Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Un­rav­el­ling grow­ing Ara­bi­sa­tion

- By Namini Wi­jedasa Religion · Middle East News · Sri Lanka · Asia · Bangladesh · Maldives · Saudi Arabia · Batticaloa · Egypt · Pakistan · South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation · Saudi Arabia national football team · Kattankudy · Hezbollah · Ash Sharqiyah Province · Qatar · Kuwait · United Arab Emirates · Islam · Ampara · Puttalam · Trincomalee · Kandy · Kegalle · Kurunegala · Al-Azhar University · Polonnaruwa · Anuradhapura · Galle · Matara · Hambantota · Jamaat-e-Islami · International Commission · Eastern Province · Gampaha · Batticaloa District

Qu­ran Madrasas and Ara­bic Col­leges have mush­roomed in their thou­sands around Sri Lanka dur­ing the past decade, pro­mot­ing a “pure” form of Is­lam im­ported from West Asia that is at odds with South Asian tra­di­tions.

The trend mir­rors de­vel­op­ments in other parts of this re­gion, in­clud­ing Bangladesh, where strong Gulf in­flu­ence has seen a pro­lif­er­a­tion of largely Saud­i­funded, Arab-style mosques and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. In the Mal­dives, Saudi Ara­bia has just pledged US$ 95mn to­wards a six-storey build­ing com­plete with mosque, teach­ing cen­tre and con­fer­ence hall.

Anal­y­sis of avail­able sta­tis­tics show ex­po­nen­tial growth of Madrasas and Ara­bic Col­leges, fa­cil­i­tated by the Depart­ment of Mus­lim Re­li­gious and Cul­tural Af­fairs which also reg­is­ters Ahadiya or da­ham schools. Th­ese have fos­tered greater re­li­gios­ity.

Madrasas and Ara­bic Col­leges im­part teach­ing -- of­ten em­ploy­ing for­eign cler­ics who are granted res­i­dent visas at the Depart­ment’s be­hest -- with­out in­de­pen­dent su­per­vi­sion or reg­u­la­tion. Those that en­rol older stu­dents churn out adults un­suited to the job mar­ket and whose pre­ferred ca­reer path is also that of re­li­gious in­struc­tion. Alien­ation with other lo­cal pop­u­la­tions has well taken root.

In 2017, the Min­istry of Mus­lim Re­li­gious and Cul­tural Af­fairs looked at whether a na­tional ex­am­i­na­tion could be con­ducted for Ara­bic Col­leges based on a uni­fied syl­labus un­der the Ex­am­i­na­tions Depart­ment. An ex­pert com­mit­tee was ap­pointed but the plan did not reach fruition.

There are now 1,669 Madrasas and 317 Ara­bic Col­leges teach­ing Is­lamic tra­di­tions and cus­toms, a Depart­ment spokesman said this week. Its web­site, how­ever,

Colombo’s port and its en­vi­rons are be­ing heav­ily guarded by the navy. There are more than 15 navy of­fi­cers at the ve­hi­cle check­point at the port en­trance. Other navy of­fi­cers con­tinue to check parked ve­hi­cles near the port wall. More se­cu­rity has been in­tro­duced in schools and hos­pi­tals.

But not ev­ery­one is pleased. The ban on park­ing near govern­ment of­fices is a ma­jor hin­drance to those op­er­at­ing three-wheel­ers for hires.

P Kr­ishna, a tr­ishaw driver who parks near the IRD, said he can­not does not re­flect the re­cent ex­plo­sion of Qu­ran Madrasas.

It ac­cu­rately places the num­ber of Ara­bic Col­leges at 317 with the high­est con­cen­tra­tion in the Am­para, Put­ta­lam, Trin­co­ma­lee, Kandy, Colombo and Bat­ticaloa Dis­tricts. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are 277 Ahadiya or da­ham schools, with large num­bers in the Am­para, Colombo, Ke­galle, Kandy and Ku­rune­gala Dis­tricts.

Sta­tis­tics, in­clud­ing lo­ca­tions, of Qu­ran Madrasas are not pub­lished on the web­site. But the an­nual per­for­mance re­ports of the Depart­ment (whose Re­li­gious and Cul­tural Divi­sion has purview over Ara­bic Col­leges, Qu­ran Madrasas and Ahadiya schools) prove re­veal­ing. The Divi­sion prepares syl­labuses and looks stay for long at the lo­ca­tion. He had not been able to run hires in the past week. It is a strug­gle to make a liv­ing.

Most shops still re­main closed at the Pet­tah mar­ket. Shops that are open at­tract be­low av­er­age crowds. The red mosque, which at­tracted tourists, is only open for wor­ship.

Mo­homad Shafrath, 24, who sells elec­tronic items, phone charg­ers, power banks as well as pen drives, said busi­ness dropped. “We started our busi­ness a few months back. Now, no one comes. We are vic­tims into their ad­min­is­tra­tion. And it also refers stu­dents from Ara­bic Col­leges for schol­ar­ships at Al-Azhar Univer­sity in Egypt, a cen­tre of Sunni Is­lamic learn­ing.

Of 60 stu­dents who ap­plied in 2013, four Imams (priests) were se­lected for a three­month Is­lamic Sharia Ed­u­ca­tion Course and seven Ara­bic Col­lege (Moulavi) stu­dents for the Ed­u­ca­tional De­gree Course. The fol­low­ing year, 50 stu­dents ap­plied and five Imams and 10 stu­dents were sent. They came back and “en­gaged them­selves in re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties in Polon­naruwa, Anu­rad­ha­pura, Bat­ticaloa, Am­para, Kandy and Colombo dis­tricts”.

Per­for­mance re­ports from 2015 on­wards do not state the num­ber of per­sons granted schol­ar­ships abroad. All re­ports say that Egyp­tian cler­ics were in Sri Lanka to ex­plain the Holy Qu­ran dur­ing Ra­mazan of ter­ror­ism too. How could we do busi­ness like this,” he said.

Anusha Wil­larachachi, 42, a govern­ment em­ployee, said she was at the mar­ket with a friend to buy es­sen­tials. She fears vi­o­lence more than the bomb­ings. She added that peo­ple have con­tin­ued to live their lives de­spite the fear.

Gothatuwa res­i­dent, Shanai Ranas­inghe, said that she still comes to Pet­tah to buy sup­plies for her on­line cos­met­ics busi­ness. She said she is in­dif­fer­ent to who the ven­dors are.

“The mer­chants are af­fected as fast­ing. Mean­while, 35 new mosques were reg­is­tered coun­try­wide in 2013. The fol­low­ing year, it dropped to ten.

In 2015, the num­ber of new mosques was 190 while 1,600 Qu­ran Madrasas had been reg­is­tered with 30 added in 2015 alone. In 2016, there were 50 new mosques. The last avail­able per­for­mance re­port states that 1,675 Qu­ran Madrasas were now reg­is­tered with 12 new ones--and 80 new mosques--crop­ping up in 2017.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Thowheed Ja­math move­ment also has prayer cen­tres. They are not Jummah mosques but they are nu­mer­ous and are estab­lished in or­di­nary build­ings.

The Depart­ment and Min­istry is­sue res­i­dent visa rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters on be­half of priests and teach­ers ar­riv­ing in Sri Lanka to teach in lo­cal Is­lamic re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions. In 2016, ap­proval was granted to 1,409 per­sons. In 2017, the num­ber was 405 res­i­den­tial visas and 356 en­ter­ing visas.

Madrasas are run by dif­fer­ent Is­lamic sects, each seek­ing to draw young sup­port­ers. For in­stance, the Ithi­haad Ah­lis­sun­nathi Wal Ja­maa-Athi or­gan­i­sa­tion head­quar­tered in Gre­gory’s Road, Colombo 7, supports ten Sun­nath Ja­maath Madrasas in Galle, Eravur, Kal­mu­nai, Matara, Ham­ban­tota and Weligama.

The Sun­nath Ja­maath is a re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tion in Pak­istan rep­re­sent­ing the Barelvi move­ment which it­self sub­scribes to the Sunni Hanafi School of Jurispru­dence and fol­low many Sufi prac­tices. Tha­laath Is­mail, the founder of the Gre­gory’s Road out­fit, decries on his web­site that the sect was “fast los­ing its tra­di­tional, piv­otal po­si­tion in Sri Lankan Mus­lim so­ci­ety” ow­ing to the rapid spread of Th­abliq Ja­maath and Wa­habi move­ments. He blames young men re­turn­ing from em­ploy­ment in West Asia with new ide­olo­gies.

One Od­damavadi res­i­dent who had a young son said he was “not do­ing well in school and usu­ally loi­ter­ing about”. So his wife had asked him to ad­mit him to a good Madrasa to learn the Qu­ran and the re­li­gion. “The big­gest prob­lem was which Madrasa to choose,” he said. “There are so many sects and each said the other was wrong.”

“I have some close Shia friends,” he said, point­ing out that there was a small pop­u­la­tion of Shias in Od­damavadi. “They wanted me to put him to their Madrasa. When I tried to ad­mit him there, oth­ers asked me if I was mad. When I tried the Thowheed Ja­math Madrasas, some oth­ers said I was mad. I fi­nally ad­mit­ted him to a Thowheed Th­abliq school.” There is also the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami sect and the Deoban­dis have their own in­struc­tion cen­tres.

It is doc­u­mented that Madrasas around South Asia re­ceive for­eign fund­ing, par­tic­u­larly from Saudi Ara­bia which also they were forced to close shops for a week and since open­ing, few peo­ple have come,” he said.

Chan­dra­jeewa Liyanaga­m­age, the trea­surer of the three-wheeler as­so­ci­a­tion, said hires have dried up, even by for­eign vis­i­tors. “Even the rail­way au­thor­i­ties won’t al­low us to park out­side the sta­tion de­spite pay­ing Rs1,150 for a three-wheeler. All our 80 three-wheel­ers are reg­is­tered and pay taxes to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity,” he said.

He said they are un­able to pick up hires as the three-wheel­ers block the ve­hi­cle park en­trance. pumps money into mosques. In 2014, the Sun­day Times wit­nessed the open­ing of Kat­tankudy’s 58th mosque in Sinna Kabu­rady Road.

The gather­ing of male at­ten­dees was told that the Saudi princes were in their midst. A lo­cal speaker said: “In the past, we had to col­lect money from vil­lages and among our­selves to build mosques like this. Now, we get help from Saudi Ara­bia”. An­other an­nounced to ap­plause that Saudi Ara­bia had pledged to fund a univer­sity for Madrasa teach­ers.

Funded by a Saudi Ara­bian out­fit called the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion for Hu­man Devel­op­ment, the mosque was built by Sri Lanka’s Hira Foun­da­tion of which M L A M Hizbul­lah, for­mer par­lia­men­tar­ian and Eastern Prov­ince Gover­nor, is pa­tron. Kat­tankudy to­day has 63 mosques and six Madrasas (four for women) for a pop­u­la­tion of 47,125 Mus­lims.

Mr Hizbul­lah posed for pho­tos in front of the cer­e­mo­nial plaque, flanked by the Saudi vis­i­tors. Cu­ri­ously, his Foun­da­tion was incorporat­ed by an Act of Par­lia­ment only the fol­low­ing year, os­ten­si­bly to “pro­tect and de­velop all rights of women and chil­dren”.

Foundation­s are a com­mon means of rais­ing funds and not unique to the Mus­lim com­mu­nity. And there have been long­stand­ing ques­tions about how they could be con­duits for less de­sir­able for­eign con­tri­bu­tions.

The East is where many of West Asia’s prac­tices-- in­clud­ing the black niqab and full-face burqa for women and white jub­bas with long beards for men-first took hold. Th­ese have since spread far and wide.

And, as in other parts of South Asia, one main rea­son for th­ese changes is for­eign em­ploy­ment. In 2017 alone, 90 per­cent of Sri Lankans had jobs in the Gulf, ac­cord­ing to the Sri Lanka Bureau of For­eign Em­ploy­ment. And 79 per­cent of all mi­grant em­ploy­ees were ab­sorbed by just four mar­kets: Qatar, Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait and United Arab Emi­rates.

The Colombo district con­trib­uted to 13 per­cent of to­tal de­par­tures that year with Gam­paha (11 per­cent) and Kandy (9.2 per­cent) next in line. The Bat­ticaloa district ac­counted for 7.2 per­cent. Saudi Ara­bia em­ployed the most num­ber of do­mes­tic work­ers.

With the re­turnees came Wa­habism pro­moted in Sri Lanka by the Thowheed move­ment, Mus­lim schol­ars say. De­voted to prac­tis­ing “real” or “pure”, pro­po­nents are crit­i­cal of sects like the Su­fis whose strand of Is­lam is mys­ti­cal, pan­the­is­tic and in­flu­enced by South Asian tra­di­tions. This dis­like has spilled into vi­o­lence against Su­fis on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in­clud­ing in 2009 and 2013. And it reached a cri­sis on April 21 this year, with the Easter Sun­day bomb­ings tar­get­ing Chris­tians.

 ??  ?? Open­ing of Kat­tankudy's 58th mosque with Saudi princes and Mr Hizbul­lah in at­ten­dance
Open­ing of Kat­tankudy's 58th mosque with Saudi princes and Mr Hizbul­lah in at­ten­dance
 ??  ?? Suleima Lebbe Mo­hammed Aliyaar, Vice Prin­ci­pal of the Jamiathul Falah Ara­bic Col­lege in Kat­tankudy with two of his stu­dents in 2014
Suleima Lebbe Mo­hammed Aliyaar, Vice Prin­ci­pal of the Jamiathul Falah Ara­bic Col­lege in Kat­tankudy with two of his stu­dents in 2014

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