defining role in shaping their ideas, values and lifestyle.21 This is in sharp contradiction to the Tamil Nadu Muslims and the Christian Tamils who both describe themselves as Tamils.22

In order to understand the contradictions surrounding Muslim identity in Sri Lanka, this section will address two key questions: What are the key markers of non-Tamil identity among the Muslims of Sri Lanka, and do those markers actually make them distinct from the Tamils?

Islam has been radically successful in giving a faith-based identity to its adherents at the level of both the masses and the elites, wherever they may be around the globe. The Muslim elites centred in south Sri Lanka are aware of this trend, and thus have opted to push the Muslim masses to vigorously seek a religious identity to build up their ethnic identity and to renounce their primordial Tamil identity traits (such as the use of the Tamil language). Thus Muslims in the south increasingly study in Sinhalese—even though they may use Tamil at home—which has helped them commercially. Also the government has tried to wean Muslims away from Tamil by granting permission for them to study in the English medium. Previously the law required a person to study in his or her mother tongue. This policy has created a class of southern Muslims versatile in the English language, which explains their disproportionate presence in positions requiring the daily use of English— the private sector, the Executive Service at universities and so on.

Thus one major imperative driving the Muslim elite decision to seek a non-Tamil identity is their business orientation. The Muslim elites were aware of the trade-related consequences that could follow if they intentionally assimilated with the Tamils. Hence the elites centred in the south opted to co-operate with the Sinhalese authorities and to this end they deliberately constructed and promoted a non-Tamil identity for the Muslims of Sri Lanka.

In many cases, elite political leaders believe they can win support for, and strengthen their position by, mobilising along ethnic cleavages. They anticipate that appeals to ethnicity are particularly effective in expanding their power. Leaders sometimes encourage followers to use crude violence—pogroms or ethnic cleansing—or exploit ethnic tensions in electoral politics.23 In Sri Lanka, politicians emotionalise ethnic identities. The trend may be discerned from the early years of the Legislative Council which was organised mainly along ethnic lines.24 Even though Sir Ponnamblam Ramanathan (1851–1930), a Tamil, was hailed as a great Ceylonese by Sinhalese leaders, this was partly by way of thanks for his arguing, in London, against the harsh treatment meted out to the Singhalese by the colonial authorities over the 1915 communal riots between the Sinhalese and Muslims.

The Muslims however took Ramanathan’s speaking up for the Sinhalese as a sign that he was siding against them. This affront came on the heels of Ramanathan and I.L.M. Azeez arguing, in 1885, that the Muslims were not a community distinct from the Tamils (and therefore not deserving of separate representation in the Legislative Council).25 In a lecture to the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ramanathan claimed that the Muslims were but recent converts, arguing that (1) the language they spoke at home, (2) their history, (3) their customs and (4) their physical features26 all cumulatively showed that the Moors of Ceylon were ethnologically Tamils.27 Significantly Ramanathan was at the time the British-appointed representative of the Tamil-speaking communities—both Tamils and Muslims—in the legislature.

He was partly right. In the late nineteenth century Muslim identity was still fissiparous. The contemporary literature talked of Indian Moors, Coastal Moors and Ceylon Moors. These identities would later coalesce as ethnic politics, accentuated by the ethnic representation in the legislature, grew. Ironically, too, Ramanathan’s claim that Muslims were ‘Hindu converts’ inadvertently forged a case for a ‘Muslim’ identity. And the perception that the Muslims were a different people was strengthened by the 1950s parliamentary debate on the language issue. Razik Fareed, who had emerged as an articulate Muslim leader, ‘railed against what he called ‘‘political genocide’’ of the Moors under the Tamil yoke’. In reply, a Tamil member of parliament sarcastically accused him of being a ‘Sinhala [sic] defector’. Fareed continued to maintain that the Moors ‘were not Tamil converts’, and that ‘any attempt to bracket the Moors with the Tamils would amount to the political genocide of my race, the Moor community, by another race, the Tamil community. . .. We will not tolerate being called a Tamil and that from South India. We the Moors, will fight to the last drop of our blood and our last breath to counter this falsehood (that we are Tamils)’.28

But did this make them more, or less, part of the larger society? As McGilvray points out, Sinhalese intellectuals like the historian K.M. de Silva have emphasised the Muslims’ cultural assimilation into Sinhalese society and presented ‘their pragmatic accommodations policies as the mark of a ‘‘good’’ minority, implicitly contrasting them with the troublesome and recalcitrant Tamils’.29 Such paternalistic platitudes were increasingly swamped, though, by openly anti-Muslim attitudes. Again, 1915 seems to have been a watershed. Following the riots, Sinhalese reformist Anagarika Dharmapala declared: ‘The Muhammedans, an alien people. . .by Shylockian methods [have] become prosperous like Jews’.30 Gradually a sense of siege overtook the Muslim community. There anxieties were not allayed by the coming to power in 1956 of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who effectively sought to ethnicise relations between the different ethnic groups—thus outbidding his opponents—through his Sinhala-first language policy.31

As a response, Muslim elites and politicians, both in the south and in the north and east, vigorously promoted a non-Tamil identity to the Muslims of the north and east based upon their Islamic faith and their (male) Arab ancestors. Their objective was to win elections and public office. From the perspective of elite theory, identities are elite-driven. Hence, elites with political agendas and economic goals carefully construct identities.

One example was I.L.M. Azeez’s contribution in rejecting a Tamil identity for the Tamil-speaking Muslims as proposed by Ramanathan. Ramanathan was active at a time when the colonial rulers were debating whether to increase nominated native representatives to the Legislative Council. Muslim elites made a strong campaign to win a separate seat in the Council because they believed themselves to be a distinct group. The British governor, Arthur Hamilton Gordon, did not buy Ramanathan’s Tamil theory and granted a separate seat for the Muslims. In 1889 he appointed M.C. Abdul Rahuman, a merchant and shipper from Colombo, to represent them in the Legislative Council.32 This decision, which acknowledged a separate identity for the Muslims based on their Islamic faith and Arab ancestry, contributed significantly to the emerging Muslim consensus. Much heartened, the Muslim elites decided to open negotiations with the British authorities with the aim of getting the government to introduce a law to regulate Muslim marriage. This campaign too was successful, resulting in the passage of the Mohammedan Marriage Registration Ordinance.33 Interestingly, Ramanathan lobbied hard to get the bill through,34 which rather subverts the view that he had an ‘inherent dislike’ of his Muslims countrymen.

Meanwhile the Muslim elites sought to defend their gains by an appeal to history. The Moors, they argued, were descendents of Arab male ancestors, and therefore racially distinct from the Tamils. As A.M.A. Azeez, one of the early champions of Muslim identity formation, put it:

The ancestors of the Moors came from Arabia pursuing commerce. . .to the place where their primitive father, Adam, was exiled by God. . . .Its seaports were the centres of trade visited by Arab merchants. . . .Most of the ancestors of the Ceylon Moors were, according to tradition, members of the family of Hashim. . .

At such a critical moment [when they were being persecuted at home] what other country could have been more attractive to them, as a place of refuge, than Ceylon. . . .35

However there were flaws in Azeez’s logic, as Qadri Ismail explains: ‘Azeez claims that only Arab men came to Sri Lanka and they ‘‘took Tamil wives’’. Logically, this would make the Moors a ‘‘racially’’ mixed construction’.36

In plain fact this is how it was. Moreover, the local Tamil and Sinhalese women who married the Arab Muslims were basically alien to the Muslim cultural identity in that they had practised Hinduism and Buddhism respectively before their conversion to Islam on marriage. In the event, of course, both non-Muslim and Muslim Arab traders mostly took Tamil wives because the Tamils populated the coastal areas and were similarly engaged in trading activities. For instance those Muslims who headed for the island’s eastern coast to avoid Portuguese persecution37 arrived and settled, first, in the then Tamil village of Kattankudy near Batticaloa. Here they married local Tamil women from the dominant Mukkuvar caste of fisherfolk.38 In short, scholarly-based history clearly shows that the Muslims of Sri Lanka are not of pure Arab blood, and are not racially distinct from the Tamils as Azeez and other partisan commentators have passionately claimed.39 And this sanguinary connection to the Tamils was not the only hurdle that the Muslims had to jump in order to claim a distinct identity.

Consider the problem of language: the Muslims are ‘not seen to have their own language’.40 The male Muslim and non-Muslim Arab ancestors of today’s Muslims who took Tamil wives adopted Tamil as their primary spoken language, while those who took Sinhalese wives eventually became skilled at the Sinhalese language. Today’s Muslims, depending on their place of origin and domicile, speak Tamil or Sinhalese. Many, particularly those who live in the south, speak both, thereby showing their Tamil affinities, if not outright roots. All this categorically confirms that the Muslims of Sri Lanka, by denying their kinship with the Tamils, have made themselves into a language-less social group in modern Sri Lanka. Yet language is supposed to be one of the primary cultural symbolic markers for any group looking to establish a claim of distinctness.

As a consequence, a section of Muslim scholars and elites have tried to construct a distinct language for the Muslims of Sri Lanka. The result of this effort is the origin of Arab-Tamil or Arabic Tamil or Muslim Tamil, a form of communication that employs a mixture of both Tamil and Arabic. And many Muslims in Sri Lanka in fact still employ this language. However it is only widely used at home and has not won state recognition. Moreover it suffers from two further impediments: (1) it is neither pure in its nature nor distinct in its history. While this is mainly because the language of traders in South India and Sri Lanka was Tamil, Muslims do speak the Tamil language with some Arab admixture and sometimes employ the Arabic script to write Tamil;41 and

(2) it failed to carve out a place in the country’s professional environment, or gain acceptance as a formal subject in public schools.

Lacking a distinct racial or linguistic identity, what else can the Muslims point to? Recently urban Muslim elites and politicians have sought to promote a communal identity based on their ancestors’ Arab-Islamic cultural orientation ‘which has severed them from the Dravidian separatist campaign of the Hindu and Christian Tamils’.42 Islam is appealed to here as well. Muslims are even encouraged to think of themselves as members of one ‘family’, the ummah. A potential problem with this strategy, though, is that the ummah is a family of all Muslims, not just those from Sri Lanka.

Pushing their common Islamic identity has allowed the Muslims of Sri Lanka to override other non-Islamic identity markers of theirs. But these days professing Islam can send out mixed signals. After all, it is a faith which commands its adherents to instil terror in the hearts of unbelievers (Quran, 8:12–17). Also, the campaign for identity formation based on the Islamic faith has had the effect of stamping the Muslims with a false veneer of homogeneity. ‘Muslim’, as Shukri observes, ‘denotes a religious denomination and not an ethnic [one]. . .not necessarily an ethno-cultural one, but an ethno-religious one’.43 It is ‘incorrect to regard the Sri Lankan Muslims as consituting an ethnic group’ based on religion.44 Last but not least, the sacralisation of identity by the Muslim elites and political establishment has radicalised the Sri Lankan Muslim masses’ political choices. The post-1980 decades have seen the emergence of Islamic movements such as the Jammathi Islami, Tabligh Jamaat and Salafi, particularly in pockets of the north and east. These organisations, particularily the Jammathi Islami and Salafi, strictly urge Muslims to reject un-Islamic practices such as Muslim women wearing modern attire rather than the abayah or Islamic dress, attending programs in Hindu temples, or consuming alcoholic drinks. As a result Muslim women are increasingly giving up the once-traditional sari in favour of full covering. In Kattankudy near Batticaloa, females, even tiny tots in nursery schools, now cover themselves from head to foot.45 This growing tendency is considered one of the fundamental factors which turned the Muslims’ animosity towards the Tamils.46 At the same time the rise of Islamic piety, particularly in the east, has silenced the voices of Islamic pluralism, particularly Sufism.47 In October 2004, for example, some young Muslims who were influenced by strict Islamic ideas demolished a mosque and several houses and buildings belonging to a Sufi sect which was led by Payilvaan, an Islamic scholar who wrote extensively against mainstream orthodoxy.48 And in December 2006, when Payilvaan died, strictly orthodox Muslims objected violently to him being buried in the Tharikathul Mufliheen Mosque’s burial grounds in Kattankudy. The corpse of Payilvaan was later exhumed and buried instead in the common Muslim burial grounds.49

Politicisation of the Islamic faith by Muslim politicians not only pressures the Muslim masses of the north and east to reject all forms of liberal Islamic interpretation, but it also emotionally discourages them from building healthy communal relations with Hindus and Christians of Tamil ethnic stock, whether at the level of the masses or at the level of the elites.50

Identities are fundamentally symbolic, and religions obviously fit into this symbolic category since they typify distinct forms of symbols, especially when they are characterised by dietary, clothing and other practices. However, sym-bols have effective power to construct ethnic identity if they are able to represent community perceptions of common ethnic markers such as language and dress. Therefore, it is academically correct to maintain that the identity of the Muslims of the north and east is at the crossroads because the strategies of their leaders, particularly those from the south, have placed them ‘in an awkward and dangerous position’.51 The Muslim elites of the north and east patently need to engage in a comprehensive review of their current identity formation strategy. Arguably they should look to the past as a way of redefining their identity.

To be Continued 


1 No census has been conducted in the Northern Province since 1981 because of the war.
2 H.W. Codrington, A Short History of Lanka (London: Macmillan, 1926), Chap. 2 [ codrington/chap02.html, accessed 30 Jan. 2010].
3 Andrew Scott, ‘Christmas in Ancient Sri Lanka’, in The Sunday Observer (20 Dec. 2009), Features page [, accessed 20 Jan. 2010].
4 P.K. Balachandran, ‘Lankan Muslims’ Historical Links with India’, Hindustan Times (3 April 2006), p.5.
5 Imtiyaz Ahmed, Caste and Social Stratification Among Muslims in India (New Delhi: Manohar, 1978).
6 Douglas Allen, Religion and Political Conflict in South Asia: India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 1992), p.52.
7 A.R.M. Imtiyaz, ‘Eastern Muslims of Sri Lanka: Special Problems and Solution’, in Journal of Asian and African Studies, Vol.44, no.4 (Aug. 2009), pp.404–27.
8 Department of Census and Statistics–Sri Lanka, ‘Statistical Abstract of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’ [ 12.pdf, accessed 19 Mar. 2008].
9 The term Moor is said to have its origins in Mauritanians or Maurs—the Muslims of the mixed Berber and Arab peoples of North Africa—whom the Portuguese, arriving late in the fifteenth century, took Sri Lankan Muslims to be similar to.
10 R. Vasundra Mohan, Identity Crisis of Sri Lankan Muslims (Delhi: Mittal Publications, 1987), p.9.
11 Chelvadurai Manogaran, Ethnic Conflict and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987).
12 Department of Census and Statistics–Sri Lanka, ‘Statistical Abstract of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’.
13 Rajan Hoole, Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power—Myths, Decadence and Murder (Colombo: University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), 2001).
14 Dennis B. McGilvray, ‘Tamils and Muslims in the Shadow of War: Schism or Continuity?’, in South Asia, Vol.XX, Special Issue (1997), pp.239–53.
15 Ameer Ali, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka: An Ethnic Minority Trapped in a Political Quagmine’, in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol.5, no.3 (2006), pp.372–83.
16 The older Northern and Eastern Provinces were merged under the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 into the North East Province, and then broken up again in October 2006 under the orders of the Supreme Court which described the merger as ‘unconstitutional, illegal and invalid’. Thus the terms Eastern Province, Northern Province and North East Province are to be understood in this context. See ‘Judgment on North East Demerger’ [¼ node/2578, accessed 15 Mar. 2011].
17 ‘President Outlines Peace Strategy’ [ 20070920president_outlines_peace_strategy.htm, accessed 12 Feb. 2010].
18 The National Post (23 Sept. 2008), p.5 [¼ 832374# ixzz0dSLHeoCQ, accessed 23 Jan. 2010].
19 Daily News (19 July 2008), p.3.
20 ‘We Want Muslim Terrorism Probed—JHU Front’ [ mpnews.mp_gl_sum.set_newsid?p_news_id¼ 10995, accessed 9 Dec. 2008]. The JHU was founded by Buddhist monks in February 2004, and is inherently pro-Sinhalese in its ideology. The party’s major goal is ‘to promote the interests of the Sinhala-Buddhists and to make Buddhism a guiding principal of state affairs, as well as to wipe out Tamil violence by force. The JHU shuns non-violence as a means to seek political alternatives for the Tamil national question, and has been urging young Sinhala-Buddhists to sign up for the army’. The party has broad appeal among Sinhalese, particularly urban Sinhalese, and thus was able to form an electoral coalition with the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance led by the SLFP. See A.R.M. Imtiyaz, ‘Politicization of Buddhism and Electoral Politics in Sri Lanka’, in Ali Riaz (ed.), Religion and Politics in South Asia (London: Routledge, 2010), pp.146–78. Furthermore, the JHU completely opposes the United Nation panel report on the Sri Lanka war which highlights ‘credible allegations’ that the Sri Lanka military and the LTTE had both committed violations that could constitute crimes against humanity. The report claims that the Sri Lankan military ‘knowingly shelled in the vicinity of humanitarian actors’ and systematically killed some tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. The report also alleges that between January and May 2009, the Sri Lanka military forces indiscriminately shelled civilian hospitals located in the government-established no-fire zone. See ‘Reports of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka’ (31 March 2011) [ POE_Report_Full.pdf, accessed 3 May 2011].
21 F. Zackariya and N. Shanmugaratnam, ‘Communalisation of Muslims in Sri Lanka: An Historical Perspective’, Women Living Under Muslim Law (WLUML Dossier 22 November 1999), p.1 [http://, accessed 14 Mar. 2011].
22 ‘Sri Lanka Tamils’ [, accessed 10 June 2007].
23 A.R.M. Imtiyaz and Ben Stavis, ‘Ethno-Political Conflict in Sri Lanka’, in Journal of Third World Studies, Vol.25, no.2 (Fall 2008), pp.135–52.
24 Mohan, Identity Crisis of Sri Lankan Muslims, pp.23–4.
25 Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Riots and Martial Law in Ceylon, 1915 (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1916). 26 Ramanthan’s claim that Muslims share common physical features with Tamils is somewhat true at village level although features such as the Arab nose can be seen there. Among the elites however blue-grey eyes and very light complexions are more common.
27 P. Ramanthan, ‘Ethnology of the Moors of Ceylon’, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), Vol.X, no.36 (1888), pp.234–62.
28 Quoted in Nadesan Satyendra, ‘Muslims & Tamil Eelam, The Forced Evacuation of Muslims in 1989: Some Reflections’ (1996) [ eelam/, accessed 3 May 2011]. Also see Dennis B. McGilvray and Mirak Raheem, Muslim Perspectives on the Sri Lankan Conflict (Washington: East-West Centre, 2007), Report 41, p.14 [ fileadmin/stored/pdfs/ps041.pdf, accessed 25 Jan. 2010].
29 McGilvray, ‘Tamils and Muslims in the Shadow of War: Schism or Continuity?’, pp.239–53.
30 Wikipedia on Anagarika Dharmapala [ dharmapala#cite_note-33, accessed 22. Jan. 2010].
31 Ibid.
32 Mohan, Identity Crisis of Sri Lankan Muslims, p.22.
33 Mohammedan Marriage Registration Ordinance No. 8 of 1886 and No. 2 of 1888.
34 M. Vythilingam, The Life of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Vol.1 (Colombo: Ramanathan Commemoration Society, 1971), pp.261–6.
35 See A.M.A. Azeez, Criticism of Mr. Ramanathan’s Ethnology of the Moors of Ceylon (Colombo: Colombo Moors’ Union, 1907) [*lkawgw/ethnomoor.html, accessed 3 May 2011].
36 Qadri Ismail, ‘Unmooring Identity: The Antinomies of Elite Muslim Self-Representation in Modern Sri Lanka’, in Pradeep Jeganathan and Qadri Ismail (eds), Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka (Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association, 1995), pp.55–105, italics added.
37 This was well before thousands of Muslims escaping from the Dutch in the sixteenth century were given shelter by the Kandyan kingdom headed by King Senarath.
38 Balachandran, ‘Lankan Muslims’ Historical Links with India’.
39 Azeez, Criticism of Mr. Ramanathan’s Ethnology of the Moors of Ceylon.
40 Imtiyaz, ‘Eastern Muslims of Sri Lanka: Special Problems and Solution’, pp.404–27.
41 Dennis B. McGilvray, ‘Muslim Folklore in Sri Lanka’, in Margaret Ann Mills, Peter J. Claus and Sarah Diamond (eds), South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka (London: Taylor & Francis, 2003), pp.421–3.
42 Dennis B. McGilvray, ‘Arabs, Moors and Muslims: Sri Lankan Muslim Ethnicity in Regional Perspective’, in Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol.32, no.2 (1998), pp.433–83.
43 M.A.M. Shukri, Muslims of Sri Lanka: Avenues to Antiquity (Beruwala: Jamiah Naleemia Institute, 1989), p.iv.
44 Izzeth Hussein quoted in M.A. Nuhman, Sri Lankan Muslims: Ethnic Identity within Cultural Diversity
(Colombo: ICES, 2007), p.5.
45 Imtiyaz, ‘Eastern Muslims of Sri Lanka: Special Problems and Solution’, pp.404–27.
46 Ibid.
47 Sufism, or Tasawwuf as it is known in the Muslim world, is a mystical form of Islam.
48 ‘Mosque Demolished as Mobs Attack Sect in Kattankudy’ [¼ 13&artid¼ 13277, accessed 12 Dec. 2008].
49 ‘Payilvan’s Remains Exhumed, Sufi Building Demolished’ [¼ 13&artid¼ 20628, accessed 12 Dec. 2008].
50 Author interview via telephone with some Eastern Muslims who practise Sufism, 15 May 2009. It is important to point out that unbelievers are described by the Quran as ‘the vilest of animals’ and ‘losers’ and the Quran plainly commands believers not to take unbelievers as friends. See Quran verses 5:51, 5:80, 3:28, 3:118, 9:23, 53:29, 3:85, 3:10, 7:44 and 1:5–7.

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