The Transformation and Politicisation of the Sri Lankan Muslim Identity over 130 years and the Challenges Moving Forward
Mohamed Saleem, A
Date: 10 June 2019
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in Ethno-Political Studies
The duality construct of a ‘Muslim’ identity has become a challenge for the Sri Lankan Muslim community as they attempt to profess their Sri Lankan identity (and sense of belonging). By identifying themselves ethnically as ‘Muslims’, the Muslim community through political elites have played on blurring the distinctions between faith ...
The duality construct of a ‘Muslim’ identity has become a challenge for the Sri Lankan Muslim community as they attempt to profess their Sri Lankan identity (and sense of belonging). By identifying themselves ethnically as ‘Muslims’, the Muslim community through political elites have played on blurring the distinctions between faith as a theological marker (i.e. a religious motivator) and faith as an identity marker (i.e. communal galvanizer). What the literature and the research shows is that the concept of Sri Lankan ‘Muslim’ identity was and is politically ‘constructed’ as a response to colonial influence as well as nationalistic aspirations of other ethnic communities within the country. In one sense it mirrored the development of the identity of the other communities in response to colonial pressures but in another sense the development of a Muslim identity opened the community up to influences from global transnational Islamic reformations. As a result of this, ethnic institutionalisation leading to religious consciousness transformed into a political identity for survival leaving the community with a hybrid identity. However, this reduced several ethnic and cultural communities that subscribe to Islam, to one representative model, which was subsequently challenged by hegemonic actors in the ethno-nationalist struggle of a country coming out of a 30-year-old ethnic conflict. The challenge became more acute after the conflict as transnational questions of solidarity also informed the hegemonic Sinhala Buddhist actors in their relationship with the Muslims The study thus shows that the political elite from the community were intent on pushing for a political identity but did not understand the changing dynamics of the context. It shows that a transformation of a minority constituency due to changing demographic contexts at the grassroots amidst static political contexts could mean that the legitimacy of political elites from minority communities is undermined unless they can transform to meet those challenges. It shows a need to reimagine how identity is formed and its narrative to manage relations with the ‘Other’. In the wake of the Easter Sunday Attacks of April 2019, it leaves the Muslim community needing to reimagine itself to face the future challenges.
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