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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Northern Muslim Expulsion & Tamil Leadership

An event on October 30, 2016

Last Sunday, October 30, 2016, a commemoration event was organised in Colombo by the newly formed group “North Muslim Civil Society” on the theme of “A necessary Solution for Northern Muslims”. I was struck by the fact that the chief guest and guest of honor were the prominent political leaders of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, and leaders of the opposition. These leaders are spokespersons of the rights of Tamils of Sri Lanka. I decided to travel to Colombo from Kandy, to participate in the event even though I had not received a formal invitation.

A Similar event held in the City of Jaffna

On the same date, at the same time, Muslims of Jaffna, Moor Street organized an event in Jaffna City, the heartland of Tamil nationalism, hoisting black flags. A number of similar events were held during the third week of October in different concentrations of the displaced of the north Muslims.

northern-muslim-expulsion-srilanka
Expulsion of north Muslims in October 1990

The third week of October has become a symbolic time period for the north Muslims as 26 years ago in 1990 Muslims who lived in more than 100 concentrations spread across the five districts of the Northern Province were forcibly expelled wholesale neither by the war situation that existed at that time nor by any sort of tension between expelled (Muslims) and majority population (Tamils) but by the “ order from the top” as said then by all armed cadres in all Muslims locations where they successfully carried out the order. The sudden proclamation in “Jaffna Moor Concentration” which consisted about 10 per cent of the total population of the city was early morning October 30 and the order was for them to leave in two hours, leaving behind every material thing that belonged to the community or otherwise face the death; Muslims of other districts and concentrations in the north were given a 48 hour-ultimatum.

“Muslim Displaced”

From the first of November 1990, the north became depleted of its Muslim population. Since that time to the present, most of the expelled Muslims have been living as “displaced” in the southern part of the country under the patronage of the state with minimal welfare assistance. In this quarter of a century, the expelled Muslims have attempted to return home and have failed though some have managed to return intermittently on their own in desperation indirectly benefiting from no war and peace-talk situations.

“Ethnic cleansing”

Commemorating the event of expulsion has become a yearly ritual of the north Muslims for 26 years and yet their cry for justice has rarely been a concern for the custodians and guardians of law and justice. The victims labelled the month of expulsion as “Black October” but this label has never take root in media parlance or in political and human rights discourses, nationally or internationally. However, last year to the surprise of many, the visiting special representative of the US Government, Ms. Samantha Powel declared the event of expulsion of North Muslims as an act of “ethnic cleansing” at an occasion in the Moor Concentration of Jaffna on November 22, 2015 and further said that north Muslims “had experienced ethnic cleansing even before the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ was coined”. She, in fact was referring to internationally known and recognized ethnic cleansing events that happened in Bosnia in the year 1993.

Mr. Sumanthiran

Mr. Sumanthiran was the first Tamil leader to pronounce the term “ethnic cleansing” concerning the expulsion of north Muslims and acknowledge the wrong done to them by the “Tamils”. He spoke of this on two occasions in the month of October, 2015. He was conscious of what he spoke on this subject and had the courage and conscience to speak openly on this matter. He was firm in his commitment to justice and called on the Tamils to acknowledge and accept the suffering of north Muslim and their right to seek justice and redress of grievances.
Sadly, his outspoken remarks on this was neither acknowledged by the Tamils in general nor welcomed by Muslim leadership. He was very heavy criticised for his remarks within the Tamil nationalistic forces. At the same time, no Muslim leadership openly appreciated what he said and in reciprocation acknowledged the suffering and genuine aspirations of the Tamils as regards the national question of Sri Lanka.

Expectations of the presence of two Tamil leaders in the October meeting

I went to Colombo to attend the October event with many expectations. My expectation was that the two Tamil leaders would introduce or at least discuss the need for a new programme for the re-establishment Tamil-Muslim community and on the plight of north Muslims. In a brief opportunity given to me by the organizers of the event I spelt out my expectations and said that my expectation is that the two leaders will spell out a new formula on rectifying the wrong done to the north Muslims. I openly said that what we would like to hear from two leaders’ ideas arising from the foundation for reconciliation laid by Mr. Sumathiran in his earlier remarks acknowledging the ethnic cleansing of north Muslims.

A moment of Disappointment

On their turn, both “Tamil leaders” spoke at length but not on the subject of the gathering. For the most part, Mr. Sumanthiran’s speech was a response to a previous speaker in the same meeting who happened to be a Muslim member of Northern Provincial Council closely associated with a Muslim minister who heavy criticised Tamil leadership for being discriminatory towards returnee Muslims. Mr. Sumathiran questioned the sincerity of Vanni Muslim leaders in their resettlement activities in the north. On his remark on ethnic cleansing that he did last year, he said that he has been criticized by Tamils and he said that Tamils are asking why Muslim leadership have failed to acknowledge the “massacre of Tamils”. Mr. Sambanthan continued in the line of thinking initiated by Mr. Sumathiran and indicated that the Muslim leadership had failed to align with the Tamil leadership to protect north and east as a “Tamil home land.” Neither spoke on the aspirations of the north Muslims and the necessary role that the Tamil polity has to play in addressing them.

The issues of the “black” October

The core issue of Black October was lost in this political tug of war. The organizers and participants became bogged down, in my view, less important issues. Many do not realize that today the need of the expelled north Muslims is not material benefits either in the places of origin (Northern Province) or in the places of displacement (e.g., Puttalam). It is the North Muslims’ hopeful future, their identity, recognizing them as victims of war and conflict; their dignity and self-respect; the challenges of reconciliation and integration; their political rights; the protecting their minority and cultural status.

Mr. Sumanthiran’s 2015 speech laid a foundation toward bringing about a dialogue between the communities. Unfortunately, that opportunity is lost. The Muslim polity, social movements and organizations have failed to capitalize on his forthright statement for paving the way for a constructive dialogue between the two communities. The Tamil polity and movements have also failed equally to turn his remark into a golden opportunity for rebuilding trust and mutual understanding between Tamil-Muslim in the north and east and in the country. It is sad that Mr. Sumanthiran himself will succumb to the tussles within the Tamil polity and the vicissitudes of political mobilisations predicated on majoritarianism. He could have stood high and adopted a principled stance as was outlined last year. It is not too late, still. Likewise, it is an opportunity for Mr. Sambanthan to be a statesman in addressing the core issues of the day, looking beyond ethnic and regional parochialism. The opposition leader has failed to deliver the opportunity offered by Muslim civil society organization on October 30. But still there is time and room for future action on this, I believe.

The hope

I hope my expectations are not in vain. A new momentum for Tamil-Muslim reconciliation is very badly needed. On the issue of the north Muslim, the Tamil polity and society have to make the first move by recognizing the historical mistake done to this community and expressing the willingness to rectify the injustice without delay. Tamil society and its institutions (e.g., Northern Provincial Council) should not wait any longer in initiating measures to remove the painful 26 year suffering of north Muslims. North Muslims are citizen of the Northern Province. It is their right to be so though now they had to live as displaced in Puttalam and other places in the south. It is the right of their children and grand- children to feel that they too belong to north. No one can deny this right and place conditions on it. Whatever various politicians do, their omissions and commissions have little to do with the recognition of the denial of justice to North Muslims and the need to rectify it. North Muslims’ right to return is not an issue for compromise. (Prof. S. Hasbullah)

Note: Author is a displaced Muslim of the Northern Province.

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Thursday, 27 October 2016

UN Special Rapporteur On Minority Issues: Statement On Sri Lanka

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Rita Izsak-Ndiaye released a Statement on Sri Lanka on October 20, 2016 following a ten day visit to the island. Representing the position of the ‘international community’, her Statement identifies ‘Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian leadership’ as the main reason behind minority grievances and Sri Lanka’s ‘long civil war’. The Rapporteur expresses fears that keeping Article 9 of the Sri Lankan Constitution which refers to the primacy of Buddhism, ‘could lead to further suppression of and discrimination against minority religions and communities’.

The mandate of the U.N. Rapporteur on Minority Issues is to ‘promote and protect the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities’, is a laudable one. This mandate, however, does not grant the Rapporteur freedom to curtail the rights of those belonging to majority communities using conceptually and factually flawed approaches. The Rapporteur is deemed an ‘independent expert’ by the United Nations. Unfortunately, her recent Statement on Sri Lanka which is built on a narrow majority vs. minority concept and a lack of understanding of historical, regional and international contexts, exhibits neither independence nor expertise.

Majority Aggressor vs. Minority Victims

Like the dominant international perspective on Sri Lanka, the Rapporteur’s Statement is based on a simplistic dualism: Sinhala Buddhist majority aggressor vs. Tamil, Muslim, Christian and other minority victims. This monolithic characterization ignores basic incongruent realities. For instance, although Article 9 the Sri Lankan Constitution gives ‘foremost place’ to Buddhism (the religion of 70% of the island’s population) and refers to the duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhism, Article 10 asserts that “Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”.

Rita Izsák-Ndiaye
Rita Izsák-Ndiaye

Unlike most other pluralistic countries in the world, Sri Lanka has Cabinet level Ministries each to protect and foster Hindu, Islamic and Christian Affairs in addition to Buddhism. The critics of Article 9, including the U.N. Rapporteur, fail to acknowledge that Article 9 has not prevented Sri Lanka from allowing widespread Christian evangelical and Islamic Wahabi proselytization and conversion which are not permitted in Islamic and many other nations. In contrast, international attempts to sever the historical link between Buddhism and the Sri Lankan state, is sowing seeds of disharmony, aggravating tensions, resistance and inter-religious conflict.

While the U.N. Rapporteur enumerates extensive mechanisms to be put in place to promote and protect minorities, she does not acknowledge minority dominance in the Sri Lankan economy and the influential and strategic Cabinet Ministerships, in Investment Promotion, Urban Development, Disaster Management, Industry and Commerce, Tourism, etc. held by persons from minority communities, especially the Muslims. She also fails to recognize the powerful government positions recently acquired by members of the Tamil community and the ethical and legal controversies surrounding some of those appointments. In a seeming return to the ‘dominant minority’ position they enjoyed during the British colonial period, Tamil elites have been appointed as the Chief Justice and the Governor of the Central Bank. A Tamil politician was appointed as the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition even though his Tamil National Alliance party won only 16 seats as opposed to the much larger number of seats gained by the United People’s Freedom Alliance of the Sinhalese.

The U.N. Rapporteur’s Statement brings strong charges against the Buddhist majority for construction of Buddhist places of worship ‘in areas that were traditionally non-Buddhist’. It blames ‘Buddhist extremists’ for inciting ‘violence and hatred against religious and other minorities while proclaiming the racial superiority of Sinhala Buddhists’. The widespread destruction of Buddhist places of worship in the island’s north and the east and incidences of aggression, extremism and violence by members of other religious groups towards the Buddhists, however, are not mentioned in the Rapporteur’s Statement.

The Rapporteur’s Statement ignores the grievances of the Sinhalese even where they are a minority, as in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo and in the Tamil majority Northern Province. It does not mention the plight of Buddhist monks who have been ordered to remove their historic temples from the Northern Province by Tamil politicians. It does not address the case of Sinhala students at the University in Jaffna who were attacked and compelled to leave the campus for seeking to include a Sinhala dance form at a campus ceremony. Nor does the Statement address the Special Gazette notification of 21 August 2015 which allegedly transferred the only remaining Sinhala village of Bogaswewa in the north, from the Northern Province to the North Central Province. Failure of the ‘international community’ to condemn ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese from the Northern Province helps the creation of an exclusive Tamil separate state.

Regional, International and Historical Contexts

Neither Sri Lanka, nor any other country exists in a vacuum. Local realities are shaped by regional and international forces. Notwithstanding the U.N. Rapporteur’s mandate which is restricted to the local state level, minority and majority identities and grievances have to be understood in relation to regional and international demographic realities and political and cultural pressures. Although the majority in Sri Lanka, Sinhalese are a small minority in the South Indian and global contexts (some 60 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu and a total 76 million globally in contrast to 15 million Sinhalese in Sri Lanka and 18 million globally). Although the majority in Sri Lanka, Buddhists are a small minority in the global context (about 5% in contrast to 32% Christians and 22% Muslims). Any serious attempt to address majority-minority relations in Sri Lanka must grapple with the complexities of India’s role in Sri Lanka’s separatist conflict and the fears and resistance generated among Buddhists by evangelical Christian and Wahabi Islamic expansion. These issues are not recognized in the U.N. Rapporteur’s Statement.

According to the U.N. Rapporteur, ‘Since independence, ethnic and religious identity has come to be of a huge significance in Sri Lankan society’. Sri Lankan history does not begin with independence from British colonial rule. Ethnic and religious identities evolved over centuries in the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Historical evidence shows that in the regions in the north and the east of Sri Lanka which the U.N. Rapporteur assumes as ‘traditionally non-Buddhist’, Buddhist civilization flourished prior to Hindu and Islamic settlements. As Buddhism began to be wiped out of India, the challenge of safeguarding the Buddha’s teaching and Buddhist culture was taken up by Sri Lanka and other neighboring Buddhist countries. Support from the state and the monarchy was crucial for the survival of Buddhism in these lands. The foremost place given to Buddhism in Sri Lanka’s Constitution (as well as in the Constitutions of Myanmar and Thailand) is a homage to that historical and continuing challenge. Many are asking: is the attempt to change that historical relationship between Buddhism and the state through international intervention, a deliberate attempt to destabilize and control these countries?

The United Nations today has little political legitimacy and moral authority given its many failures across the world. The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon himself has admitted the failure of the United Nations in averting the humanitarian crisis at the end of the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. To rebuild global acceptance and respect for the United Nations, its representatives, such as, the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues must provide accurate and balanced accounts that build unity and harmony instead of division and conflict between majority and minority communities. (Dr. Asoka Bandarage)

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UN Expert Wants Government To Walk The Talk On Minority Rights

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, today urged the Government of Sri Lanka not to lose the momentum gained by the new administration in 2015, and show its commitment to minority rights through concrete action.

Rita Izsák-Ndiaye
Rita Izsák-Ndiaye

“In order to achieve peaceful co-existence after the long devastating civil war, a comprehensive, well-planned and well-coordinated truth, reconciliation, healing and accountability process must take place, and it cannot be done overnight,” Izsák-Ndiaye said at the end of her first information-gathering visit to Sri Lanka.

“At the same time, the Government must put in place some urgent, important and concrete measures to clearly demonstrate its political will and commitment to better protect the dignity, identity, equality and right to participation in all walks of life, of Sri Lanka’s minorities,” she emphasised.
During her ten-day mission to Sri Lanka, she consulted a large number of minority representatives across the country, including Sri Lankan and Up-Country Tamils, Muslims, Hindus, Burghers, Christians, Telugus, Veddas, Malays, and Sri Lankan Africans.

The expert commended the National Unity Government for the important progress it has made towards adopting critical laws and policies and in strengthening institutions to better protect human and minority rights.

“However, challenges remain,” she said, noting that, among the most pressing and emotive issues, especially for the Tamil and Muslim communities, were disappeared persons, return of occupied land, release of security-related detainees, as well as demilitarization, which must be addressed urgently.
The lack of adequately inclusive and representative institutions and language barriers in accessing public services and the justice system featured recurrently in all consultations across the country. “Poverty, violence and discrimination against women including in personal laws, and caste-based discrimination are further challenges,” she stated.

“Trust must be built in State institutions and between the various population groups,” Izsák-Ndiaye said. “Efforts by the Government to implement good and inclusive governance must include guarantees that minorities become part of decision-making processes and have a place in state- and provincial administration. Consultations with minority groups on issues affecting them should be regular, institutionalized and systematized.”

“Educational curriculum must ensure teaching about Sri Lanka’s diversity, as a source of strength, and about the different cultural, ethnic and religious identity of its population groups to foster deeper understanding,” the expert added.

Izsák-Ndiaye pointed out that minorities have a great deal of expectations from the Constitutional reform process and see it as the critical moment to codifying and guaranteeing their rights. “Minority NGOs and communities have given their voices to the constitutional consultation process with their numerous submissions,” she said. “Their views and aspirations must be taken into proper consideration.”

The UN Special Rapporteur called for the creation of an independent minority rights body to provide expertise and information to legislative- and policy-making processes, encourage and coordinate programming on minority issues, and form a bridge between minority communities and the state.
Izsák-Ndiaye will present a detailed report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017. (Colombo Telegraph)

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Thursday, 22 September 2016

Dr. Mareena Reffai; ...Muslim community owes a big thank you to Ven. Gnanasara thero...!




Letter to the editor:
Thank you  Ven. Gnanasara thero & BBS!
The Muslim community  owes a big thank you to Ven. Gnanasara thero. He has done  a great service to Muslims which  the community was struggling to make happen for half a century.
Muslims in srilanka had been following  a so called Muslim culture rather than the real religion for centuries. Then with the reawakening of Islam which swept through the world in the 20th century entered Srilanka too and a small number Muslims understood the notion of every Muslim studying the Quran and following the shariah laws in our personal lives. But it was an uphill task and the conservative Muslims even opposed the change. Many Muslim organizations were working in the field, mostly not to preach  Islam rather to do social service. Many of them were at loggerheads with each other, almost to the point of  drawing daggers. Enmity and rivalry were commoner than comradeship and corporation. Persuading people to study quran  was an uphill task.
Then tsunami hit the island wreaking havoc mainly in the Muslims areas. All the Muslim organizations came together, to do relief work but still not on studying the religion. The enmity lessened but did not disappear. Rivalry continued.
 Then BBS came into the picture. Every single Muslim saw a common enemy and it brought a comradeship  among the differing organizations and sects that even  major calamities like tsunami, cyclone and floods could not bring about.
When the Halal issue arose, actually the Muslims they themselves were not aware of what really Halal stood for. A vague sense of halal food was what most Muslims had but when the Thero sarcastically said ”one of these days they will say the wife also has to be halal” and the scholars replied, “Certainly they must be, for the word Halal is not restricted to food” everyone wanted to know what is halal and haram. They started listening to the lectures more carefully, halal became the talk of the town and people started adhering to halal in every aspect of day to day matters very diligently.
When he mentioned falsely that the quran orders us to spit into the food offered to the non Muslims, many Muslims who have never touched a translation of the quran, wanted to find out  for themselves whether  there is such a thing and started reading the quran. In fact there was  a short period soon after the Kandy BBS meeting the Quran translations flew from the bookshops like hot cakes. The beauty was that even non Muslims started reading  the quran, when Ven Gnansara started misquoting the quran one after the other.   Muslims specifically wanted to know the actual explanations and started to study the shariah laws more carefully.
The rivalry and enmity reduced drastically among Muslim organizations; the All Ceylon Jammiyathul ulema which was just a theological figure head until then started taking active interest in matters of state and rose to a position of leadership.
Islam preaches that when problems arise in the society to look into our own lives. That if we lead proper Islamic lives, Allah will  rectify the problems.  This fact was driven into people’s mind, making many a Muslim becoming pious when the common enemy  threatened their very lives. The grease men brought total friendship, mutual protection, awareness of danger and methods of warning among neighbors, both Muslims and non Muslims.
Then Aluthgama happened. That brought all the leaders – including politicians who had been in utter disarray, intellectuals, social workers and the philanthropists like nothing else could have. Muslim council of Srilanka became very active and National shura council was born.  Now all the differing factions of the Muslim organizations are seen on the same stage in many  meetings which was unthinkable just 50 years back.
That’s not all. I asked an Aluthgama resident recently how matters are there. He said they – all of them, every single one of them are better off than before the riots. They have better houses, better businesses but most of all better religious knowledge and practice.
And of course the regiment that brought the BBS into the scene and nurtured it,  came down with a thundering crash ending a decade of corruption and bigotry to the joy of not only Muslims but to the entire country.  
That’s not the end of it. The best outcome is the show of assurance and  the corporation of the non Muslims in the face of  abuse of Muslims. It is heart warming  how many highly respectable Bhikkus came out publicly condemning  the abuse by BBS and helped the Muslims; how many non muslim politicians showed support for the Muslims even risking their own lives; and the common men on the roads including intellectuals, free thinkers, housewives and three wheeler drivers expressed utter  contempt for the BBS openly and supported the Muslims and commented favorably on their patience and unity.   A few even embraced Islam after reading the Quran out of curiosity.
The allegation that Muslims are secretly nurturing a terrorist outfit in Srilanka was proved utterly false in the face of all the allegations. If ever there was a reason for such terrorist organization to come forth, it would have been at the Aluthgama massacre. No such thing happened.
Islam preaches that “Every trial is but a blessing in disguise” – BBS certainly is the best blessing the Muslims  have  had in recent times.
So here is a Big bouquet to you Ven. Gnanasara thero and Thank you  BBS!
Allah says in the Quran “They plot and plan, and  Allah too plots and plans; But Allah is the Best of the planners”.

Sent by:
Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai,
23A, Auburn side, Dehiwela
Phone 0777707775

http://almuslimaath.com/2016/07/22/thank-you-ven-gnanasara-thero-bbs/


'dr.reffai' Dr.Reffai@gmail.com [MuslimWatch] MuslimWatch@yahoogroups.com


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Monday, 22 August 2016

Muslim Political & Religious Clerical Leadership Crisis in Sri Lanka

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Who represent the Muslim community in the government? The shocking answer is “NONE”.
One may ask “how could the Muslims complain as there are several Muslim ministers and deputy ministers in the government”. Yes there are many Muslim ministers, but they do not represent the community as most of them entered into deals and got into the government.

For example the presence of Sri Lanka Muslim Congresses, SLMC, in the government is deceptive as they contested in UNP tickets and entered the government.

It all started when the founder leader of SLMC late M. H. M. Ashraff exploited his position to make demands from the Sinhala political parties in return for support in forming governments. The Sinhala political leaderships, often blackmailed and let down by the SLMC leadership, exploited the leadership crisis after Mr Ashraff’s death by picking up one group to promote against the other.
Inevitably the never ending split bringing disrepute and disaster to the community besides creating communal disharmony. The SLMC’s miserable failure to take part in national issue isolated the community.

Muslims’ frustration with the SLMC was demonstrated during the Badulla Provincial Council election when, of the more than 50,000 Muslim votes, only around 5000 voted for joint SLMC. On the eve of the 8 January 2015 presidential elections, the SLMC and its splinter group led by Minister Rishard Bathiudeen joined President Maithripala Sirisena camp as they found that the entire Muslim community supported Mr Sirisena camp.

During the past few months the infighting within the SLMC has come to open. Judging from the endless infighting, disgusting allegations of corruption, fraud, despising sex scandals, greed for positions, power and perks and overall performance, the SLMC can no more claims to be Muslim as there is no Islam in their words and deeds.

As a result SLMC which came with the slogan of Islam and Unity around three decades ago has now ended up as Greek Tragedy for the community. More than half a dozen splinter groups speak for unity.

Today the Muslims are politically divided into regional groups placing the community in extremely vulnerable position as politicians are easily manipulated.

This confusion is exploited by manipulators, opportunists, social climbers and others to implement their own agendas under the guise of raising Muslim issues. They also started using All Ceylon Jamiathul Ulema, ACJU, to implement their designs.

ACJU willingly or unwillingly allows itself to be manipulated and used as a front for Muslim as well as non-Muslim politicians who seek to achieve their own ends through the ACJU.

For example a delegation of Muslims arranged at short notice, within 24 hours, and led by ACJU President Moulavi Rizvi, met President Maithripala Sirisena early this month to discuss community issues.

During the meeting the delegation has advocated many measures which have not been extensively discussed and decided upon by the Muslim community. For example the suggestion to do away with Muslim Schools is not a considered conclusion of the Muslim community but only the view of a few individuals.

ACJU President spoke about a report on education prepared by former education minister Susil Premajayantha though, many believe, he was not aware of its recommendation. The question is whether dealing with the issue of education is the job of ACJU? Others raised issues such as Muslim teachers’ vacancies, hate campaign and legal provision, education in southern province and the government inaction over the 500 houses built for Muslim tsunami victims.

The credibility of  the representations to the President are affected when the individual who made the submissions about the need to enforce the law against hate speech was and is a strong supporter of Gothabaya Rajapaksa to whom he never made such representations.

In the midst some individuals organised a special felicitation for a state minister, almost a year after the government was formed in August 2015. Many believe this as yet another ruse for political mileage by self-seekers. Here too they have put forward ACJU president as a speaker.

The ACJU leadership’s involvement in politics and hob knobbing with politicians known for corruption and crime, shady businessmen and wheeler dealers has been an issue of serious concern for sometimes among Muslim who are deeply concerned about the plight of the community.

They point out that the ACJU is a religious body and should confine itself to guide the community on religious matters. However the ACJU has overstepped its limits and entered into politics and other activities though many insist that ACJU should keep away from corrupt, commercialised, communalised and criminalised politics.

Citing its political involvement they pointed out the ACJU’s disastrous visit to Geneva to defend the Sri Lankan government on war crimes during the war against LTTE was uncalled for .This created lot of bitterness and hatred towards Muslims from the Tamil community. The talk is that this visit was undertaken on the request of defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa for reasons better known to the ACJU leader.

On the other hand what do the ACJU team know about what had happened during the war, the UNHCR and war crimes. Is this the responsibility of ACJU?

They also cited the Halal issue as another blunder. It was a simple issue, but the ACJU failed to explain and paved the way for racist elements to harm the community. The list of allegations continues. Some of the views expressed by those concerned about the community were;

There is no priesthood in Islam. However ulemas passed out from often outdated madrasas got together around mid-1920s and formed the ACJU. They did serve a purpose at a time when the literacy rate was low in the community and Islam was not much known. This situation continued and over the years the ACJU has emerged as the religious body of the community which also accepted and respected them.

However things changed and the present generation is increasingly becoming aware of Islam. Thus the need for ACJU to gear itself to suit the need of the time. The ACJU need to improve the living standards and restore the respect and dignity of ulemas. Their monthly earning is around Rs 20,000 and overall living condition is appalling.

Their miserable plight was explained in detail in an article by Ash Shaikh T.M. Mubaaris Rashadi in the latest edition of Muslim fortnightly MELPARVAI. They need to be trained on political here and abroad to help guide the community. This is essential to face challenges posed by hostile local and global forces who have found their way into the island.

However the consensus is that these areas remain ignored by the ACJU.

Community is badly in need of fatwas on extremely sensitive topics such as black abaya and face cover which have become source of irritants to some elements in the majority community with whom we have to live in harmony. National Shoora Council, NSC, referred many issues to ACJU for its fatwa. Up to date there is no response.

The devastating social impact of ever increasing number of divorces and allegations of corruption in the quazi courts need serious attention.

Muslims in the island are facing numerous challenges striking their very survival as a community. Israelis who have turned Muslim Middle East into a virtually killing field are here as part of their global agenda against Islam and Muslims.

Under such circumstance the community cannot afford a political and religious leadership crisis as every effort need to be made to safeguard the community and ensure Muslims live in harmony with other communities. It is a welcome sign that the civil society started to assert itself. (Latheef Farook)

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Where is the Muslim leadership?

Sri Lanka's Muslim community is passing through its worst ever political and religious leadership crisis, which has placed the community in a precariously helpless situation. The tragedy is that this happens at a time when so many hostile forces, both local and foreign, are openly and secretly working against Muslims. 

Ever since the evolution of political reforms in the 1930s, Muslim leaders who were respected by all worked for the community and won their rights while maintaining the goodwill of the majority community. The situation began to change drastically after independence in 1948 due to rising racist politics. 

The vote-catching strategy of promoting majority community interest begun by the United National Party (UNP) continued later by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), despite its devastating overall impact on the country.

Chauvinism

However, Muslim leadership was represented in both parties. As a result, despite rising chauvinism Muslim leaders managed to contain the hatred towards the community though there were sporadic anti Muslim attacks. 

However, the disaster came when late President J.R. Jayewardene dismissed the UNP Muslims stating that "if they want they can stay, or they can leave the government," when the Muslims opposed his move to bring Israelis to deal with growing Tamil militancy. 

The Muslim community was shattered and frustrated. They felt the need for their own voice to highlight their grievances and ensure their rights. Thus, there was a vacuum in the political leadership. This was cleverly exploited by late M.H.M.Ashraf who was then running from party to party in search of a platform to start his own party - Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, SLMC.

Islandwide

Many senior Muslim politicians in the south warned him not to make it an islandwide party, but confined to the east. I remember SLFP politician Haleem Ishak advising him for more than an hour on a Sunday morning at Galle Face ground around late 1970s not to pit the Sinhalese against Muslims in the south by making it an islandwide Muslim party. 

However, Ashraf did not find time for such sane advice. He started the SLMC with Kalmunai as its base and the Muslims frustrated at rising chauvinism supported the new Muslim party in the hope of safeguarding their rights and dignity. In the subsequent years the SLMC began to play a decisive role in forming governments.

Antagonise

His opportunistic politics did antagonise some Sinhalese proving Haleem Ishak's fear credible.
From the very inception the SLMC was a one-man show. Within years Ashraf built an image of a leader who was unpredictable due to his alignment with different political forces. As a result Ashraf was accused of widespread corruption and moral degradation. A number of people who supported him began to leave the party and distance from him. 

In the midst came his untimely death, leading to a severe leadership crisis within the party. The Sinhala leadership, fed up of yielding to Ashraf's demands, exploited the opportunity to suit their own agendas. They began to pick up one group to promote by providing ministerial portfolios and aggravated the division. 

This division continued and the SLMC which came with the slogan of Islam and Unity is divided into more than half a dozen splinter groups, causing irreparable damage to the community.
They all aim at positions and perks by pleasing the Sinhala leadership. Thus, they abandoned the community. 

For example, the main SLMC and splinter groups remained an integral part of defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa government despite its atrocities against the Muslim community. 

They joined President Maithripala Sirisena camp during the eleventh hour only when they found that the community, dismissing the Muslim parties, has decided to vote for President Sirisena.

Abandoned

According to rumors, they were absorbed into the government on the eve of the January 8, 2015 presidential election after signing a deal with the UNP which, perhaps, sealed their mouths and tied their hands and legs. It is more than a year since then they failed to raise any serious Muslim issue. 

For example, their absence during the recent visit to the island of Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ziad Ra'ad Al Hussein demonstrated to what extent they have abandoned the community. 

Israelis, who clashed with the Muslim countries in the Middle East, are here in a big way. They are bound to create problems for Sri Lankan Muslims as part of their global campaign against Islam and Muslims. 

Regarding this, did the Muslim parliamentarians raise any concern? Did they take up the issue with the Prime Minister?

Betrayal

The shameful state of affairs is such that these Muslim parliamentarians talk of unity these days. The question is unity for what? However, their failure to come together to prepare a set of proposals to safeguard Muslim interest in the proposed constitutional changes is shameful. This was betrayal of the community for which they had been notorious during the past few decades. 

Under the circumstance, the only option for Muslims is to organise the civil society into an effective force which could prevail on these politicians and reestablish relations with the majority community.
Equally disastrous is the religious body, the All Ceylon Jamiathula Ulema, ACJU which has miserably failed to stand up and guide the community to ensure the age old ties with the majority community is preserved despite rising racism by a handful of people. 

The challenges posed by Sinhala racists on various issues were ignored or not properly handled by the ACJU. As a result, the ACJU and its leadership have lost the confidence of major section of the community judging from the serious allegations in the social media. 

There have been calls from different sections of the community on the need for a complete overhauling of ACJU to suit the time and help guide the community on issues, especially in the context of racist elements trying to pit the majority against Muslims.

Split

The ACJU and its leadership have failed, since the days of halal issue followed by the blunder in deciding the Ramadan festival day. This controversy almost split Jamiathul Ulema when ulemas in the east decided to set up their own association. 

The need to reorganise the Friday Juma sermons to educate Muslims of emerging threats and to advice positive means to deal with them has been felt by the entire community. The long felt need of a common curriculum in Islamic education on par with national education, and the need to make it more socially responsive have been ignored. 

The allegations against the ACJU leadership remain widespread and thus, the call for a new leadership which could guide the community is imperative.

Radicalism

For example, on February 12, 2006, London based website Colombo Telegraph published an article under the title "Fundamentalism Creeps into Muslim International Schools", in which Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi raised the issue of 'black face veil or the Burqa'. He said this was seen as a symbol of rising radicalism. 

The allegations against Ilma International School was totally baseless and unfounded though defense secretary's concern about black veil needed some clarification. Though an innovative phenomenon assimilating Middle Eastern cultures due to our dependency on employment in the Gulf, wearing what is considered by some as alien cannot be attributed to radicalism. 

Already, vested interest in the media began to unleash unfounded fears and phobias disturbing society further. 

In this article Channa Abeetha Dahanayanke, a researcher on anthropology and social media trends had this to state; 

"If you take Sinhala racism, the opposition comes from the Sinhalese itself. Even if its Tamil separatism on social media, it's the Tamil community who first raise the flag and then is joined by either racist or moderate Sinhalese. 

But what is alarming is the silence of Muslims. Muslims just do not ever speak against this, and it's on one hand sad, and on the other very alarming".

Failed

Under such circumstance isn't it the duty of ACJU to issue a fatwa, guide the community and ensure the rising hatred towards or misunderstanding of Muslims is checked in the interest of national harmony. 

The ACJU failed to attend to any such issues. 

Their failure to respond on time in the right manner and professionally as responsible religious leaders are damaging the society in the similar manner as Muslim political parties are. 

Unless the entire ACJU is re organised to serve the community and the country, what is in store for the Muslims is unpredictable. (Latheef Farook)

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