MUSLIMS IN POST-WAR SL: REPRESSION, RESISTANCE AND REFORM

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Very pioneering, very contemporary and very present

“Any outsider can get a fair impression of Sri Lankan Muslims through this book – M.A. Sumanthiran Parliamentarian”

 

 

Sri Lanka has always been a multiethnic, multi-cultural country and minority communities have always been a part of the nation’s history. However, there has been a dearth in books documenting the recent history and happenings in the minority communities of Sri Lanka. Realizing this gap, Shreen Abdul Saroor was able to put together a collection of essays from writers of various ethnicities detailing the experiences of Muslims and other minority communities in the post war context. Thus, Muslims in Post-War Sri Lanka: Repression, Resistance and Reform came into being. It was virtually 
launched on October 1.

When I talk about human rights, I mean there should be a discourse of indivisibility on all rights which means everyone should have access towards civil liberties, social, economic rights and respect for pluralization – Prof. Savitri Goonesekera, Emeritus Professor of Law”

Speaking at the launch, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, noted that the book did not only document the trials and tribulations of Muslims in Sri Lanka but was also ‘a candid diagnosis of complex challenges that points to solution—at least to some of the problems, and certainly to human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and their collaborators everywhere.’ During his speech he also highlighted the human rights situation in the country. “This is a situation, that is characterized by regressive steps, in a number of areas, including the rule of law and the respect for independent institutions; restrictions in the enjoyment of human rights; persistent incitement to hatred and violence against certain communities; and entrenched impunity and lack of progress in the transitional justice process,” he remarked, adding that his mandate has been on following and reporting on the human rights situation of religious minorities and had repeatedly called on the government to take appropriate measures to curb violence and hatred towards minority communities and end securitization of ethno-religious differences for political ends. 

“This is a situation, that is characterized by regressive steps, in a number of areas, including the rule of law and the respect for independent institutions; restrictions in the enjoyment of human rights; persistent incitement to hatred and violence against certain communities; and entrenched impunity and lack of progress in the transitional justice process – Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief”

 

Touching upon this, Prof. Savitri Goonesekera, Emeritus Professor of Law, shared that when different communities try to raise awareness on an issue pertaining to another community, the voices aren’t welcomed. “When I talk about human rights, I mean there should be a discourse of indivisibility on all rights which means everyone should have access towards civil liberties, social, economic rights and respect for pluralization,” she said. Commenting on the book, she remarked that the ‘diversity of the book gives it authenticity’. “There is a focus on decisions by challenging false narratives in a new virtual media and an internal process on reflection, criticism, consensus building and reform for Muslim personal law and activism for change provides a very important insight into the Muslim community,” she shared.

Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the first UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, called the book ‘very pioneering, very contemporary and very present.’ She observed that there were a range of issues that the Muslim community faced in the postwar context, especially in the post- Easter Sunday attacks context that was presented in the book. “Muslims who were seen as the model minority back then are now seen as the violent and rebellious community. This book focusses on resistance, reform and struggle of the Muslim community while there is also a special emphasis on Muslim women as peace builders.”

“The growth of Islamic reformist movement has been on the rise in Sri Lanka since 90s and intolerance towards different groups grew rapidly. We witnessed a move to seek exclusivity and an Islamic identity that mostly showed off one as more pious than other based on which “Islamic ideology” and “sect” one followed – Shreen Abdul Saroor”

 

Adding on to Dr. Coomaraswamy’s remarks, Member of Parliament, M.A Sumanthiran opined that the book was a timely publication spotlighting the Muslim community. “Any outsider can get a fair impression of Sri Lankan Muslims through this book.” He shared that the writers of the book reflected upon the community by introspection of the community, the recent happenings and the community’s struggles. 

“Muslims in post-war Sri Lanka goes beyond the victimhood narrative. That effort is important for any community to emerge without dehumanizing itself in the process of fighting against oppression. Harnessing only the victimhood mentality to mobilize people may work in the short run but will entrench the community in an ideologically narrow and internally oppressive environment,” commented Dr. Rajan Hoole, academic and human rights activist. He also stated that the book challenges internal oppressiveness which will aid in strongly challenging Islamophobia. “Those who argue that it is counterproductive to raise these issues at present, when Islamophobia is dominating mainstream narratives, are actually reinforcing and undermining the struggle against it,” he shared.

 

“Those who argue that it is counterproductive to raise these issues at present, when Islamophobia is dominating mainstream narratives, are actually reinforcing and undermining the struggle against it – Dr. Rajan Hoole – Academic and human rights activist”

 

The book which contains 14 essays by writers belonging to various faiths, clearly brings about the challenges faced by the Muslim community due to Islamophobia and within the community. “The growth of Islamic reformist movement has been on the rise in Sri Lanka since 90s and intolerance towards different groups grew rapidly. We witnessed a move to seek exclusivity and an Islamic identity that mostly showed off one as more pious than other based on which “Islamic ideology” and “sect” one followed,” revealed Saroor, adding that some within the Muslim community tried to critically examine the manifestation of this identity in relation with the Easter Sunday attacks. 
It was this critical examination and her conversations with the other writers in the book that led her to compile Muslims in Post-War Sri Lanka: Repression, Resistance & Reform. “This book not only details the suffering of, and violence and discrimination against, Muslims, but also offers a critical and introspective account of religious identity politics. The conversations I have had over the years with the authors of the various articles in this book have been vibrant and vivid and capture some of these complexities. These conversations are still ongoing. I am grateful to my fellow authors’ time, wonderful conversations, and tireless commitment to resist against Islamophobia, racism and radicalization.” 

 

“Muslims who were seen as the model minority back then are now seen as the violent and rebellious community. This book focusses on resistance, reform and struggle of the Muslim community while there is also a special emphasis on Muslim women as peace builders – Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the first UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women”

 

The book includes essays by Shreen Abdul Saroor, Ria Samuel, Gehan Gunatilleke, Bhavani Fonseka, Amalini de Sayrah, Hashtag Generation, Senel Wanniarachchi, Prihesh Ratnayake, Harindrini Corea, Sakeena Razick, Mytili Bala, Dr. Farah Mihlar, Ameer Faaiz, Fathima Nabeela Iqbal, Aneesa Firthous, Sarala Emmanuel, Ponni Arasu, Ambika Satkunanathan, Muqaddasa Wahid and Mahendran Thiruvarangan.
The Book ‘Muslims in Post-War Sri Lanka: Repression, Resistance & Reform’ can be ordered via email [email protected]

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