Anti-Muslim Bigotry on the Island: Sri Lankan Muslims in the Face of a New Civil War?

The island nation of Sri Lanka celebrated its 65th Independence Day on the 4th of February amidst conflicting emotions. Although no stranger to tourism brochures as the idyllic holiday getaway, this teardrop isle has also had its fair share of the spotlight in making international headlines – there was the incapacitating tsunami of 2004, the 3-decade-long civil war and the war-crime allegations that followed, and more recently the very public (and dubious) impeachment of the country’s chief justice.

There is however, another internal conflict that is yet to reach international waters.

Still reeling from the after effects of a long-standing civil war Sri Lanka seems poised for yet another, this time with another face attributed to the enemy – the minority (9%) Muslim population of the island.

For rising tensions, the result of a freshly administered hate campaign against the Muslims minority by fringe groups of the extremist Buddhist variety, have challenged cosy notions of post-conflict harmony finally taking root.

At a rate that is worryingly escalating, said fanatical nationalist groups have taken to the streets as well as social media forums to denigrate Islam by picketing scaremongering slogans, all claiming ludicrously that the Muslim population is plotting to unseat Buddhism as the official state religion of Sri Lanka.

In true doomsayer-esque fervour, these supremacists warn of the infiltration of Halaal certified food into mainstream eating outlets as a threat to a pure Buddhist state, and in keeping with the times have even taken to posting inflammatory material on the internet mobilising the online community for a nation-wide boycott of all Muslim-owned businesses. More ambitious allegations include claims that madrasas are serving as breeding ground for terrorists, and that Sharia’a law is out to take over the island with its ‘draconian’ implementation of law and order.

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It has to be stressed that this vehement sentiment is not representative of the opinion of the vast majority of the Sri Lankan non-Muslim population, nor is this hate reciprocated by the moderate Muslim community. And while Sri Lankan Muslims can take comfort in this, what is undeniably cause for concern, is:

  • The deafening silence from the government to these obvious instigations, and the impunity with which said groups are allowed to operate – leaving room for many to harbour suspicions that this hysteria is in fact a well-financed operation not just by the higher-ups, but even possibly an external lobby.
  • The disconcertingly growing audience paying heed to the hate being spewed – some Facebook groups have garnered up to 15,000 ‘likes’ and Twitter followings of similar proportions.
  • The increasing presence of anti-Muslim hate-speech (however absurd) making its way into local, mainstream media
  • The detrimental long-term effects in the psyche of non-Muslim Sri Lankans in this misleading generalisation of all Muslims.

Muslim-Sinhala relations have never been cause for concern until very recently – the symbiosis with which they existed could in fact have served as a model example of ethnic harmony in a pluralistic, society dating back hundreds of years.  However, what with the LTTE forces having served their 26-year term, Muslims have now seemingly replaced the ex-adversaries as the new enemy target.

Not much has been done as of yet to quash these attacks, except for the occasional online campaign calling for religious harmony and the one-off retaliatory article from Muslim mediators refuting absurd claims.

All eyes are now on the current regime, seeking out truth in their claims that the inculcation of religious tolerance (by taking urgent measures to quell these instigators of hate) is truly top priority on the political agenda.

13 / View Comments

13 responses to “Anti-Muslim Bigotry on the Island: Sri Lankan Muslims in the Face of a New Civil War?”

  1. ali says:

    may Allah save the muslims.

  2. Gibran says:

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Looks like our Rabb is bringing us into conflict wheerever we are. Infamous or famous, he is putting us in the headlines and making us a well known global topic. Do people talk abut Christians or Christianity as much?

    We’re at the center of attention…so lets take advantage of this.

    wallahu Musta’an.

  3. fahim says:

    i am frm sri lanka. there are many reasons for the recent buddhist hate towards muslims.
    * a sri lankan buddhist migrant worker in saudi arabia is imprisoned for 1 year & given 100 lashes for worshipping a statue of buddha in his room.!! (which is unacceptable)
    *the halaal certification issue.
    *the recent census indicates that muslims have the highest birth rate (3.3%!) in the country. (which makes the buddhists think that muslims will outnumber them in the next 50 years!! …LOL )
    *sri lankan housemaids being treated like slaves in gulf countries.
    *muslims have already become the majority in the colombo city.( 40%)
    *number of women wearing burkas have risen within last two years.( which buddhists assume as rise of extremism)
    *muslims mindlessly building mosques in every 1 KM.

    a buddhist organization has claimed that already there are jihadi camps in the eastern part of the country. surprisingly the government is silent about it. in the way things are going right now , it looks like violent clashes between the two communities are inevitable.

  4. I’m so tired of reading about hate and violence being directed against Muslims around the world. I’m not blaming you for reporting it. Just tired of the state of affairs.

  5. Malik says:

    You have accurately potrayed the actual situation with clarity and brevity. Masha Allah.

  6. Umme Hadi says:

    We loose help of Allah if:
    1. We loose our determination
    2. Dispute with one aother
    3. Disobey Prophet/leader
    (Qur’an Ale Imran -152)

  7. Mr. Who says:

    For those who are interested:
    Consider the following petition to introduce anti hate laws in Sri Lanka.

  8. muslimlankan says:

    The comment mentioned by Fahim, is a fabricated utter lie, not single sentence mentioned has any truth. Most of the Sri Lankan Muslims have been peacefully living, side by side with majority buddists for many decades. I’ve never read or seen this much of hatred in this country..

    Over several months an outstandingly moronic anti-Muslim hate campaign has been going on, with nineteen websites devoted to that ignoble task. Latheef Farook, veteran Muslim journalist, Hamid Kareem and others have done their splendid best to bring the relevant facts to public notice. Subsequently mosques and Muslim business establishments have come under attack on a wide scale. Udaya Gammanpila of the JHU recently wrote an article in which he declared that a repetition of the anti-Muslim riots of 1915 was imminent. Many Muslims feared that their long-standing expectation that the Muslims would be the next target of another 1983 pogrom was about to come true. The anti-Muslim campaign mounted to a horrible crescendo at Kuliyapitiya in the North Western province of Wayamba where demonstrators carried posters with the drawing of a pig together with Arabic letters reading “Allah”. It was probably meant to provoke the Muslims into violence, providing a pretext for unleashing a pogrom on a grand scale, another 1983.

    But the Government has this time unexpectedly reacted with the President’s meeting with the BBS, the declaration of intent to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee, and more than one statement against racism by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva which to my mind had about them a clear note of authenticity. I have provided above an outline historical narrative showing the Sri Lankan State’s total indifference and near-total inactivity in the face of anti-Muslim action over a period of thirty eight years. In that perspective it does not seem grandiloquent at all to speak now about changes of an epochal order taking place and our ethnopolitics entering a new era.

    But what really does that signify? Before answering that question it is important to ask why the Government has reacted at long last in what seems to be a positive way.
    For many years Sri Lanka has been what might be justly called “a housemaid republic” because crucial for our economy is the foreign exchange sent home by our housemaid in the Middle East. After the Rizana Nafeek (A maid in Middle East) horror the Government has the idea of concentrating on providing skilled labour for the M-East market. Will all that be jeopardized if there is a 1983-type pogrom against the Muslims?

    As equally there is a hate campaign against muslims in Sri Lanka, fake named Fahims too are in plenty to give a complete twist to the Truth.

  9. […] Matters has been consistently reporting (see here and here) this escalation of anti-Muslim sentiment on an otherwise charming island, and the events of […]

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