Ultimate Loyalties: Sri Lankan Muslims in Lanka but beyond the Nation

Rajeewa Jayaweera in a Comment that responds toa QUERY from Michael O’Leary addressed to Ameer Ali

Michael, If one contributes to the absurd theory, [that] only those who returned from Saudi Arabia make up the radicalized elements in the Muslim community in SL; there is no sensible and meaningful answer to O” Leary’s question.

If however, one can look beyond the theory of “Peace-loving Muslim Community,” it would be easier to understand. Those who went to Saudi Arabia were mostly from the impoverished segment of Muslim society. They worked as housemaids, laborers, etc. and had nil to minimal educational qualifications. Many returned radicalized in a manner of speaking. Women who covered their heads when they left returned covering their faces. Those who did not adhere strictly to praying five times a day earlier would not dream of missing a single prayer session after their return. Watching movies, even musicals became taboo after their return.

Matters were compounded by the unending chain of Islamic preachers and Imams who together with ultra-conservative community elders enforced societal rule very similar to Sharia Law in Muslim majority areas such as Kattankudiya.

Attached are two visuals. Do you believe they have been taken in Sri Lanka with a Muslim population less than 10% of the total population? Can you imagine this is in Sri Lanka which you left some years ago? Kattankudiya has a population of 60,000 almost exclusively of the Muslim faith.  

Kattankudiya town at night

The leader of the Easter Sunday bombers Zaharan was from Kattankudiya. Even though he was the leader, some of his followers were well educated young men also exposed to western culture. We have remained mostly silent of Zaharan’s financiers. That is the group I am most concerned about. Even terrorists willing to blow themselves up need funds and organization to achieve their objectives. Ex-House Maids, laborers, etc. do not have that kind of money. It comes from the affluent members of the Muslim community besides foreign funding purportedly sent to build mosques and madrassas. Even though the Muslim community has been concentrating on higher education as of late, coming from a closed society, they remain well entrenched in their dogmatic ultra-conservative mindset. For example, a person attaining high academic qualifications appreciating tolerance, equality, etc. commonly found in more open societies is remote as their mindset does not permit such luxuries. That is where Ameer Ali’s theory kicks in. They see what happens in Palestine, Kashmir, Yemen, etc. (even if Saudi Arabia is responsible for Yemen!)   Muslims as a community, may they be in SL or elsewhere, think of themselves as one global community and not as nationals of countries. Their loyalties will be first and foremost to the Quran and Mecca. That is the reason why  Muslims  throughout the world, both the so called moderates as well as radicals, young and old, erupted in anger over a few cartoons in Denmark some years ago (including our own Muslims after Friday Jumma prayer).   

It also validates my theory; the recent act of terrorism was not the work of one or two hundred radicalized young men as community elders will have us believe. Community elders and leaders are involved, especially in financing the work of the terrorists one way or the other.        


A NOTE:   I think Rajeewa [whom I have never met] has hit the nail on the head. Such individuals as Shihara Farook, are in a minority working against the grain. One of the testing fields (literally) in this regard are those occasions when Sri Lanka play Pakistan at cricket. Around the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo North most local muslims cheer lustily for Pakistan. About ten years ago I once asked a Muslim tuk-tuk driver in wellawatte how many of his community would back Sri Lanka in such contests. He laughed and said “about 50%, while indicating that he supported Sri Lanka.

It is my guess that the proportions vary according to locality. In some Muslim-majority localities its is probable that over 90 percent cheer Pakistan. 

So, cricket is an indirect litmus test. 

We have had several talented Muslim men serving Sri Lanka cricket over the years: Makkin Sally, ACM Lafir, Abu Fuard, Uvais Karnain, Jehan Mubarak, Mahroof, Suraj Mohamed, Dilshan and Maharoof (still in service as a coach). There are a few Muslim youngsters knocking at the door. These personnel are from the relatively cosmopolitan south-west. I doubt if much cricket in played in Kattankudiya.

Alas, cricket  is not the weapon that one can deploy against the deep hold of Islamic spiritualism and within that phenomenon the politicized currents of Wahhabism. The profound pieties of Sufism may be one answer but that is perhaps an outsider’s dream — the Shiite radicals seem to hate the Sufi evn more violently than they hate us infidels.

Michael Roberts


Filed under accountability, arab regimes, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, cultural transmission, disparagement, economic processes, education, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, Islamic fundamentalism, island economy, jihad, life stories, Muslims in Lanka, patriotism, political demonstrations, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, terrorism, unusual people, vengeance, working class conditions, world events & processes, zealotry

9 responses to “Ultimate Loyalties: Sri Lankan Muslims in Lanka but beyond the Nation

  1. Michael Patrick O'Leary

    O’Leary is not putting forward an ‘absurd theory’ he is merely seeking an answer to a question put to him by another party. I thought that by putting the question to my dear friend Michael Roberts I might get some helpful information to compensate for my own ignorance on the matter.I did not expect such crass incivility from Rajeewa Jayaweera . Can a civil question not receive a civil answer?

    • Rajeewa Jayaweera

      When I responded, I believed I was giving my viewpoint to a question raised by O’Leary through a third party who has himself confessed of his “own ignorance in the matter.” O’Leary’s is but a question and not an opinion or theory. Mine is a theory based on ground realities but often ignored in the name of political correctness and also ‘a quick response’ as requested. It was not in any way meant to be derogatory to O’Leary or his messenger.

      But if anyone sees ‘crass incivility’ in my response, he/they are entitled to his/their opinion as much as l am entitled to mine and for which I make no apology.

      • Michael Patrick O'Leary

        You are a charming fellow, indeed. They call me “Mr O’Leary.”

  2. Sanjeev

    This is a very racist post written by a narrow minded freak. If you cannot respect other religions don’t shame them. You are tryna turn people against each other by writing stupid posts like this. The bombers were SRI LANKANS , therefore based on your logic all SRI LANKANS are terrorists. Terrorism has no religion , the person who killed innocent ppl at a mosque in New Zealand , was he a Muslim too ??

    And for the record Muslims aren’t supposed to do things like this, the moment you decide to do something like this you are not a Muslim . Period.

    It’s a shame there are ppl tryna turn Sri Lankan’s against each other and spread hate.

    PS : I am not a Muslim and I’m not Sri Lankan

    • Rajeewa Jayaweera

      Responding to Michael Parick O’Leary’s last comment;
      You sound a jolly chap yourself. In our neck of the woods, persons are referred to in the media by their family names without first names and prefixes.

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  5. Dalit

    How many Tamils that are Indian Colonial Parasites from Ceylon will support Sri Lanka in Australia.

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