The Muslims in Sri Lanka have fallen from their hitherto established social standing with others, especially the Sinhalese. This fall had been happening for some time, in an incremental pace, after the end of the three-decade-old war with the Tamil Tigers and has come to its worst scenario now after the Easter Sunday tragedy that happened on April 21.
Very unfortunate indeed, but the reality has to be accepted by the Muslim community. Why did this fall happen? This is the big question and the probable answers could, if properly put forward, bring in shame to all the parties, directly and indirectly, responsible for the fall.
No entity would wish to be in the fallen state forever and thus will seek legitimate ways and means of rising to attain its glorious past – God Willing (Insha Allah) – that will be the new chapter of the presently beleaguered Muslims in Sri Lanka provided they adhere truly to the tenets of Islam and move forward to regain their past in better ways than what they had been misperceived by others in their social/societal interactions.
The anti-Muslim scenario espoused by a few patriotic Sinhala Buddhists is not a direct attack on Islam at least at the beginning though some of their hate speeches and insults got directed at the Qur’an and the Divinity of Allah (SWT) at a later stage.
The antagonism is based on the powerful leverage that the Muslim community holds in terms of balance of power in the governance of Sri Lanka, the entrepreneurial competencies of the Muslims in their business activities, the economic power they yield in buying lands/properties and finally with the often-cited large families, the last (large families) have already got minimised based on modern-day work and educational commitments as in line with the other communities. All of these though could be slightly true but on the whole, they are wishful thinking because all other communities especially the Sinhalese presently are as good as the Muslims or even better in the four areas identified above.
The point to note is that other communities’ involvement or rather commitment within each of the above-mentioned areas, leaving the family size aside, is more or less not visible in a show-off mode whereas the ‘involvement’ of Muslims in these areas are very conspicuous. Thus the Muslim community themselves have given the wrong signal to others as a powerful entity yet being a minority. That was the basis of a type of latent jealousy that sprung within the hearts and minds of others which has as of today blown into racial hatred towards Muslims by a small group of politically manipulated and hate-mongering Sinhalese Buddhists who by their behaviour have abandoned Buddhist Teachings / Buddhism.
Sri Lankan pluralistic society
The traditional Sri Lankan pluralistic society of the distant past was benign and thus each community lived peacefully minding their vocations, social and religious obligations without any animosity generally towards any others except on and off skirmishes by religious fanatics which emerged and subsided within the location of conflicts itself. The lifestyles of each community were based on their religious/cultural orientations without impinging any harm on any others. This was the society in which honour and respect for others took primacy and money per se had a low influencing effect. The relationship between the Sinhalese and the Muslims was positively strong which helped the two communities towards mutual goodwill and peaceful coexistence. There happened in many instances where the Sinhalese would trust the Muslims more than their race and vice versa.
Slowly the said traditional Sri Lankan society was changing in terms of values, norms and commitments, which had to be expected as a natural phenomenon anyway, in its outlook towards upward social mobility which got accelerated through the emerging economic order of open economy and further strengthened by the concept and reality of globalization. The Sri Lankans in every community changed accordingly and thus emerged the materialistic paradigm that had completely erased all the good things that were cherished in the past. Society as a whole has fallen to the low level of doing anything for money – money is the commanding criterion of the present-day lifestyles. Money – the filthy lucre – has become indispensable not just for survival but also to indulge in activities detrimental and dangerous to humanity and society, which the present-day Sri Lankans including the Muslims cherish for the sake of worldly gains.
In the past Muslims were not reckoned as a threat by the Sinhalese since the majority of Muslims were involved in small scale businesses or shop-keeping and were not competing for government jobs as they were on the one hand not educationally qualified for such jobs and on the other the Muslims were interested in self-employment for varied and valid reasons.
The jobs in the government and corporate sectors were initially dominated by Ceylon Tamils which got gradually replaced by Sinhalese as from the year 1956 due to dedicated national policy initiatives to help the Sinhalese. The Tamils with their educational qualifications and having relatives and friends abroad had sponsors overseas and thus got effectively employed abroad. The Muslims, on the other hand, did not have such opportunities and thus got involved in developing/expanding their businesses (mostly shop-keeping / retailing) and eventually, their business premises in the bazaar areas in urban and rural centres became well built and modernized as of today. These buildings along with their luxurious furnishers and fittings with their visible earning potential gave rise to resentment and envy not only among the Sinhalese and others but also within the downtrodden Muslims too.
This was the beginning of the enmity the Sinhalese developed towards the Muslims based on their assertion that 10% Muslim population are financially enriching themselves by earning from 90% others. Though this may appear correct in simple and unsophisticated thinking, there is a fallacy in this. No marketing professional would advocate such a philosophy which will be counter-productive to consumer behaviour. Customers buy their requirements to satisfy their needs based on quality, value for money spent and not on ethic or race criteria of the sellers. Thus those who instruct the Sinhalese not to buy goods from Muslim shops are doing a disservice to the psyche of the Sinhalese which eventually will lead the Sinhalese to lose rationality. Such a boycott cannot be sustained in the long run.
Easter Sunday tragedy
The economy of Sri Lanka at the macro-level did fall heavily immediately after the Easter tragedy in April 2019. The violence against the Muslims on May 13 and 14 in the North-Western Province by the Sinhala Buddhists having a hidden political agenda, and the subsequent bashing of Muslims through hate-speeches, advocating to boycott Muslim businesses and cherry-picking of unrelated instances to the Easter massacre to corner the Muslim community as a whole have by now brought down the micro-economy as well to its lowest level. Though all communities are affected in one way or other in this economic downturn, it is the Muslim community that has got affected heavily. Had everyone especially the Sinhalese Buddhists focussed their attention to redeem Sri Lanka from the after-effects of Easter massacre, we would have by now risen to build (or re-build) the economy to a favourable state without getting involved in anti-Muslim violence. Unfortunately, the Easter tragedy happened at a time where party politics including personal politics were cunningly preparing themselves for the forthcoming Presidential Election in December 2019. They made use of the Easter mayhem to boost their Sinhalese Buddhist votes by inflicting violence on the Muslims in all forms through physical destructions of Muslim properties, creating varied myths about Muslims and speaking on Islam in disparaging / derogatory manner without realizing that they are in effect insulting a part of Sri Lanka citizenry – what a shame on the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka that is supposed to uphold the Buddhist Doctrine / Principles.
Today the Muslim community is being ‘attacked’ or vilified on two fronts viz. boycotting of the Muslim businesses and the overt exclusiveness shown by certain sections of the Sinhalese populace in their interactions with the Muslims – the latter aspect could be overcome to a large extent by the Muslims by being indifferent to the social exclusiveness shown by the Sinhalese and thereby moving as usual with them and thus – Insha Allah – rejuvenating the Sinhala-Muslim relationship bond as it had been existing before – a difficult task but could be achieved with genuine efforts. Generally, in normal situations, the Sinhalese are a very considerate and helpful people and would lend themselves to justice and fair play, unless they have been the brain, washed to be otherwise as in the present context which episode will fade away with time.
Let the Muslims stretch their hands of friendship to all the Sinhalese in spite of the fact a small group of the latter have unconsciously become belligerent towards Muslims due to misrepresentation of their (Muslims’) behavioural pattern and indoctrinating hatred in the Sinhalese masses by the Sinhala Buddhist racists. This process is more dangerous to the Sinhalese in the long run as the hatred ‘injected’ into the psyche of the Sinhala masses against the Muslims could turn around themselves when divergent societal and/or political issues emerge in the future.