Sri Lanka’s Unfolding Political Crisis and Muslim community’s indifference

As we all know Sri Lanka is passing through the worst ever political and economic crisis since President Maithripala Sirisena shocked the nation by sacking Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe on Friday 26 October 2018. The irony is that it was Mr. Wickremasinghe’s United National Party which played a crucial role in elevating Sirisena to a position as President which he never dreamt of.

In yet another bombshell President Sirisena appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was accused of crime and corruption and pledged to bring him to justice. Instead he handed over power to this very same Mahinda Rajapaksa who appointed number of ministers who too were accused of corruption and fraud.

In short President Sirisena has betrayed the people who brought him to power and handed over power to the very same people whom he promised to punish.

Responding swiftly people vehemently condemned the move in public statements, public meetings, demonstrations and in every other possible ways demanding restoration of democracy.

Tamil political leaders who condemned the move were swift to act to secure community’s interests. Tamil National Alliance leader R Sambanthan met President Sirisena, Prime Minister appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa and Janata Vimukthi Peramuna leaders.

Unlike Muslim politicians who rushed to perform Umrah, they did not go to Madurai Meenakshi Amman Templel, Tirupathi or Sabarimala seeking the intervention of gods and goddesses to deal with the political crisis. Instead they remained here and dealt with the fast changing political crisis.

The island’s Muslim community, living scattered all over the country, does not have a national political party or a national political leader. They only have regional politicians who, by and large, do not believe in community issues, but earned reputation for striking deals, securing ministerial portfolios while burning issues of the community remain unattended.

Over a period Sinhala leaderships have realized this weakness of Muslim politicians and exploit it to suit their agendas as it has been happening during the past few decades.

In the aftermath of the removal of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe the Muslim community was silent in general. Muslim politicians, didn’t know what to do and whom to join as money offered for crossover to Mahinda camp was too tempting.

They were busy calculating whether to cross over or not.

In the midst there were widespread speculations in the electronic media of some Muslim parliamentarians trying to cross over to Mahinda side. It was speculated that to avoid such a development they rushed to Makka to perform Umrah –perhaps political Umrah seeking divine blessings to take the right decision.

With the political scene changing fast, Muslim politicians’ absence were talked about in the ongoing move to ensure the restoration of democracy. They returned from Umrah in time to join the others in seeking court order on the dissolution of the parliament.

From the very inception Christian religious leaders, both Catholics and Anglicans as well, were quick to condemn the sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister in violation of the constitution.

However there was no such statements from the island’s politicized and commercialized Muslim religious body, All Ceylon Jamiathul Ulema, ACJU-demanding the restoration of the constitution and condemning the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksda as Prime Minister.

The ACJU was heard only when they received the controversial Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was received at a meeting chaired by ACJU treasurer Mubarak Moulavi at ACJU premises. In their excitement the moulavis have forgotten to remind him about the atrocities his government committed to Muslims. Even in his welcome speech the Hambantota Moulavi has miserably failed to remind him about the plight of Muslims under his regime and failed to ask whether that Muslims would be safe in a future government under him.

Such a request was essential because after Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed Prime Minister, even before ministers were sworn in, Mahson Balakaya leader Amith Weerasinghe and nine others who were in custody accused of involvement in the violence against Muslims in Digana, were released on bail on Monday 29 October 2018.
Amith was given a rousing welcome by his supporters who carried him on their shoulders. Added to this after the new government was sworn in, a mob went to Digana Town putting firecrackers and shouting “slogans “ Thambilawa Maranawa” and later damaged the Kandy Line Masjid name board.
This sent a wrong message to beleaguered Muslims. This was the reason why ACJU came under criticism for not raising this issue with Mahinda Rajapaksa.

On Friday 16 October 2018 religious leaders including Ven Ittipane Dhammalankara Thera and Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcom Ranjith met President Sirisena in a bid to resolve the present political crisis through a dialogue of all political parties and offered to play a role in it.

However there was no mention of ACJU participation. The question is why this indifference? Isn’t it the responsibility of ACJU to get involved in such activities?

I went to a mosque in Colombo for Friday Juma prayer after the sacking of Prime Minister Wickremasinghe. Sermon was conducted in English language and more than 90 percent of the congregation were not English speaking. The topic for the sermon was life in the hell and heaven.

Many were shocked and disgusted at the ignorance and complete insensitive of the preacher to the unfolding political changes in the country. Some said it is due to their ignorance they confine their sermons to spiritual side and fail to deal with issues concerning the community.

As the third most important community what happens in the country also has its impact on the Muslim community. Under such circumstance isn’t it proper to explain and guide the people of what is happening and what they should do to save democracy, country and ensure their own rights and privileges.

Even in the subsequent weeks unfolding political developments and its overall impact on the Muslim community was not taken up in Juma sermons. This showed that Friday sermons have become out dated, unproductive and far away from the present realities. This is the reason why many suggested for long that ACJU and other groups who control mosques to use Friday sermons to educate and enlighten people to deal with current issues. This is extremely essential as the community doesn’t have a proper media.

Muslims of walks of life gather weekly with a frame of mind to listen to sermon during Friday Juma prayer. These sermons could be best means to reach out to common people.

Unfortunately all these requests fell in their deaf ears. Isn’t it time that initiatives are taken to update Juma sermons to inform Muslims of the type of political environment in which we live and the need to join hands with other communities to ensure the community’s safety.

Under the circumstance it is highly unlikely that such a move will be initiated as the ACJU refuses to come out of its mediaeval mindset, vested interests, update itself and prepare the community to face growing challenges.

While this was the political and religious side of the Muslims, the civil society response to the crisis is one of shameful indifference .They failed to join hands with Sinhala organizations to make their contributions and assert the community’s involvement in this national crisis.

Some even suggested to nonpolitical social organizations to organize meetings for open discussions on the fast changing political scene. However all fell in deaf ears.

This is the unfortunate plight of the community against whom local and foreign hostile forces which managed to enter the country under Mairthri- Ranil government were plotting as demonstrated in violence unleashed on the community in Gentota , Ampara, Digana and Akurana.

Unless the community come out of its self-imposed isolation and join hands with majority Sinhalese community to deal with national issues what is in store for the community is disaster with unpredictable consequences.

2 Comments on “Sri Lanka’s Unfolding Political Crisis and Muslim community’s indifference”

  1. “While this was the political and religious side of the Muslims, the civil society response to the crisis is one of shameful indifference .They failed to join hands with Sinhala organizations to make their contributions and assert the community’s involvement in this national crisis.”

    “Unless the community come out of its self-imposed isolation and join hands with majority Sinhalese community to deal with national issues what is in store for the community is disaster with unpredictable consequences.”

    Brother Latheef, these are two of the most powerful statements that you have made in your article. I strongly suggest that you confine many of your future articles to identifying and discussing the ways and means of ‘joining hands’ with the majority community so that our community is perceived as being ready, willing and able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other religious groups in our common quest for national reconciliation and ethnic harmony. The ‘literati’ of our community need to move ahead from merely recommending strategy to developing pragmatic tactics for this purpose.

    We should draw our learnings by focusing on the pre-1977 period when Muslim candidates were readily elected from predominantly non-Muslim electorates and when Muslim voters enthusiastically gave their votes to non-Muslim candidates in other electorates. This was a period in time when Buddhist-Muslim relationships were at the zenith. So what went wrong ? A single answer : the 1978 Constitution of the JR Government which paved the way for the emergence of extremist groups on both sides of the fence.

    Muslim Civil Society has to come out of it’s self-induced soporific state and take the initiative to establish a Council for Buddhist – Muslim Relations in Sri Lanka without the direct involvement of Politicians, Clergy or Islamic Scholars.

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