COLOMBO: He is the Tamil face of extreme Islam. Moulvi P Jainul Abideen, better known as PJ, the founder and star speaker of the fundamentalist Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ), who was denied a visa to speak at an Islamic convention in Sri Lanka last week believes what he preaches is "true Islam". The Muslim community in Sri Lanka, which has borne the brunt of many riots and attacks from both Buddhist hardliners and the now destroyed Tamil Tigers think otherwise. PJ has been invited by the Sri Lanka Thaweed Jamaat (SLTJ) for the release of the Sinhala translation of the Koran on November 8. The All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema and other moderate Muslim organisations opposed his entry, and the the Lankan government obliged. The Muslim groups felt that PJ's Wahabi views on Islam could create tension among the Sri Lankan Muslims.
Earlier, in 2005, PJ was deported on the same grounds. He has made Sri Lanka a target for proselytisation, by campaigning against popular Islamic practices which he considers un-Islamic.
No Moderation for PJ
The fiery fundamentalist is a moulvi from Tamil Nadu, who has taken upon himself the task to spread pure Islam based on the Koran and Sunnah ‘without additions or deletions’ as his website puts it. Jainul Abideenstarted his political career by founding the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TNMMK) in 1995. However, in 2004, there was a split in TNMMK and PJ formed the TNTJ, a religious cum political organisation. Apart from fighting for reservation for Muslims as per the recommendation of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, it portrays Islam as a peaceful religion which values communal harmony. This was a clever strategy, because while propagating inter-communal harmony, he openly opposed the existence of various non-fundamentalist Islamic sects, like the Shias, Bohras and Ahmadias or Kadiyanis.
The Muslims of Sri Lanka, who now constitute 9.5 percent of the island’s population of 21 million, have been a peace loving community since their advent in 7th century AD. However, their avocation and peaceful existence have faced grave challenges from time to time. In the 1980s, when the Tamils launched an armed struggle to secure an independent Tamil Eelam, the Muslims kept themselves out of it. As traders, they wanted peace and irked by this, the Tigers drove out 75,000 Muslims.
Later the Sinhalese population too launched attacks on Muslims from time to time. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government (2005-2014) encouraged a new outfit—Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)—to call for a ban on hijabs and halal certification and also to attack mosques.
In June 2014, BBS-inspired Sinhalese launched a riot. This effort to break the economic back of the Muslims led to the community voting against the Rajapaksa-led United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in the parliamentary elections, which saw his exit. Over the years, Wahabis, Sufis, Sunnis, Shias, Bohras, Malays, Muslims of Lankan and of Indian origin have come together to form a single ‘Muslim’ community at least for social and political purposes.
■ According to the Census of 2012, Sri Lanka has a Muslim population of 1,967,227, which is 9.5 per cent of the total population.
■ A large number of the Muslim population in the country are traders. They have been doing so ever since their advent in the country.
The Tamil Tigers killed Muslims during a prayer meeting at the Kattankuddy Jumma Masjid on August 3, 1990. In the next couple of months, the LTTE drove out nearly 75,000 Muslims from the Northern Province for allegedly ‘spying’ for the Lankan army.
DISTURBANCES IN 2009
The concord between the Sinhalese and the Muslims began to wilt after the decimation of the LTTE and the humiliation of the Tamils in the 2006-2009 Eelam War IV. Subsequently, the Sinhalese class began to subdue the Muslims. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government encouraged a new outfit, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), to call for a ban on hijabs and halal certification and also to attack mosques.
In June 2014, Sri Lanka witnessed religious and ethnic riots in the south-western parts of the country. The Muslims and their property were attacked by Sinhalese Buddhists in three towns in Kalutara District. They killed at least three people and 80 were injured. 8,000 Muslims and 2,000 Sinhalese were displaced by the riots, and hundreds were homeless following attacks on homes, shops, factories and mosques. The riots were considered after-effects of rallies by the hard line Buddhist group—Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), but the group denied responsibility.
In 2013, there were a few attacks on Muslims by Buddhist hardliners. Hundreds of them attacked shops and homes near Colombo. They burnt a clothing store owned by a Muslim trader.