Monday, 22 August 2016

Muslim Political & Religious Clerical Leadership Crisis in Sri Lanka

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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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".


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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