A Second Open Letter to The National Shoora Council of Sri Lanka

[The first Open Letter was sent to the NSC in June 2015]
[See : https://bisthanbatcha.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/an-open-letter-to-the-national-shoora-council-of-sri-lanka/ ]

The National Shoora Council of Sri Lanka has made available in it’s website a Questionnaire which they claim is being shared with ‘selected people like you’ by way of being password-protected and these lucky selected people are urged not to forward or share this Questionnaire with anyone else. Clearly after more than 5 years, the NSC has suddenly realized the importance of ascertaining as to whether they are on the right track. However, in their amateurish attempts at collecting the required information via their website, the responsible members at the NSC have fallen flat on their faces. And pretty badly at that.
Any Tom, Dick or Harry can download the Questionnaire by simply clicking on the ‘Questionnaire’ tab.
I should know because I did so – and I am not even an ordinary member of this prestigious group of Muslims.
Go on. Give it a try.

Here are my responses to the 12 questions posed by the NSC

1. Is NSC driving towards the right direction according to its mandate? Please clarify your view

Answer : The NSC does not have any ‘mandates’. It only has a set of 9 stipulated Objectives according to it’s Constitution. In any Organization, it’s stated Objectives stem directly from it’s Vision Statement, Mission Statement and Core Values Statement. This facilitates the evaluation of the performance of the Organization at any point in time.

[QUOTE] A Vision Statement describes the desired future position of an Organization. The vision of an organization is the dream, the type of statement that answers the questions “where are we going” and “what can we achieve?”
A Mission Statement defines the Organization’s business, its objectives and its approach to reach those objectives. The mission should guide each day’s activities and decisions. It is the primary standard against which the Organization’s plans and programs should be evaluated.
Core Values are the principles and ideals that bind the organization together including the members, employees and all stakeholders. They are developed to frame an ethical context for the organization, and to many they are the “ethical standards” of the organization – the foundation for decision making within the organization. All leadership must operate from the same ethical frame of reference so that decisions of one will mirror the decisions of others. [UNQUOTE]

The NSC does not have a set of Vision, Mission and Core Values Statements. How then does it engage in the Strategic Planning processes for it’s many activities ? The evaluation of the progress of any Organization must be based on where it wants to go and how it proposes to get there. It is a serious mistake to evaluate progress based on what has been achieved per se at specific times.

It is recommended that as it prepares to enter the the next phase of it’s existence, the NSC formulate without further delay it’s Vision, Mission & Core Values Statements which will give a clear idea to all members of the Public about purpose and objectives of the Organization. Here is a suggestion :

Vision Statement
To be and be perceived as the leading Muslim Civil Society organization striving continuously to stimulate, strengthen and sustain the processes of establishing mutually respectful relations both within the Muslim Community and between the Muslim Community and all the other Religious Communities in Sri Lanka.

Mission Statement
To ensure that the members of the Muslim Community could live with self-respect and dignity without fear of physical harm or mental trauma by virtue of being followers of Islam, reflecting the true spirit of re-conciliation and unity in our Motherland

Core Values
A commitment to establish and maintain unity
A commitment to a process of mutual consultation
A commitment to the practice of proactive empathy

[i] To strive to ensure that the Muslim Community is perceived as being equal stake-holders in any national effort to promote and defend the unity, integrity and sovereignty of our Motherland
[ii] To strive to create a more empathetic understanding and appreciation   of Islam and of Muslims in  the multi ethnic and pluralistic society of Sri Lanka

[iii] To demonstrate at all times a sense of willingness to examine the current and future impediments to establishing unity and reconciliation within and between religious communities with empathy.

[iv] To strive to safeguard the rights of all minority religious groups while ensuring that the rights of the majority community are not infringed in any way.

2. What should NSC be doing in the next 3-5 years (focus and direction)

Answer : The single biggest challenge that faces the Muslim Community at the present moment is the growing polarization between the Muslims and the other major religious groups in Sri Lanka. If it is to be perceived as the leading Muslim Civil Society group in Sri Lanka, the NSC must take cognition of this fact and provide leadership and inspiration to the processes of identifying the underlying causes and developing solutions to resolve such issues. As a starting point, the Muslims must be encouraged to engage in the processes of introspection and self-analysis for this purpose.

The second major challenge is the widening rift within the Muslim Community regarding various issues of a socio-religious nature. The Holy Prophet has advised the Ummah that any and all differences among them must be resolved through the processes of Shoora (Consultation) and Ijmah (Consensus). The NSC must assume the responsibility of ‘consensus-building’ among the Ummah as a matter of priority if they are genuinely concerned about promoting “cooperation, consensus and unity on Muslim affairs”.

For instance, the NSC is yet to make public it’s stand on the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) and on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – two issues which are presently causing tidal waves of anger and dissension among the members of the Muslim community and providing entertainment for the non-Muslims. It is a matter of deep regret that the NSC has not thought it fit to do so to date.

3. How can NSC achieve the above effectively (strategies) ?

Answer : Identify the causes for the rapidly-growing polarization between the Muslims and other communities. Implement the steps required to address such causal factors or to negate the impact of such factors.
This is by no means easy. But the longer one waits, the more difficult it will become. It requires lateral thinking and out-of-the-box solutions.

4. What can you as a MO/Secretariat member contribute towards the success of NSC?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC
5. How can operational /administrative aspects of NSC could be improved?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC

6. In your view, why is NSC becoming or could become weak as a National level umbrella organization?

Answer : In a nutshell, the NSC which started with a bang has begun to fizzle over the past 3 years or so. The primary reason is that it has attempted to do too many different things in the misplaced belief that it is in the best interests of the Muslim community during this short period. Instead of focussing sharply on providing inputs on behalf of the Muslim community towards the prevention of the growing polarization between the Muslims and the Buddhists, the NSC with it’s limited resources opted to engage in other unrelated activities especially after January 2015.

This has resulted in the weakening / dilution of the image of NSC as a Muslim Civil Society Organization. Moreover, the perceived growing influence of Politicians and the Ulema on the activities of the NSC has exacerbated this situation further. This would enhance the possibility that the NSC will eventually end up being seen as a mere appendage of a Muslim Political Party or of the ACJU.

The absence of strong Vision & Mission Statements is also a contributory factor. It is said “If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there”

7. What are the 5-7 subcommittees NSC should have in the next 1-2 years ?

Answer : To be perceived as a strong Organization, the NSC should necessarily focus strongly on just a few issues as a matter of priority. With this in mind, the following Sub Committees are suggested.

Sub Committee 1 : Muslim – Buddhist Relations Committee
Sub Committee 2 : Muslim – Hindu Relations Committee
Sub Committee 3 : Planning, Research & Monitoring Committee
Sub Committee 4 : Media & Public Relations Committee
Sub Committee 5 : Financial Planning Committee

8. Do you think that the operational success of NSC could be achieved by assigning all the responsibilities of implementing Exco decisions to the Secretariat members?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC
9. What alternatives do you propose?
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC
10. Suggest 3-5 things that could be improved at NSC related to its day to day operations
Answer : No comment since I am not a member of the NSC

11. Suggest 3-5 areas of improvement to enhance quality of decision making, implementing and monitoring

[11.1] The NSC must consider including female Muslim Professionals in the General Assembly, Executive Committee. Sub Committees and Secretariat. They will be able to offer unique insights and fresh perspectives to the issues facing our Community today. Does the NSC have the right to deprive our Community of the benefits that would accrue to them by not investing in 50% of our Intellectual Capital ? How can the NSC promote inclusivity while practicing exclusivity ?

[11.2] Limit the time periods for which Office-bearers can hold office continuously to a maximum of 3 years. Otherwise the NSC will simply be reduced to yet another ‘Old Boys Club’ with no infusion of fresh thinking, ideas and new knowledge.
[11.3] Every Sub Committee must be encouraged to produce it’s own Strategic Plan. Quarterly Progress Reports must be submitted to the Main Committee and posted in the website.

[11.4] Develop a Demographic Database of Muslim Sri Lankans. This task may not be as formidable or costly as it may sound. Every Muslim household has at least one member who will be registered in the Jamaath Register at the nearest Jummah Mosque. This could be used an appropriate starting point in this data-gathering exercise.

12. What could be some ideas to make NSC’s presence visible to the community and other stakeholders including government and other institutions?

[12.1] Introduce a Newsletter to be sent to as many Jummah Mosques as possible and as frequently as possible.
[12.2] Appoint an NSC Representative for every Mosque or groups of Mosques to act as a conduit between the Ummah and the NSC. He will also be responsible for the data-gathering exercise mentioned previously.
[12.3] Develop an interactive website including all the basic information about the NSC which the current website lacks. It should contain inter alia
– The Vision & Mission statements and the Objectives of the NSC
– The Structure of the NSC
– The current Office-bearers
– The different Sub Committees and it’s members

[12.4] Commence a Blog so that members of the Community can participate in discussions and debates on various related subjects in their own names and not under some ‘nom-de-plume’.
[12.5] Establish a Forum for Young Muslim Adults.
[12.6] Appoint an Official Spokesperson who will be available 24/7 to respond to queries from the general public.
[12.7] Adopt  a policy of total transparency pertaining to the sources of funding and the disbursement of such funds.


Child Marriage in the Muslim Sri Lankan Community

For purposes of this article, the definition of the word ‘Child’ as per the Oxford Dictionary will be adopted. Accordingly, a child is any ‘young human being below the legal age of majority’, which in the local case is 18 years. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.

The current interest of the general public on the subject of child marriage in the Muslim community was stimulated by the failure of the ad-hoc Commission appointed by the then Government nearly 8 years ago to issue even an Interim or Draft Report to date pertaining to amendments to the Muslim Marriage & Divorce Act of 1951. It was felt that the MMDA in it’s current form and content does not reflect adequately the changed socio-cultural environment of the Muslim community compared to that which existed 6 decades ago. The Muslim women believe that they are now poised to accept roles of greater responsibility in the legal processes of Marriage and Divorce and have presented strong cases for proposed amendments to the MMDA which would provide them with an opportunity to join their male counterparts in it’s implementation.

It is not proposed to discuss in this article the pros and cons of the various arguments and debates that have surfaced during the recent past on this subject.

However, one topic that has become very controversial and has generated a lot of debate is that of ‘child marriage’ which is permissible according to the current MMDA. Many Muslims are of the opinion that the MMDA in it’s current form is ‘perfect’, simply because it is based on the divine Sharia laws which are immutable. The opposite camp is of the opinion that what is called for is not the breaching of the divine Sharia laws, but it’s re-interpretation (Fiqh laws) in the current context, where the local Muslims are a minority in a non-Muslim country.

In an article titled ‘MMDA and the Minimum Age of Marriage’ published in the Ceylon Today newspaper of 10th April 2017, the co-authors Sabra Zahid and Hyshyama Hamin state : “One of the most hotly contested issues in the growing debate about reform of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) has been with regard to increasing the minimum age of marriage for Muslims. While legal reforms in 1995, increased the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for all citizens except Muslims, the MMDA does not stipulate an age of marriage. Contrary to popular belief, the minimum age at which a Muslim girl or boy can get married under the MMDA is not 12 years, because as per Section 23 of the Act, a girl below 12 can be given in marriage with the authorization of a Quazi judge. Hence the minimum age of marriage for Sri Lankan Muslims is zero.”  (http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=18916)

The knowledge that at present a Muslim girl child can legally be given in marriage at any young age beginning at birth was a complete shock to many Muslims. One can only speculate as to what adverse prejudices about the religion and the community this information has created or reinforced among the non-Muslims of this country.

Unfortunately, rather than extending their ready support to those who were promoting amendments to this and other related clauses of the MMDA, many Muslim males almost reflexively assumed a state of denial by claiming that although such a law exists in the statute books it is not implemented by the members of the Community. And as proof of their ‘conclusions’, they refer to the fact that such child marriages have never occurred within their own family and social circles and is therefore by extension not a matter of grave concern for the community as a whole. Even if instances of child marriage do exist, such Muslims say, the numbers are so small that it is ‘negligible’. What balderdash !! These males do not seem to understand that it is not a case of the size of the numbers, but the humiliation and trauma that the female children experience as a result of the outdated MMDA that should be the cause for concern.

It is this tendency among many Muslims to ‘build walls’ to protect themselves from perceived or imaginary threats that has resulted in the weakening of their analytical and interpretational thinking skills. Their attitude of ‘what I do not see or hear, does not affect me’ debilitates their ability to think broadly. More importantly, their inclination to avoid confronting realities has created space for the ‘learned scholars’ to dominate the discourses on this subject.

Let us permit the numbers to speak for themselves. All data presented below are based on the Census of Population 2012.

Estimated total number of Muslim females, 12 – 14 years, All Island       = 60,714

Estimated total number of Muslim females, 15 – 17 years, All Island       = 56,334

Marital Status of Muslim females, 12 – 14 years (Younger Female Children)

No. Never married 60,183
No. Married Registered 482
No. Married Customary 25
No. Widowed 10
No. Divorced 07
No. Separated Legally 01
No. Separated Not Legally 06
Total 60,714

Marital Status of Muslim females, 15 – 17 years (Older Female Children)

No. Never married 50,034
No. Married Registered 5,887
No. Married Customary 252
No. Widowed 29
No. Divorced 55
No. Separated Legally 26
No. Separated Not Legally 51
Total 56,334

Therefore, as at the date of the 2012 Census of Population, there were a little under 7,000 Female Children, 12 – 17 years, whose marital status were as follows :

No. Married Registered 6,369
No. Married Customary 277
No. Widowed 39
No. Divorced 62
No. Separated Legally 27
No. Separated Not Legally 57
Total 6,831

A Census like any other Survey only provides a snap-shot of the status of the phenomenon under study as at that point in time.

Therefore, as a responsible Community, the Muslims must accept that Child Marriage is very much a part of their socio-cultural patterns of behaviour. They cannot continue to be deaf, dumb and blind to the fact that at the time of the 2012 Census, nearly 6% of the estimated 117,048 Female Children, 12 – 17 years, were married / widowed / divorced / separated. This is definitely not a ‘negligible’ number. The enormity of this ‘crime against our little girls’ cannot and should not be measured quantitatively – purely in terms of numbers. To better understand the full horror of this phenomenon, it must be evaluated qualitatively through the lens of empathy, compassion and understanding. This has in fact already been accomplished by the indefatigable activists of the Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group and is available on their website (https://mplreforms.com/cases/).

The marriage-related trauma that some or all of these 6,831 children may have experienced during their childhood must be taken cognizance of. It must be reiterated that this is just the tip-of-the-iceberg. It only demonstrates the existence of the problem, not it’s intensity. The Community must adopt a policy of zero tolerance with regard to child marriages immediately. Our children depend on the elders of the Community to ensure their mental and physical well-being. We cannot let them down. We must not let them down. Especially the female children from the poorer and more vulnerable segments of our Community.

As our Community evolves and grows, we must leave no girl child behind. The Community must ensure that every Female child has the opportunity to realize her full potential as a human being. This can only be achieved if the parochial thinking of ‘scholarly’ males which has a vice-like grip on the Community is obviated.

As the well-known Moroccan Sociologist Fatima Mernissi wrote in her famous book ‘The Veil and the Male Elite’ : “If Women’s rights are a problem, for some modern Muslim men,  it is neither because of the Koran nor the Prophet nor the Islamic tradition but simply because those rights conflict with the interests of a male elite. The elite faction is trying to convince us that their egotistic, highly subjective and mediocre view of culture and society has a sacred basis. But if there is one thing that the women and men of the late 20th century who have an awareness and enjoyment of history can be sure of, it is that Islam was not sent from Heaven to foster egotism and mediocrity.

The Muslim Sri Lankan Population : Debunking Myths & Phobias

A common belief, bordering on paranoia, among many Sinhala Buddhists is that some time in the foreseeable future the Sri Lankan Muslims, driven by unfettered population growth, will emerge as the Majority Community in this Island Nation, thereby reducing the Sinhala Buddhists to a minority in what they often describe very emotionally as “the only Country in the World that they can call their own”. The following popular perceptions of Muslims are very often mentioned as evidence of this inevitable catastrophe.

  • SL Muslims have the highest population growth rates
  • SL Muslims have large families
  • SL Muslims do not practice family planning
  • The percentage of SL Muslims in the total population is steadily increasing
  • SL Muslims are wealthy
  • Muslim Males can have four wives simultaneously
  • Muslims have high fertility rates
  • Islam is the fastest growing religion in the World

Although many Muslims have attempted to address this issue and allay such fears, it continues to  persist and is made use of by various racist elements and groups to foment and aggravate anti-Muslim sentiments to achieve their own political, economic and social goals.

This article is yet another attempt to lay to rest once and for all this irrational, atavistic fear among the Sinhala Buddhists. It will examine the impact of the Muslim Population in two distinct stages – the past and the future – and will demonstrate beyond any and all doubt that there is absolutely no valid basis for any such fear on the part of the Buddhist Community.

The Past Scenario : According to the data published by the Department of Census & Statistics, the Buddhist and Muslim Populations at each of the 13 Censuses conducted periodically since 1881 are as follows :


The size of the gap between the numbers of Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka has continued to increase steadily since 1881. This is illustrated more clearly in the chart below.


If the Gap between the two populations is steadily increasing, then one does not need to possess an intelligence of Einsteinian proportions to conclude that the number of Muslims  is not poised to exceed  the number of Buddhists in the foreseeable future in Sri Lanka.

Therefore, based on official Government Population Statistics for the past 130 years, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for the Buddhist Community to harbor even an iota of concern, apprehension or fear that they will be reduced to a minority by the Muslims in Sri Lanka.

The Future Scenario : The focus then shifts to the future – specifically the population estimates based on past trends. These estimates are of two types – ‘share-based’ and ‘growth-based’.

Share-based Forecasts:  This refers to the oft-quoted ‘share’ of the Total Population accounted for by the Muslim Community in Sri Lanka. The relevant share for each Census Year is given in the chart below.


It is fairly common nowadays to find ‘analyses’ being performed on the population shares of the major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka over the past 100 years to justify and reinforce the fears of the Buddhist Community that sometime in the very distant future, they will swamped by the Muslims of Sri Lanka. A noteworthy feature of all these forecasts is that the unit of analysis is the seemingly harmless ‘percentage’.

In their rush to identify the date of this catastrophic event, these ‘Analysts’ appear to have forgotten the fact that a ‘Percentage’ is merely a number or ratio expressed as a fraction of 100 and is calculated on some specific base. For example, the base could be the Population of Sri Lanka in 2011 and the proportions accounted for by the Buddhist and Muslim Communities are 70.2% and 9.7% respectively. Moreover, ‘Percentages’ are used essentially to compare the status of a single variable in two or more different bases or of multiple variables in a single base. For example, Muslims accounted for 7% of the total population in 1981 and 9.7% of the total population in 2011.

Being numerically a type of index, percentages cannot be subjected to any mathematical operation (i.e. addition, subtraction, multiplication or division) unless – and only if –  such percentages refer to calculations performed on the same base. It is therefore mathematically incorrect to calculate a forecast based on trend data consisting of percentages relating to different time periods for the simple reason that whatever be the model used for estimation (i.e. Linear, Exponential, Polynomial, Moving Averages or whatever), the method will involve the use of a combination of mathematical operations.

Therefore, future population estimates cannot be based on historical ‘shares’ (or percentages) data.

Growth-based Forecasts :  This refers to the use of ‘Rates of Growth’ of the different Population Groups between any two Census Years. Proponents of this method of analysis focus on the Population data for the 1981 and 2011/2012 Census. This is given in the table below.


First, a word about trend lines or trend curves based on growth rates. The simple fact of the matter is that any two trend lines or curves must intersect at some point unless the lines are perfectly parallel as illustrated in the three charts below.


If the growth rate of the ‘Upper’ Trend Line is greater than that of the ‘Lower’ Trend Line, then the two lines would have intersected sometime in the past. (Chart 1)

If the growth rate of the ‘Upper’ Trend Line is less than that of the ‘‘Lower’ Trend Line, then the two lines would  intersected sometime in the future. (Chart 2)

If the growth rates of the ‘‘Upper’ Trend Line and that of the ‘Lower’ Trend Line are equal, then the two lines would never intersect. (Chart 3)

In the cases of the trend lines or curves for the Buddhist and Muslim Population data, the growth rate of the ‘Upper Buddhist Line’ (1.1%) is less than that of the ‘Lower Muslim Line’ (1.9%). Therefore the two lines must intersect sometime in the future. And at that point in time, the Muslim Population would be equal to the Buddhist Population.

In order to determine the point in time when the two populations are equal, the two populations are extrapolated exponentially using the 2012 data as the base and the applying the corresponding growth rates annually. The detailed estimates at the end of every decade are given in the table below.

[The formula used to calculate the annual estimate is as follows :

Estimated Population for a specific year = Estimated Population for previous year x (1+r), where r is the rate of growth expressed in decimals.]



Therefore it appears to be the case that, 251 years hence, in the Year 2263, the worst fears of the Buddhist Community will be realized with the  Muslim Population emerging as the Majority Community in Sri Lanka ! An underlying assumption, as in the cases of all such extrapolations , is that the political, economic, social and technological factors that existed during the 30-year period 1981 – 2011 , will continue to exist during the next 250 years too. Is this a realistic, sensible assumption?

To test the credibility of this ‘Growth-based Forecasts’, similar extrapolations of population size are also developed for two other religious groups – Roman Catholics and Non-RC Christians. The relevant basic data are as follows :


The annual estimates of population size are given below for all four religious groups.




So in a nutshell, what the above extrapolation exercise, based on Census data for 1981 and 2012 tells us is that :


Thus, if the exponential growth Method of Extrapolation is deemed to be acceptable and accurate, then it appears to be the case that in the Year 2203, Sri Lanka will become a Majority Christian Nation pushing the Buddhists to second place in terms of population. Then a further 60 years later, in 2263, the Buddhists will be pushed to third position by the Muslim Community.

And the icing on the cake is that at this point in time (Year 2262), the Total Population of Sri Lanka will be in excess of 1.1 Billion !!! (which is the current population of India). Looks like Sri Lanka is heading for a pretty crowded future.

The very nature of such estimates reflects very strongly the crassness, stupidity and ridiculousness of estimating population sizes beyond reasonable limits of time. The purpose of introducing the two Christian Groups into the calculations was not to create problems for that Community, but merely to highlight the absurdity of using this method of estimation.

Conclusion : Based on this analysis of the Past and Future Scenarios, it is therefore concluded that the Muslim Community in no way poses a credible threat to the Majority Community of Sri Lanka with regard to population growth.

Are Arab Dress Codes being referred to erroneously as Islamic Dress Codes ?

There is a significant difference between the  ‘stipulated code’ and the ‘implemented code’ for a specific purpose. In many instances, a serious mistake is often made by referring to the ‘implemented code’ as being the ‘stipulated code’.

Take for instance the highway code. There was a time before the advent of the wheeled vehicle, when the need for such a code was not felt by society. However, as the types and numbers of wheeled vehicles began to soar, society would have realized the importance of introducing some kind of ‘order’ to resolve the chaos on their streets and roads with people and vehicles travelling in all directions. This would have given rise to the birth of the Highway Code which in it’s simplest form would have stated that ‘All vehicular traffic heading towards the same direction must use the same side of the road’. This is the stipulated highway code. However, when implementing this code, some countries identify the term ‘same direction’ to mean the left side of the road, while the majority have chosen it to mean the right side of the road. Yet all countries refer to their codes by the generic term ‘highway code’.

The Dress Code for Muslims is defined by the Holy Book and the Traditions and it essentially makes it mandatory for all True Believers (males and females) to ensure that they dress modestly at all times. This incidentally is not unique to Islam but is also part of the teachings of all major religions. In communicating this important message however to the largely illiterate, uneducated Arabs of the 6th Century (this was a time when pagan Arabs used to circumambulate the Ka’aba naked), the Almighty and his Messenger used concepts and terms which would have been readily understood by the Arabs  – a process of spoon-feeding one might say, given the circumstances. So for instance instead of merely instructing Muslims to dress modestly / cover themselves at all times, reference was made to the existing dress habits of the Arabs as the starting point for this purpose. The essence of the dress code for males and females as defined in the Holy Book is ‘to dress modestly at all times’. The dictionary defines the word ‘Modest’ as ‘Observing conventional proprieties in speech, behavior, or dress, especially in the avoidance of arousing sexual interest’. This is the stipulated Islamic Dress Code. As mentioned previously, the implementation of the Islamic Dress Code in a specific region would be dependent on  the social, cultural and climatic conditions of that location. Unfortunately however, it appears that in the process of interpreting the Quran by Arab Scholars, the fact that the Arab dress code is referred to in the Holy Book and in the Traditions has resulted in the belief that Islam sanctifies the Arab dress code and  more critically has resulted in the Arab dress code being promoted as the Islamic Dress Code.

Are there Religious Dress Codes ? Are there Christian Dress Codes, Buddhist Dress Codes and Hindu Dress Codes ?

Isn’t the Dress Code of a specific country determined by it’s own climatic conditions, it’s socio-cultural factors and religious influences rather than that of some country 1000’s of miles away ?

Do non-Arab Muslims have to imitate Arabs in speech, behaviour and dress if they are to be ‘good’ Muslims ? Can’t a person be a ‘good’ Muslim without observing the Arab dress codes ? Does this explain the global phenomenon of the Arab-isation of Muslims ?

And finally what about the Hijab – a term that is mentioned just 5 times in the Holy Book (Q 7:46; Q 19:16-17; Q 33:53; Q 41:5; Q 42:51) and not once in connection with the terms ‘head’ or ‘hair’ ? How has a head dress tightly worn by all (male and female) Arabs from pre-Islamic times as a protection against the hazards of frequent sand-storms and sand-infused desert atmospheres been elevated to an ‘Islamic Dress’ with a sanctified label ‘Hijab’, that Muslim females are obligated to wear in totally unsuitable climatic conditions where a simple loosely-worn veil might be more appropriate ? Universally, ‘Hijab’ is not compulsory, ‘Modest Dress’ is.

So we should not rush to judge the ‘Muslim-ness’ of a female purely by her choice of dress. We must heed the words of Allah SWT in our Holy Quran ” O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as to adorn you. But the best garment is the garment of piety/righteousness. These are some of God’s signs, so that they may be mindful”. [7:26]

The picture below is that of the Founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah with members of the women’s wing of All India Muslim Students Federation.



The style of dress of these young females is clearly appropriate for the socio-cultural and climatic conditions of South Asia, while ensuring that it adheres faithfully to the Quranic decree “…… that they should draw their veils over their bosoms …” [Quran 24:31]

Every female in the picture is an epitome of modesty  – the quality, in women, of dressing in a way that is intended to avoid attracting sexual interest – as instructed in the Holy Book.

Do females living in non-Arab countries have to adhere to the pre-Islamic dress-styles of Arab women which may have inadvertently or otherwise been interpreted as being sanctified by Islam (e.g. Hijab, Abaya or Niqab) to be good Muslims ?

“No Islamic Jihadists in Sri Lanka” – Fact or Fiction ?

Sometime towards the end of March 2016, a study commissioned by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) reportedly claimed that there are no ‘Islamic Jihadist groups in Sri Lanka’. The reliability of this inference unfortunately is highly debatable in view of the fact that the methodology adopted for the study was qualitative in nature and the analysis of data elicited was inductive. Aristotle in his publication Posterior Analytics described induction not as a process of reasoning, but as ‘the examination of instances that results in a common feature coming into view’.

Subsequently, an article in the DailyFT of 06th April 2016 under the caption ‘No ISIS in Sri Lanka’ carried the following statement “ISIS operations are not carried out in Sri Lanka and the Government has taken adequate measures to prevent foreign terrorist organisations from making use of Sri Lanka, the Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayaka confirmed to Parliament yesterday”.

This initially raises the question as to what exactly is meant/understood by the term ‘ISIS’ in this regard.

If by ‘ISIS’, the Government and Muslim Religious Organizations are referring to individuals (Sri Lankans or Foreigners in Sri Lanka) who are formal members of the ISIS Organization, then we are faced with an acute problem. To claim that there are no ISIS members in Sri Lanka, one has to prove beyond all doubt that there is not even one individual in Sri Lanka who belongs to this Organization. Are those who claim that there is ‘no ISIS in Sri Lanka’ able to provide such undisputable evidence to support their claim ? Or are they simply construing the ‘absence of evidence’ to mean ‘evidence of absence’ ? While seeking to prove a negative statement, the defining attributes of the subject under discussion have to be kept sharply in mind. For instance, to prove that at any specific point in time, there are no Elephants on a large grassy field such as the Galle Face Green is simple and straightforward. But can it be proved , at any specific point in time, that there is not even one Grass-hopper on the Galle Face Green ? Are those who deny the possible existence of ISIS/Jihadists in Sri Lanka making the perilous mistake of perceiving potential ISIS members in Sri Lanka as Elephants rather than as Grass-hoppers on a large grassy field ? One has to therefore act with great care and responsibility when issuing sweeping statements/pronouncements to the effect that something is totally absent in a specific environment.

The organization ISIS does not refute the fact that they are Muslims who interpret and practice Islam literally and have thereby earned the sobriquet of being ‘Extremists’. There is a however world of difference between the terms Islamic Fundamentalist and Islamic Extremist. An Islamic Fundamentalist is one who chooses to adhere strictly to the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah, but does not impose such practices on other Muslims, verbally or otherwise, and who are basically at peace with themselves at the thought that they are following Islam as it was intended. An Islamic Extremist is also one who  chooses to adhere strictly to the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah, but however is ready and willing to go to extreme lengths including violence to ensure that other Muslims too adhere to such practices.

There is only a very thin line separating the ‘Fundamentalists’ from the ‘Extremists’. As Fundamentalism becomes more intense in depth and width within a Community, it is only a matter of time before some of the more passionate and zealous members reach a ‘tipping-point’ and develop thoughts  which are compatible with Extremism. Clearly, Mohamed Muhsin Sharhaz Nilam (the Sri Lankan ISIS fighter killed in July 2015) and some of his family members had reached such a point. If there is documented evidence that the Muslim Community in Sri Lanka has had the dubious honor of producing at least one active ISIS member, what is to prevent one from inferring that many more such Extremists could emerge in due course at some future point in time ? Has any Muslim Organization conducted any study to identify the factors that influenced and shaped the religious thinking and behavior of Nilam that led him to become an active member of ISIS ? In the absence of such information, how do the ACJU, the Shoora Council and other Muslim Organizations hope to introduce measures to prevent the germination and growth of extremist tendencies among members of the Muslim Community ?

The ICES Report referred to previously states ‘With regard to degenerative factionalism, the researchers also investigated the accusation made both within and outside the Muslim community that a Jihadist Movement was emerging in the East. On interviewing several Thablighi, Thawheed and Sufi representatives, it was found that while there is talk among discontented youth about espousing jihadi practices, these are just idle youth responding to the global trend in Islam, but with no motivation or the means to make this a reality. Local organisations such as mosque federations are also keeping tabs on the community and nipping such ideas in the bud. The ACJU, Shoora Council and local Mosque Federations confirmed that there are no Islamic Jihadi groups in Sri Lanka’.

What a flippant and dismissive ‘conclusion’ ! Based as it is on the public chatter of idle, discontented youth, on the supposedly strict ‘monitoring’ of the community by Muslim federations and (here’s the kicker) on the ‘confirmation’ provided by the ACJU, the Shoora Council and other exalted Muslim Organizations, can one really accept this finding ?

Therefore rather than making empty, meaningless, unsubstantiated and unprovable statements such as “there is no ISIS in Sri Lanka”, should the Organizations representing the Muslim Community not take effective steps to prevent the drift of the Community towards radical Fundamentalism. Their task should be to obviate the emergence of more S.M.S. Nilam’s in Sri Lanka.

It is clear to all Sri Lankans, that the members of the local Muslim Community have shifted and are continuing to shift to the right of the Secular – Spiritual scale over the past 30 to 40 years or more. This pace has gained traction and increased considerably due to various internal and external factors in the past 15 – 20 years. The increasing sight of men sporting beards and women in black abhayas may be conveying the wrong signals to the other Religious Communities, especially the Majority Community.

The International War against Islamic Terrorism has contributed towards the strengthening of extremist views among Muslims world-wide in much the same way as the 30-year war against Tamil Terrorism contributed towards the strengthening of extremist views among the Sinhalese and Tamil Communities. It would be a serious mistake to think that Muslim Sri Lankans have not been touched by this international trend. To continue insisting that there are no ‘ISIS/Jihadists’ in Sri Lanka would therefore amount to wishful thinking on the part of such individuals / organizations. Rather than remaining in a state of denial, it is time that the powers-that-be accept that the potential, I repeat, potential, for the emergence of Muslims  with such extremist beliefs in our Motherland is extremely high.

Organizations such as the ACJU and the Shoora Council are wasting valuable time and resources  on activities such ‘Raising Funds for Earthquake Victims in Nepal’ and the ‘Submission of Proposals for Electoral Reforms’. They should be spending an inordinate proportion of their time planning, implementing and monitoring strategies aimed at containing and diffusing the possible development of extremist tendencies among Muslims (young & old) and harnessing such energies for the benefit of the Community and Country. This is by no means an easy task. But the longer they wait, the more difficult it becomes.

It is time that the members of our Community took their blinkers off.


The following relevant article appeared in the Ceylon Today newspaper of Sunday 24th April 2016.



Update 2

On the 20th of May 2017, the ejournal  srilankamirror carried an article titled ’60 Sri Lankans join IS’.


Hate Speech Laws : The Unshackled Thoughts of a Muslim Sri Lankan

The mind is everything. The way one thinks, one becomes” : The Buddha

The Dimensions of Speech

Should the proposed Hate Speech Laws (in it’s present or amended form) be incorporated into our Penal Code or should it not be so ? Opponents and proponents of these new laws have raised various arguments in support of their respective points of view on this subject, demonstrating clearly that although freedom of expression is alive and well in Sri Lanka, adversity does indeed make strange bed-fellows.

Speech is a form of communication. According to Allan Pease, author of the book Body Language, 8% of any communication is accounted for by it’s vocal component (i.e. what is said), 37% is accounted for by it’s tonal component (i.e. how it is said) while the balance 55% is accounted for by the accompanying body language ( i.e. gestures and facial expressions).

Therefore any laws enacted for the explicit purpose of curbing Hate Speech would make it incumbent upon the people to ensure that when expressing their opinions, the form and content of their statements adhere strictly to specific norms, that the tone and pitch of their voices are within respectable boundaries and that at the moments of delivery of such statements their facial expressions and bodily gestures are not perceived as being of a threatening or offensive nature. Is this practically possible under any and all circumstances ? If the law-enforcement Authorities are perceived as being selective in their implementation of this new law, it may lead to accusations of discrimination.

Is it then a realistic solution to ban Hate Speech in a bid to prevent the deterioration of inter-communal harmony ? Should we not examine the possibility of introducing more holistic measures that will not just curb this degenerative behaviour, but will also simultaneously contribute towards re-establishing and rejuvenating ethnic harmony ?

Hate Speech or Hate Thoughts ?

The possible introduction of Hate Speech Laws raises a few troubling questions in my mind.

Will the new laws adversely affect the right of every Sri Lankan to free speech ? Should we not be fighting against the imposition of such laws which may be interpreted and implemented selectively to suit various political agendas ?

Will the suppression of this aspect of free speech cause some members of every ethnic group to become more bigoted, prejudiced and paranoid in their thoughts and deeds ?

And the most important question : can the mere banning of Hate Speech prevent or destroy the development of Hate Thoughts ? After all it is a truism that ‘Thoughts’ drive ‘Speech’ and shape ‘Behaviour’. Moreover, a problem should always be resolved by addressing it’s root cause, not it’s symptoms. As long as the factors that create and shape Hate Thoughts exist, there can never be a long-lasting, harmonious relationship between two religious groups. Can legislation be introduced to prevent the germination and growth of Hate Thoughts ?

Perceived Muslim Issues

The words and deeds of the various anti-Muslim groups that were active during the period 2012 – 2014 revealed that the major complaints levelled at the Muslim Community at that time were the Halal issue, the Population issue, the Black Abaya issue, the Azan issue and the Proliferation of Mosques issue. Rightly or wrongly, these issues were causing immense concern, apprehension and fear among members of the Majority Community, some of whom chose to give voice such concerns – in accordance with their right to do so. Is it proper on the part of the Muslim Community to insist that these individuals be prevented by law from expressing their perceived apprehensions and fears just so that the Muslims may continue to live their lives peacefully ? Doesn’t it strike the Muslim Community that their behaviour and attitude in this regard is reminiscent of a ‘Minority with a majority complex’ ? Banning Hate Speech is at best a temporary, short-term measure. What is required is a long-term strategy that will effectively discourage Hate Thoughts against the Muslim Community.

Proactive Empathy

I believe that a much more pragmatic, inclusive approach towards the resolution of any ‘Muslim Issue’ is the need of the hour. For this purpose, the Muslim Community has to consider the feasibility of adopting a strategy of ‘Proactive Empathy’ by taking the steps necessary to identify, negate and neutralize the concerns of the Majority Community before it becomes a serious issue like the Halaal problem. We need to voluntarily examine the issues critically and dispassionately and ask ourselves such soul-searching questions as “Why are we continuing with a ritual that causes our non-Muslim brothers and sisters to curse our religion 5 times a day ?” (in the case of the Azan Loudspeaker issue). Would it not be perceived as a wonderful gesture and a significant contribution on the part of the Muslim Community towards ethnic harmony, if we decide of our own volition to confine the use of Loudspeakers to only Friday Jummah Prayers except maybe in Mosques located in areas such as Kattankudy which are predominantly (99%) Muslim ? A truly pious Muslim after all will definitely not rely on a public address system to remind him of his religious obligations. Rather than blindly following the practices of Muslims in a Muslim-majority country, we should as Muslims in a Muslim-minority country, engage in lateral thinking when seeking solutions to such social issues.

Addressing the above and other related issues voluntarily will only help our Community to be perceived as being sensitive to the concerns and apprehensions of the Majority Community and more importantly, that we are willing to walk-the-talk. This will moreover empower the more liberal members of the Majority Community to speak-up on behalf of the Muslims if and when required. The effective implementation of a strategy of ‘Proactive Empathy’ would inhibit or definitely diminish the possibility of Hate Thoughts taking root among members of the Majority Community.

Council for Buddhist – Muslim Relations

The implementation of the proposed strategy of ‘Proactive Empathy’ requires persons with strong leadership skills and who are ready, willing and able to think out-of-the-box. We need a Leadership, consisting not of Politicians or of the Ulemas, but of respected Members of Muslim Civil Society who are capable of winning the trust and confidence of the Ummah because of their standing in the Community. We need a Leadership that can persuade the Ummah to look not just at the ‘dots’, but rather at the Big Picture obtained by connecting the dots. We need to take the initiative to establish a Council for Buddhist – Muslim Relations in Sri Lanka, consisting of even-tempered, level-headed men and women of standing from both sides of the religious divide, who are ready, willing and able to listen, to consult and to arrive at consensual decisions in seeking solutions towards establishing ethnic harmony in our Motherland.

Are the Muslims of Sri Lanka able to put aside their differences and to focus on the urgent need to introduce measures to ensure the physical and mental well-being of the members of their Community in the years ahead ?  Are the Muslims able to empathize with their Buddhist brothers and sisters to the extent that they of their own volition change patterns of their behavior which cause concern and apprehension to the Majority Community ? Or do the Muslims feel that they alone are entitled to the right of being angry and offended ? We should bear in mind at all times that the tolerance of our Buddhist brothers and sisters should not be misconstrued as acquiescence on their part.

Addressing the Concerns & Apprehensions of the Majority Community : The Black Abaya

The last three decades have witnessed a growing sense of religiosity among members of the Sri Lanka Muslim community resulting primarily from a heightened awareness and better understanding of correct Islamic rituals and practices. Unfortunately, there are reasons to believe that the potential to impose a specific brand of Islam among Sri Lankan Muslims was identified by certain Islamic Nations, which used (and are continuing to use) their enormous wealth to achieve such objectives. Their efforts, inter alia, led to the growing visibility of black abaya and black burqa  wearing women in Sri Lanka. It should be mentioned here in passing that there is even a popular rumour to the effect that a certain Islamic Country has sent and is continuing to send container-loads of black burqas to be distributed free-of-charge to Muslims females. It would appear that this specific Country is attempting to impose their cultural dress-codes on the local Muslims.

Nobody will contest the fact that the members of the Majority Community do not give two hoots as to what the SL Muslims choose to eat, drink or wear. It is therefore an utter waste of time and effort on the part of Muslims to explain and justify their lifestyle habits based on Quranic instructions  to non-Muslims. Why then are the members of the Majority Community so perturbed at the sight of black abayas ? It cannot be the abaya itself, after all the female members of the local Borah Community have been wearing similar attire long before the other Muslims. So then we must conclude that the hostility and antagonism generated by the abaya is not caused by the abaya per se, but rather by what is conjured in their minds by the black abaya.

Based on extensive discussions with members of the majority community, it appears that the increasing visibility of black abaya-clad females has created a deep sense of concern and apprehension among such persons based on two prejudice-driven perceptions.

Firstly, it appears to confirm the belief that the Muslim population is growing rapidly and is well and truly on it’s way towards emerging as the majority community at some future date.

Secondly, it signals the emergence of extremism / terrorism among the Muslim Community – based on the simple argument :

Black Abaya                       = Saudi / Wahabis / Salafis
Saudi                                   = Islamic Extremism / Terrorism
Therefore, Black Abaya   = Islamic Extremism / Terrorism

Since it is an accepted fact that perception is stronger than reality, any attempt to allay the concerns and apprehensions of the majority community by simply denying the possibility of the above phenomena is bound to fail and is therefore an absolute waste of time.

Empathy is the need of the hour. If the shoe was on the other foot, how would the majority Muslims feel if they perceived the minority Buddhists overtaking them in terms of population size and becoming more extremist in their religious outlook. Not a nice feeling, is it ?

If the Muslim Community wishes to address the concerns and apprehensions that the Majority Community may have regarding the growing visibility of black abayas, then all it has to do as a first step is to make a collective effort to advocate a switch from the color black to other acceptable colors among abaya-wearers. Islam does not require women to wear only black abayas to project modesty. Such a voluntary move would have the effect of demonstrating the ability and willingness on the part of the Muslim Community to empathize with the Majority Community. Moreover, there will be absolutely no reason thereafter for abaya-wearers in Sri Lanka to be referred to rather derisively as ‘Goni Billas’. Local Muslim women should be encouraged to dress modestly in accordance with Sri Lanka’s culture and ‘hot & wet’ climatic conditions (with an average relative humidity of 80%) – not in accordance with the cultural patterns and ‘hot & dry’ climatic conditions of some distant Middle Eastern country (with an average relative humidity of 30%).

Furthermore, what measures have the Muslim intelligentsia taken to address the issue of population growth ? Other than issuing feeble statements denying the possibility of the Muslims exceeding the Buddhist population at some distant future date, would it not be more effective for the Community to appoint a Group of Professionals to study this problem to determine the accuracy of such predictions ? Or, are the Muslims waiting for the SL Government to produce such a Report ?

Unfortunately, the leadership required to give direction to such collective efforts is seriously lacking. Self-proclaimed ‘Muslim civil society’ groups like the All Ceylon Jamiathul Ulema and the National Shoora Council are far too busy to bother about such trivial matters. Continuing to turn a blind eye to such critical issues which adversely affects Buddhist – Muslim relations only lends credence to the oft-levelled accusation that the Muslim Leadership in Sri Lanka is influenced by ‘petro-dollars’.