Moor, Malay and the Sri Lankan state

Crossposted from the blog 1985 Mosquito Bites.

I attended a presentation recently on perspectives of state, one of the presentations was on the Muslim perspective. The presenter who is researching into this subject had indiscriminately  lumped the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka as one entity and made distinctions in ‘perspectives’ primarily on the basis of geography. Which got me a bit annoyed. He/she also brought out the link between Muslims and their linguistic skills/divide, mostly being Tamil speaking but largely bilingual, and how they perceive as being “caught in the middle” of the ethnic conflict, but with inclinations in support of the Tamil community. Here are some of my notes on what I think:

It is IMPERATIVE when analyzing perspectives of ‘Muslims” in Sri Lanka in particular relation to state and nationality to recognize that diverse minorities exist within the broader Muslim minority – in that we have minorities within minorities (and here I write primarily about the Moor and Malay minorities)

Why it is necessary to take into account the two distinct communities within the Muslim minority is because Moor and Malays, by and large have very different and distinct experiences of state, nationality and the ethnic conflict. So different that it might be bipolar almost. Why do I say this?

  • In terms of language it is true that Moors are largely a Tamil speaking community and Malays despite having their own language, have taken on Sinhala as a second language (or third only to English) rather than Tamil.
  • This linguistic divide, along with a few other factors, has contributed to the Tamil speaking Muslim community (mostly Moors) to be classified/mistaken for/ included under the broader Tamil community.
  • This has then led the Tamil speaking Muslims to directly or indirectly feel discriminated/marginalized on grounds of being Tamil under a predominantly Sinhalese state and/or felt like being “caught in the middle” of the ethnic conflict
  • Meanwhile the Sinhala speaking (or not speaking) Malay community may have infact benefitted or continues to be benefitted by the predominately Sinhalese state and thus their experiences of conflict are “not even in the picture” or “in the sidelines watching” as oppose to “caught in the middle”. A clear example of this recognition under the current regime is that our dear President has addressed the Malay community as a separate entity in his speeches at different occasions.
  • Therefore the Tamil speaking Muslims/Moors and the Malay community have distinct and different experiences of nationality and perspectives on the state and ethnic conflict.

Now the questions I would like to ask are:

  1. Despite the other factors such as the linguistic pull between Moors and Malays, has there been a conscious effort within both communities to ‘differ’ from each other, so as to forge a distinction?
  2. Have these differing experiences contributed to the difference in awareness/consciousness about state and state reform among the Moors and Malays?
  3. And because the Tamil speaking Muslim population have been/are classified as Tamils by and large, are the ‘more aware’ of the issues and their prevalence at the local level and their perpetuation by state, than the Malays?

Yeah. This is what is basically running in my brain today :P … not  a healthy way to be starting a weekend. Would love to hear your perspectives on it!

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One thought on “Moor, Malay and the Sri Lankan state

  1. i think ‘brotherhood’ is what the sri lankan muslims lack. and above all judgments are made when ur of a different caste without wanting to know further of who u are.
    bottom line what we dont realize is that we all believe in the SAME God, pray at the SAME time and read the SAME Quran. oh well.

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