Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Positioning Muslims in Ethnic Relations, Ethnic Conflict and Peace Process in Sri Lanka

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Positioning Muslims in Ethnic Relations, Ethnic Conflict and Peace Process in Sri Lanka

Article excerpt

Abstract

Sri Lankan Muslims, the second largest minority ethnic group with 9.4 per cent (2012) of the total population has been victimized in the cause of ethnic politics, ethno-nationalism, and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Like other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, the Muslims also have a historical origin that follows a set of distinctive ethno-centric cultural and religious practices. They have contributed much to the communal harmony, socio-economic and political development of the country throughout the history of Sri Lanka. However, the ethnic distinctiveness of Sri Lankan Muslims has always been questioned and the community has been violently targeted in the cause of time. The ethnic politics and ethno-nationalism of both major ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils have impacted a lot on the Muslims of Sri Lanka. Furthermore, most of the initiatives adopted to resolve the ethnic conflict have also failed to address the grievances and to accommodate the interests and demands of the Muslims. The devastating effects of the conflict on Muslim community and the continuous neglect of their interests in the discourses of peace process pushed them to politically mobilize for advocacy politics. On this backdrop, this paper pays attention on the historical survival of Muslim community, their position in ethnic politics and peace process in Sri Lanka. The main objective of this paper is to record the historical incidents related with the Muslims in Sri Lanka without pointing fingers at any party in these processes. The analysis of this paper is descriptive and interpretive in nature and only the secondary data is used for the analysis.

Keywords: Sri Lankan Muslims, ethnic relations, ethnic conflict, nationalistic politics, peace process

1. Introduction

Sri Lanka is one of the small nations in the world, covering an area of 65,610 square kilometers with pluralistic community and traditional heritages. It has been known by the natural giftof its beauty of marine and coastal belt, inland scenarios and exclusive resources, cultural and traditional heritages. These features have attracted many foreign travellers and merchants to visit and later to invade Sri Lanka. In fact, all major ethnic groups in the contemporary Sri Lanka are the descendants of other countries, i.e. the Sinhalese and Tamils are the descendants of India, while the majority of the Muslims are descendants of the Arab countries and Southern India. There were historical records of mutual goodwill and communal harmony among ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. However, in the later part, especially with the footprint of colonial powers, started with Portuguese in 1505, not only the native ethnic groups were undermined by the colonial power but also the traditional amity among these communities was severely affected. The colonial rulers planted roots for divisions and differences and caused a lot of ethnic and societal differences and conflicts, which later prompted for ethno-nationalism, ethnic conflict and civil war in independent Sri Lanka. One of the ethnic groups severely affected by colonialism, ethno-nationalism and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is the Muslim community, who has a historical origin and being an integral part of Sri Lanka nation, tried to preserve the communal harmony and territorial integrity of the island. However, throughout the history, their grievances have been sidetracked. As Jezeema Ismail emphasizes, perhaps because it was such a peaceful relationship, it has passed unnoticed by the historians (Ismail, 2013). With this backdrop, this paper, is specially focused on the sidetracked history of the Muslims of Sri Lanka in the course of colonial rule, ethnic-nationalism, ethnic conflict and peace process in Sri Lanka. The rest of the article is divided into four major parts with the conclusion. The first part records the historical origin of the Muslims of Sri Lanka and their relations with the other ethnic groups with emphasis on the challenges they faced in the hands of the colonial rulers. …

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