Does Islam Provide a Stronger Identity than Sri Lanka does?

Screen shot 2014-07-10 at 1.25.00 PM Recently I’ve begun to notice once more a particular sort of post cropping up on my Facebook timeline, most often posted, “liked”, or shared by one of my FB friends. Almost all of these posts are by Sri Lankan Muslims (most of my Muslim friends are Sri Lankan); almost, I say, because the rest are by non-Muslim social workers or activists who are generally anyway more interested in this particular topic than most. The event that seems to have sparked this flurry of posts is the ongoing escalation of the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinians.

The posts are almost exclusively of a religious bent, lamenting the fate of Palestinian Muslims being brutally attacked (or ignored) by non-Muslims and calling on God to protect these people in particular, and Muslims all over the world in general. Earlier this year, and at various times last year, there was a storm of similar posts about Muslims in Syria. Of course, there were also posts about Aluthgama, but that is hardly something unusual since it was an event right here in Sri Lanka.

Now, I’m not going to get into the circumstances of what’s happening in Palestine and Syria; who is right or wrong, the three dead Israeli children, the fact that a significant minority of Palestinians are Christian, or that a lot of the killing being done in Syria is in fact by Muslims themselves. I have my own views on both conflicts (as do most of the people posting), but they are irrelevant to this post. One thing that is clear is that none of us really know much about what’s going on over there and aren’t really interested. So why are my Muslim friends posting about it?

A few years ago, it wasn’t unusual for Muslims in Colombo and elsewhere in Sri Lanka to be out on the streets in protest, or picketing a western embassy, whenever the US invaded Iraq or Afghanistan or bombed Libya or something like that. This has completely stopped of late, which is understandable given the threat Muslims face right here in the country; Sri Lankan Muslims no longer feel safe enough to show solidarity with other Muslims. Clearly, however, that isn’t true on the internet, and Sri Lankan Muslims feel more at ease giving their opinions and protesting certain things without the actual physical danger they would face on the street from nutjobs like the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS).

Clearly, Sri Lankan Muslims don’t like the fact that other Muslims are being harmed. But they are more incensed by the fact that these people being endangered are Muslim than that they are Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, or whatever. We don’t see the same level of outrage when Muslims like Saddam Hussein kill Kuwaiti Muslims, or when Hizbollah or Islamic Jihad kill Israeli children, or when the Saudis execute Sri Lankan Muslims. Clearly, Sri Lankan Muslims identify with other Muslims worldwide, but mostly when they are in conflict with, or under attack by, non-Muslims.

So I think it is safe to say that Sri Lankan Muslims are identifying with the Muslimness of those people rather than the circumstances they find themselves in. I find this a bit annoying because it reminds me of the knee-jerk reactions of Tamils in Toronto and London who allowed their Tamilness to overrule other considerations. Sri Lankan Tamils in the diaspora certainly felt more Tamil than Canadian or British, and that led to their protests about what was happening in Sri Lanka. So do Muslims feel the same? Do they identify with a global Islam that has a stronger identity than that of being Sri Lankan? Certainly, Sri Lankan Christians (I mention them simply because they are the only other Sri Lankan ethnicity with a global presence) don’t view conflicts around the world through a religious lens or, if they do, identify enough with those warring parties to take any action. There were no Christian protests about the Yugoslavian conflict, or various wars in Africa. You don’t see Christian protests outside Arab embassies when an Islamic terror group targets a western (Christian) country.

Now, I want to ask my Muslim friends whether you realize that what you are doing is setting yourselves apart in the eyes of other Sri Lankans; it is making us feel as if you are more interested in what is happening on the other side of the world than what is happening right here; that you are immersed insomething the rest of Sri Lanka is not. At a time when it is important for Sri Lankan Muslims to reinforce their Sri Lankanness, and avoid being labelled outsiders, is this what you should be doing? Or do you feel that your solidarity with Muslims worldwide is more important, more identifying, than your Sri Lankanness? I’m not making a judgement here or suggesting what you are doing is right or wrong; I am simply looking for answers. I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks for reading.

15 thoughts on “Does Islam Provide a Stronger Identity than Sri Lanka does?

  1. The fundamentalist Christians seem to have a similar fascination with Israel. I similar, but pro-Israeli posts/shares from them, so maybe its not just the muslims?

    Interesting point on the protests oustide embassies- I’d forgotten about that.

      1. Globally, that’s probably true, but a lot of public support in the US is religion- based; mostly Jewish and Evangelical Christian.

  2. Correct on the American Christian fundamentalists. Unfortunately I happen to have a Sri Lankan friend who is such a fundamentalist who posts such stuff. Have met a couple of people from his church and they spout the same stuff.

  3. Islam is an all encompassing way of life. It requires one to put aside every other identity and be a Muslim. This is the problem we are facing today. Muslims are living in a more liberal world where most other religions went through various reformation to adapt it self to the new world. Yet Islam refuses to do it. Its still driven by the laws which were made to unite scattered Arabian tribes who lived in harsh conditions and constant fear of invaders.

  4. What baffles me most is the support and even silent support Muslims in SL have for ISIS. Right now ISIS is doing unimaginable brutalities and their victims are non muslims, and shias. But there is a silent support for ISIS among our muslims. That is terrible.

    1. Well Muslims throughout the world feel under attack and nowhere more so than right here in SL and they probably feel good to see Muslims hitting back somewhere even though they may not agree with the methods. Why did many decent Tamils silently support the Tigers? It’s the same reason.

  5. Guess people love watching and judging the muslims;;lovely we are very happy;we are against any killing of any sort;;we are banned from religious protests and in islam its banned too;;simply condoling and prayin for the palestinians especially the children has upset you;;and the speculation on muslims supporting the isis is in way for the writer to provoke the non muslims ;we dont ever support killings from any source;;why all these speculations and we have all the right to sympathize with our brothers and sister in the world esp children;killing is forbidden except in self defence but still our belovedLord says overlook and forgive;;;please look into yourself and write whats in your heart about your way of plotting and planning to

    1. i am indeed writing what’s in my heart and also what’s on my mind. where else would i write from? i note a certain defensiveness in the tone of your comment, which is quite unnecessary. i am not accusing you of anything or questioning your right to support anyone you wish. i am merely looking for an explanation for why you see Muslims in other countries as your “brothers and sisters”, but not non-Muslims. is there a reason why SL Muslims see Muslims elsewhere as their brothers and sisters when Christians in SL don’t see the Irish as their brothers, nor the Buddhists see the Vietnamese as their sisters. i am just looking for answers.

      1. Muslim ummah is a one nation, it represents a whole body..It’s not limited by man made boundaries..something happens to a Muslim somewhere it’s like even a small thorn prick disabling the whole body…the moment a person becomes a Muslim he is part of great nation..that is Islam…don’t get confused with what the ignorant ” Muslims” do…
        As a Muslim you are bound to help all what Allah has created even though they are not Muslims…
        One of my recently reverted Buddhist friend who was a monk explained it nicely…
        The Muslim nation represents the monks of UNIVERSE who have a mission to make sure everyone was introduced to the creator.( no compulsion but introduction) it is a one single nation….

        1. That’s fine, but if you’re part of a body, then you must also accept responsibility for what other members of that body do. Calling them ignorant “Muslims” (presumably your inverted commas mean they aren’t really Muslims) won’t do. So then if Saudi Muslims persecute Sri Lankans over there, should Sri Lankan Muslims be held responsible? The right-wing idiots like the BBS say yes. If terrorists commit acts of terror in the US in the name of Islam, should Iraqi Muslims be held responsible? The Amercican right-wingers say yes.

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