Sri Lankan Muslim community in the United Kingdom
History and challenges - Part 1
| by Dr Rifal Naleemi
( February 13, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Every parent in third world countries dream to send their children to a western country to educate their children or better future job career prospect or some times for permanent settlement. Srilankan people are not exceptional to this ambitious life time dream. Whether it is Srilankan Buddhist community or Hindu community or Muslim community all without exception send their people to these countries without recounting the negative impact of western cultural influence and impact on our future generation. Children of first generation of migrant community almost lost mother toques of their parents. Whether it is children of Singhalese people or Tamil people or Muslim people, most of them who migrated to the Western countries from Srilanka since independence, have lost their cultural identity and cultural heritage. Indeed, some of them have already fully assimilated into western way of life.
Some children of migrant community no longer speak in Tamil or Singhalese languages with that some of them lost the entire cultural heritage as well. It is true that some of our people are trying to teach their native languages to their children yet, how long future generations will keep it. It is not my intention to research into the impact of migration on Tamil or Singhalese communities rather I shall concentrate on the impact of migration on Sri- Lankan Muslim community who migrated here in recent times.
Since 1950’s people from Indian subcontinent began to migrate to Great Britain for various reasons but more importantly early migrants came to the United Kingdom for higher education. People from rich and affluent politicians’ families used to send their children to the UK for higher education. In addition to this a large number of Bangladesh nationals were brought into England to work in factories and transport sectors after WW11. This was done to meet labour shortage in industries. Moreover, a large proportion of migrants moved into England from subcontinent due to some political reasons and political unrest. Problems in Kashmir, Independence war in Bangladesh, war in Afghanistan, dictatorship of Edi Amen in Uganda and political unrest in Srilanka propelled many people from subcontinent to migrate to Great Britain since 1960’s. It is estimated that approximately 150.000 to 200.000 thousands Srilankan nationals live in the UK today and more than 70% of them are Srilankan Tamils and the rest of them are from Srilankan Singhalese and Muslim communities. These statistics have to be confirmed with Home office. It can be convincingly said that the majority of these people came to the United Kingdom from Srilanka during the political unrest for the last 30 years in Srilanka. Yet, since 1997 a large percentage of students came from Srilanka for higher education.
Migration is not a new social phenomenon for Muslims in human history. Some of the prophets too migrated from their native places in order to fulfil divine missions. Today, with advancement in the modes of transport a large numbers of people migrate from their native places to different parts of world. It is estimated that more than 20 million Muslim people now live in western countries including North American countries. It is also estimated that approximately over two millions Muslim people now live in the UK. Most of these people come from Indian subcontinent. It can be said that Srilankan Muslim migration into Great Britain started with a handful of people who came here in 1960’ and 1970’ for the purpose of higher education. However, since the beginning of war between LTTE and Srilankan government a large numbers of Srilankan Muslim migrated to the UK like other Tamil and Sinhalese communities. Today, it is estimated that approximately 6000 to 8000 thousands Srilankan Muslim people live in the UK.
It can be said that presence of Srilankan Muslims in the UK at the beginning was not planned or considered to be permanent. Like all other Muslim communities Srilankan Muslim community too came here initially for some economic and educational purposes but it seems that gradually the roots began to go deeper till a new generation was born, raised and educated in this English soil. Today, this identical Srilankan Muslim community lives in some of main major cities and towns in the UK but mainly most of them live in London. A numbers of Srilankan Islamic organizations and centres are established by Srilankan community in the UK to preserve and protect Islamic identity of our community in this country. Srilankan Islamic Association, Srilankan Malay Association, Srilankan Cultural Muslim cultural centre, Srilankan Islamic forum Jaffna Muslim association, Srilankan Muslim Association in Leicester, Srilankan Islamic Association in Crawley, Srilankan Islamic association in Reading and Slough are some of these Srilankan Muslim association that work to preserve and protect Srilankan Muslim cultural identity and heritage. Among all these Islamic centres and associations Srilankan Muslim Cultural centre and Islamic forum gain a prominent place today than any other organizations.
Social and religious services of these organizations and groups should be admired and accredited for their dedication and hard work in this alien social environment. These organizations and associations play a greater role in protecting and promoting our cultural and religious identity. For instance, during the 2004 tsunami disaster all these groups did an excellent charitable work. Whatever social and educational background they come from, hard works of these people should be commended and admired. How could we preserve our religious and cultural identity in this society? How could our future generation preserve their faith and Islamic way of life? How could we save them from social assimilation and total cultural obliteration? There is a similarity between the way of life of other religious groups and English way of life. English people go to pubs and most of Buddhists and Hindu people do not mind going pubs. English people deal with interest and most of Buddhist and Hindu people do not mind dealing with interest. English people socialise in night clubs and most of Buddhists and Hindu people do not mind in socialising like them in night clubs. English people eat pork and most of Buddhist and Hindu people do not mind eating pork like them. However, Muslims are instructed by their religion to follow some certain strict rules and regulations in order to protect and preserve their religious identity in the face of all materialistic challenges. Unlike other Muslim communities who came from different parts of Muslim world Srilankan Muslim community is a small community in the UK and they are scattered in many part of this country. It has been a difficult task to unite them all as a Srilankan Muslim community under one Umbrella organization as one community. Yet, many Srilankan Islamic organizations are formed and function with different socio-political, communal and religious objectives in different parts of United Kingdom. Though they are not ideologically united, their social and religious works should be appreciated and praised by all. Settling in a Non-Muslim country such as England creates some problems in relation to fundamental of Islamic faith and belief system.
Theologically speaking some classical and modern Islamic scholars strongly condemn any Muslim who prefers to settle in Non-Muslim land. The reason for such strong legal opinion against Muslim settlement is in a Non-Muslim country is that Islamic theologians feared that in long terms such Muslim settlers in a Non-Muslim country may lose their cultural and religious identity totally. It may be case that first generation may have grip in their cultural and religious identity yet, second, third and future generations may lose their religious identity altogether. For this reason and for many other reasons some theologians do not recommend Muslim people to settle in a Non-Muslim country.
Yet, this religious position is disputable in our modern time in our world of global village. Different religious and cultural groups of people come closer today than ever before. In some cosmopolitan cities like that of London more than hundreds of ethnic, religious and cultural groups live side by side in peace and harmony. This was unthinkable a hundred year ago. One could further argue that Muslim people have more religious freedom in England than Muslim countries. For instance, Muslim people will have to get permission from Muslim Governments in Muslim countries to hold religious meeting and gatherings. Though they may get permission to hold meeting and gatherings they will be strictly monitored by intelligence service and many people will be arrested and tortured on suspension. Muslim people in Muslim nations do not have basic human right for freedom of speech. They do not have right to express their views and opinions freely as Muslims do in England and in that sense, Muslims who live in Western nations have more religious and personal freedom than those who live in Muslim countries.
To be continued