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’.