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M.H.M. Ashraff: The legendary Muslim Congress Leader

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By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

September 16th 2010 was the tenth death anniversary of Mohammad Hussein Muhammad Ashraff, the uncrowned sultan of the Amparai district Muslims and legendary leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). The pioneering president of the SLMC was Ahammed Lebbe of Kattankudi with whom Ashraff co-founded the party in September 1981. It was however MHM Ashraff who gave the Muslim Congress a new vision and direction after he assumed formal leadership of the party in 1986.


Mohammad Hussein Muhammad Ashraff (Oct 23, 1948 – Sep 16, 2000)

Thanks to Ashraff’s visionary zeal and missionary energy the SLMC achieved many, many things during the fifteen years he was at the party’s helm. His charisma, political acumen, dedication and sterling qualities of leadership enabled Ashraff to mould the long overlooked Eastern Muslims into a viable political entity and lead them like a latter day Moosa Nabhi or Moses through the wilderness on the route to a promised land of milk and honey.

As in the case of Moses it was not Ashraffs destiny to enter the promised land as a mysterious airplane explosion obliterated one of the brightest stars of the Lankan political firmament in the prime of life. Until death he remained the undisputed “Thesiya Thalaiver” (National Leader) of the North – Eastern Muslims

The tragedy of September 16th 2000 involving an MI-17 helicopter of the Sri Lanka Air Force above the Urakanda mountain range in the Aranayaka area in Kegalle district of Sabaragamuwa province resulted in the death of this dynamic political leader . Along with Ashraff were killed 14 others including crew members, security personnel, personal staff and political supporters.

Investigations were launched to ascertain whether the crash was an accident or the result of sabotage. Various conspiracy theories were afloat after Ashraff’s death. The results of the investigation are yet to be publicised. Whatever the outcome of the probe, there is no denying that the demise of Ashraff, has created a vacuum in Muslim politics that is yet to be filled.


MHM Ashraff was a pioneering leader of Sri Lankan Muslims in particular and the country in general. He was ahead of his times in more ways than one. He realised the vast untapped political potential of his community and strove to charter a course that would have enabled his people to have their grievances redressed and aspirations fulfilled. At a time when the conflict within the island was perceived in simplistic terms as a “Sinhala versus Tamil” issue, the efforts of Ashraff brought to the fore the problems faced by Muslims.

The eloquent and effective advocacy of the Muslim cause by Ashraff led to a general awareness that the seemingly intractable ethnic crisis was not merely a Sinhala-Tamil bilateral issue but a trilateral one involving Muslims too.

The Muslims of Sri Lanka, also known as Moors, have a unique ethnic identity. Constituting 8 per cent of the island’s population, they are distributed somewhat evenly with about two-thirds of them in the seven predominantly Sinhala provinces and the rest in the Tamil majority North and East.

The bulk of the community including sections living amidst the Sinhala population speaks Tamil at home and are classified as Tamil speaking. The medium of instruction in most Muslim schools is chiefly Tamil. The community has also thrown up a number of Tamil scholars, writers, poets, journalists and artists who have reached eminent positions.

In spite of this, the community does not perceive itself as being “Tamil” but “Muslim”. The Muslim self-perception is based on ethno-religious and not ethno-linguistic lines. This socio-cultural reality has acquired sharp political dimensions in recent times.

Although they are a scattered population, Sri Lankan Muslims have their single largest concentration in the Eastern Province where the ethnic ratio according to the 1981 Census (the last official count) was 42 per cent Tamil, 33 per cent Muslim and 25 percent Sinhala. It is unofficially estimated that at present the Sinhala component has risen considerably while the Tamil component has declined and that the Muslim count remains even.

A large number of Muslims of the Batticaloa-Amparai districts live interspersed among Tamil village s along the littoral areas known as “Eluvaankarai” (Coast of the Rising Sun). The hinterland to the west of Batticaloa lagoon known as “Paduvaankarai” (Coast of the Setting Sun) is predominantly Tamil.


The majority of the Eastern Muslims are farmers and fisherfolk. The East consisting of Muslim “enclaves” with substantial Muslim votes has helped the Eastern Province Muslims to elect at least four to six parliamentarians from the Province at each election. The Eastern “bloc” has at times constituted almost 50 per cent of the total Muslim representation in Parliament.

Despite this advantage, the overall leadership of the community was not in the hands of the Eastern Muslim. The comparatively advanced Muslim leaders from the Central, Western and Southern provinces were in charge, lording it over the Muslims from the Eastern backwaters. All this, however, changed with the arrival of Ashraff.

Ashraff was born on October 23, 1948 in the Muslim village of Sammanthurai in Amparai district. He grew up in the town of Kalmunai, in the same region. After schooling in Kalmunai, Ashraff entered Law College where he passed the examination with first class honours. Ashraff went on to acquire a bachelor’s and later a Master’s degree in Law from Colombo University. The latter feat was achieved in 1995 when he was a Cabinet Minister. He took silk in 1997 as President’s Counsel.

Though an uncompromising Muslim nationalist in later years, Ashraff was always close to the Tamil language and its ethos. As an old student of Wesley High School in Kalmunai and as a law student he moved closely with Tamils. Despite the vagaries of politics he retained his personal friendships with Tamil classmates and colleagues. He was also well – versed in the Tamil language and literature.

Nagore E.M. Hanfia renders Poet Bharathidhasan’s Thamizhukkum Amuthendru Per

Ashraff was a fiery orator in Tamil. Moreover he was also a poet using “Thamizh” as the vehicle of his thoughts. The volume of poetry published by him was commendable though not superlative as his sycophants portrayed them. In any case few of the present crop of Tamil – Muslim parliamentarians read poetry let alone compose poems.


Ashraff began his political career like many an Eastern Muslim leader as an admirer of the Tamil father figure S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, the founder leader of the Federal Party. He was greatly enamoured of Chelvanayagam and the federalist vision for the Tamil speaking people of the North – Eastern Traditional Tamil homelands.

Ashraff was particularly appreciative of the fact that it was Chelvanayagam who raised the issue of Muslims being killed at the Puttalam mosque by Sinhala policemen. Muslim Parliamentarians including Puttalam UNP Pariamentarian Naina Marikkar maintained a deafening silence then.

Ashraff spoke on F.P. platforms and in 1976 attended the historic Vaddukkoddai Conference where the newly formed Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) unanimously adopted the demand for a separate state of Tamil Eelam.

I first met Ashraff in 1977 when he was campaigning ardently for Tamil Eelam on the TULF platform. He had formed the Muslim United Front and signed an agreement with Appapillai Amirthalingam. Muslim candidates were fielded on the Sun symbol in Kalmunai, Sammanthurai, Puttalam and Mutur. Another assigned to contest Seruwila failed to submit nomination papers at the last minute.

Ashraff himself did not contest but actively campaigned in 1977.This was the time when Ashraff stated publicly that even if elder brother Amirthalingam could not deliver Tamil Eelam younger brother Ashraff would do so. The highlight of Ashraff’s speeches then was his bombastic pronouncement that even if Amirthalingam himself abandoned the goal of Eelam, Ashraff would continue to strive for it.

In spite of this affinity towards Tamil Eelam on the part of Ashraff, the Eastern Muslim voters had different ideas and rejected the MUF candidates on the TULF ticket.

This was an eye – opener to Ashraff. The electoral results however showed that despite Ashraffs desire to share a Tamil – Muslim political vision, Eastern Muslims had other ideas.While the Tamil candidates of the TULF swept the polls, no Muslim from the party won a seat in the polls.


Ashraffs relations with the TULF became strained gradually. The 1981 District Development Council elections saw the TULF going to polls in Mannar and the three Eastern districts on a Tamil slate of candidates. Ashraff wanted Muslims to be included too. He was rebuffed.This led to an already estranged Ashraff parting ways with the TULF completely.

However this did not result in him joining a “Sinhala dominated” national party like other Muslim leaders of old who cut their political teeth in the FP and then merrily crossed over. Ashraff realised that the Muslims needed to charter a separate course independent of Tamil and Sinhala politics. This led to his aligning with Ahammed Lebbe of Kattankudi and co – founding the Muslim Congress.

After Ashraff parted ways with the TULF the MUF had entered a state of decay. The SLMC was inaugurated on September 21, 1981. At that point, the SLMC was more or less an Eastern outfit concerned more with socio-cultural than political issues.

The July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom and the consequent escalation of armed Tamil militancy led to a situation where the possibility of Tamil Eelam began looming large on the political horizon. The Eastern Muslims became increasingly insecure and apprehensive of their future in a “Tamil” state.

On the other hand, the contemptuous manner in which the J.R. Jayewardene regime dismissed the Muslim opposition to the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel touched a raw nerve in the community. Ashraff was instrumental in organising protest demonstrations over the issue. However, Sri Lankan Muslims at that point of time were immune from the global trend of growing Islamic consciousness and radicalism.

The Muslim community in the East also produced a new generation of educated and ambitious youth. All this created a suitable climate for Ashraff and his brand of politics to arrive on the national scene. The rise of Tamil armed militancy instilled a sense of political urgency into Muslim politics.


The catalyst was the outbreak of violence between Tamils and Muslims in the Kalmunai-Karaitheevu areas in 1985 which was aided and abetted by agents of the state and Tamil militant groups. The Kalmunai – Karaitheevu Tamil – Muslim violence of 1985 affected Ashraff directly. Threatened by and fearing harm at the hands of Tamil militants, Ashraff was forced to flee to Colombo.

In a controversial utterance Ashraff compared his flight from Kalmunai to Colombo to that of the Holy Prophet”s “Hijra” from Mecca to Medina. This led to many heated rebuttals. It was pointed out that the Holy Prophet had ensured the safe passage of his followers to Medina before following suit whereas Ashraff had left Kalumunai first leaving behind his supporters.

Ashraff moving to Colombo as a “political refugee” was a significant milestone in his life. He was provided help by concerned Muslims including the well-known lawyer Faiz Musthapha. It was at Mustapha’s chambers that Rauff Hakeem interacted with Ashraff and became a devoted disciple.

In the nation’s capital, Ashraff’s political horizons began to extend beyond the East. He recognized the widespread disappointment prevalent among the Muslim masses with their elitist leaders. Ashraff identified the need and yearning of the community to assert boldly and articulate their identity.

Ashraff was disgusted with the politics of Muslim leaders in the UNP and SLFP. He felt that these people were nothing but minions serving their Sinhala political masters without evincing real concern for the Muslim plight. One reason for this Ashraff felt was the lure of power and the attraction posed by the spoils of office. An Independent voice was necessary. For this firm Muslim unity was needed.

Establishing himself firmly in Colombo Ashraff, revived and restructured the Muslim Congress. In 1986 he convened an Island – wide convention in “Punchi” Borella and formally took over party leadership after gently easing out Ahamed Lebbe.


I was a witness to this eventful moment in the history of the Muslim Congress. I attended the convention in a journalistic capacity along with my departed friend and colleague MPM Azhar of the “Virakesari” who later edited the “Navamani” Muslim weekly. There was magic in the air as the Muslim delegates took their decisive step on a long journey that still continues.

I was in close contact with Ashraff during the 1986 – 88 period. It was then that I saw him at close quarters forging a new vision and mission for his people. Some of his ideals seemed impossible to achieve then.Ashraff wanted the Muslims to be recognized as a separate and equal entity on par with the Sinhala and Tamil people.

The Muslim people in all parts of the Country needed their own independent political party. The SLMC was to fulfil that role. The party was to remain independent of Sinhala and Tamil political overlordship. He described both as two “Saithans” (Satans) then. The Eastern Provnce Muslims were to play a greater role in this . By doing so this often neglected people were to achieve their rightful place under the Lankan sun.

Ashraff also introduced the demand for a territorially non – contiguous North – Eastern Council for the Muslims on the Pondicherry model. His aim then was to create a Muslim majority council linking up all Muslim majority AGA divisions in the North – East.

Ashraff gradually redefined the objectives and redrafted the constitution of the Muslim Congress to make it an all-island party. It was formally accredited by the Election Commissioner and allocated the symbol of the tree on February 11, 1988.

The “new” SLMC under Ashraff contested the Provincial Councils in 1988. It won 17 seats in the North – East and 12 in the Western, North- Western, Central and Southern Provinces. The proportionate representation system helped the fledgling party to record an impressive showing in the provincial council elections. The Muslim Congress had come of age.

Although he was not happy with the India-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987 which he felt neglected the Muslim viewpoint, Ashraff supported its provisions. The Muslim Congress participated in the North-East provincial council elections of 1988 and became the chief Opposition party there to the administration headed by Annamalai Varatharajapperumal.

The SLMC also supported the victor, Ranasinghe Premadasa, in the 1988 presidential elections. In 1989 the Muslim Congress contested the parliamentary polls independently and won four seats. Ashraff himself was returned with a massive number of preference votes. The SLMC discovered that in spite of its all-island appeal the four parliamentary seats it was able to garner came from the North-East alone.

Queen Maker

Ashraff realised that if the party was to maximise its representation, tactical compromises would have to be made and strategic alliances with major parties formed. In 1994 he did just that in the accord with Chandrika Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance.

Ashraff took a cue from Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman whom he greatly admired and entered a pre – poll agreement with Kumaratunga. Ashraffs strategy like Thondaman was to enter into electoral agreements and enhance representation for his people.

1994 saw the SLMC get six elected and two national list seats. The SLMC contested under its own symbol in the North-East and on the P.A. ticket in the other provinces.

The SLMC played a constructive “Queen maker” role to install the Chandrika Kumaratunga government in a hung Parliament. Ashraff became Minister for Ports, Shipping and Rehabilitation. Later he lost shipping in a reshuffle. Two other SLMC members, Hizbulla and Aboobakr, became Deputy Ministers. SLMC general secretary Rauff Hakeem became Chairman of committees.

Ashraff’s ministerial tenure was eventful and controversial.

He was accused of providing Muslims jobs on a massive scale in the various harbours coming under his purview. Colombo, Trincomalee and Galle were cited as examples.

Likewise he was faulted for giving priority to Muslim areas in the matter of rehabilitation and Development projects. The harbour at Oluvil was an enduring and endearing dream for Ashraff.


A tempestuous feud between Ashraff and another senior Muslim Minister from the SLFP , AHM Fowzie, saw sparks fly at regular intervals.This led to Ashraff throwing political tantrums at every turn and threatening to resign. In one episode of its kind, his resignation over the Fowzie issue was not accepted by Kumaratunga.

There was also the incident where Ashraff charged that lands belonging to Muslims in the Ponnanveli area had been acquired by the state and incorporated into the Digavapi sacred area. He was challenged to a public TV debate by the Ven. Soma Thero. Ashraff took him on in a debate conducted in Sinhala and argued coherently and conclusively.

Another controversy arose when Ashraff wrote a poem in Tamil addressed to Lord Buddha. This poetic device had often been resorted to by other poets in the past. But when Ashraff did so there was heated criticism. Ashraff did not flinch and countered his critics defiantly.

Ashraff was also autocratic in his handling of party affairs. He was the supreme “Thalaiver” and brooked no nonsense from within. At the time of his death, he had suspended the party membership of three MPs and sent a show-cause notice to another.

Apart from the charismatic sway Ashraff had over the Muslim masses, his strength was his adaptive flexibility . The SLMC’s fundamental demand had been for the creation of a territorially non-contiguous Muslim majority council consisting of the Muslim divisions in the North and East. Ashraff’s rationale in this issue was to preserve for the Eastern Province Muslims their 33 per cent representation as far as possible in a proposed merger situation where it would have dwindled to 17 per cent.

The inspiration for the territorial non-contiguity principle was the Indian model for the Union Territory of Pondichery. There the regions of Pondichery, Karaikal, Yanam and Mahe though far apart geographically came under a single administrative system. Since they had been former colonies of France and shared a common “historic” heritage they were administered together in Independent India.

When he found the demand for a territorially non – contiguous unit unachievable, Ashraff substituted it for the South Eastern Provincial Council comprising the territorially contiguous electoral divisions of Sammanthurai, Pottuvil and Kalmunai.He was also willing to support a merger of Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts with the Northern Province.

He was prepared to give that up too if it became necessary and opt instead for a merged North-East with adequate safeguards for Muslims including a de-merger proviso by referendum in 10 years’s time.


Ashraff also wanted to carve out a distinctly Muslim –majority coastal district known as Kalmunai out of the existing Amparai district. He was however hesitant in some respects because he feared the contemplated littoral district could be deprived of adequate land and water resources.

Ashraff had to clash with Tamil politicians in later years in the interests of his community. This was inevitable. But unlike many of the current crop of Muslim politicians from the East, Ashraff had an empathy with Tamil and Tamils. He understood Tamil grievances and appreciated their aspirations.

Ashraff also felt that the fundamental problem was Sinhala majoritarianism and that some understanding among minority communities was necessary to combat it. While being firm on Muslim interests Ashraff was always ready to work together with Tamils. There are few Eastern Muslim politicos on the same wavelength as that of Ashraff on this aspect.

While the interests of his own community were paramount for him, Ashraff was also extremely sympathetic to the Tamil problems and grievances. Except where the interests of Tamils and Muslims clashed directly, he tried to help realise the legitimate aspirations of Tamils.

He also arrived at an understanding to achieve a working relationship with the Ceylon Workers’ Congress representing Tamils of Indian origin.

Ashraff’s greatest virtue was perhaps his metamorphosis from a “sectarian” leader to a “national” one. By 2000 his horizons broadened and Ashraff formed the National Unity Alliance. Ashraff was now prepared to look beyond Muslim ethnicity and reach out to other communities. He had a blueprint for achieving lasting peace by 2012.

The NUA’s birth indicated that the one-time “Tamil Eelamist” supporter who pioneered an exclusive party for Muslims had reached an evolutionary stage where his outlook was blossoming into a nationalist one.

Mass Figure

While the SLMC was to be the flagship of the Muslims the NUA was to be wider and inclusive representing all communities. One does not know what the future may have been of the SLMC and NUA, had Ashraff lived to implement his vision. Sadly Ashraff died a few weeks before the scheduled poll on October 10th 2000. Ashraff’s life being snuffed out at a critical state was a setback to the limitless possibilities offered by the grand alliance at that juncture.

Ashraff may be no more but his spirit pervades Muslim political consciousness still. In life he was the single most popular mass figure in Eastern Muslim politics. Even in death the magical hold he retained over Muslim masses lingers on.

Ashraff memorial meetings are well attended. The Tamil media publishes many tributes most of them sincere and heartfelt. His loss is keenly felt. The sense of loss is compounded further by the sorry state of post – Ashraff Muslim politics. The party he breathed new life into is fragmented.

His widow and erstwhile deputies fought for his mantle. His political legacy however got fragmented. Ashraffs successor Rauff Hakeem and his widow Ferial split the party. Ferial took over the NUA.

The fragmentation process went on with Athaullah and Anwer Ismail etc splitting from SLMC and forming the National Muslim Congress. The fragmentation continued with Riyaz Badiurdeen, Ameer Ali and Najeeb Abdul Majeed crossing over from the SLMC and forming the All Ceylon Muslim Congress.

Rauff Hakeem battles on resolutely trying to keep the ideals and objectives of his leader and party alive. The lure of ministerial office and government perks entice party MP’s periodically. In 2006 the SLMC hd to join government ranks to prevent party unity being shattered as individual MP’s were ready to cross over.

It was a case of Deja vu this year too. In a bid to prevent a party split and defection Rauff Hakeem met with President Rajapaksa prior to the 18th Constitutional Amendment being presented in Parliament and arrived at an understanding to support the govt from opposition ranks. Speculation is rife that the SLMC May formally join the Government in November.


Thus we see Ashraff’s lofty goal of uniting Muslims under one banner lying in tatters with his party being atomized again and again after each parliamentary poll.

His ideal of Muslims retaining their independence and maintaining an equidistance between Sinhala and Tamil politics too has suffered badly.

The perks and privileges offered by successive Governments have led to most ex – SLMC leaders abandoning their “independence”. The ministerial, deputy – ministerial posts, corporation chairperson, director posts, ambassadorial assignments etc have overwhelmed most of these politicos nurtured in the nursery of the SLMC.

The interests and welfare of the Muslim voters who elected them are being callously and cynically abandoned by those elected who seek power and perks. Principled politics is conspicuously absent.

Against this dismal backdrop , Ashraff’s vision for his people of an oasis in the bleak desert is turning into a mirage.

In such a situation party loyalists and those concerned about the welfare of the Muslim community will no doubt focus on MHM Ashraff’s memory at least for some consolation on the occasion of his tenth death anniversary.

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj2005@yahoo.com

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  1. I expected something on 18th amendment from you this time Mr.Jeyaraj

    Maybe you will write on that next time.

    This one about Mr. Ashraff is a very timely article. Nicely written

    I knew him slightly and as you say he was a devoted adherent of Tamil and a friend to Tamils

    It is a pity that he had to pass away at such a young age

  2. Thank you mr.Jeyaraj for this great article about our departed wonderful leader Marhoom MHM Ashraff.

    My family is from Kalmunai but was living in Colombo (kolupitiya) for long time. I had primary education in Kalmunai and secondary education in Bambalapitiya

    I was working at a private sector firm and in my early twenties when Marhoom Ashraff burst pon Colombo scene with his Muslim Congress

    My brothers and cousins were his supporters. I learnt a lot from them about this wonderful man and his policies for our people

    I supported the pary actively (as much as a young Muslim girl was allowed to) those days

    I have met the leader a few times with my relatives at his Chithra lane residence those days

    I was shattered when he died and lost all interest in politics after his death

    Thank you again for this timely article

  3. Thanks DBS for this

    The great leader is sorely missed. Everyone in Eastern Muslim politics today claims to be his disciple. No one can do politics among eastern Muslims without using his name

    But all have forgotten his ideals and policies

  4. write some thing interesting, muslims are intelligent people they know how to handle sinhala brainys. Only Tamil idiots learn from muslims.
    Dbs please write some thing about sorry state about our beloved people, who cheated by mad praba and war criminal mahinda.

  5. During Kings rule subject stat paying taxes. Rulers and associated with rulers start getting free money without any labour. This created class system. In south East Asia capitalist minded rulers not only like to enjoy newly found wealth but also they like to pass the wealth to their heir. So they crated cast system. Before Portuguese period cast system was vigorously practiced in Ceylon. During that time Arabs did trading between eastern and western countries. Few Arabs married Ceylon Tamils.

    Because of vigorous practice of the caste system among Tamils who married Arab men unable to continue their normal life like other Tamils. So Tamils girls who married Arab men practice Muslim religion and start identify them self as Muslim rather than Tamil. This is peculiar identity crises. How come a religion could identify a race? Even today Tamil leaders are not willing to talk about Tamils atrocity committed against Tamil girls.

  6. He was my classmate at Wesley High School in Kalmunai

    As mr.Jeyaraj stated he always maintained his friendship with his old Tamil classmates and friends even though he had turned into a Muslim nationalist political leader

    His love for his old school was remarkable. He helped out a great deal for its benefit as a cabinet minister

  7. As a Tamil resident of Kalmunai I must disagree with Mr.Jeyaraj about this article on late MHM Ashraff

    I dont want to condemn a dead person but I must say that late Mr. Ashraff was instrumental in spreading hatred between the Tamils and Muslims in East. He may have supprted TULF at one time but after he started SLMC Ashraff whipped up communalism in Muslims against Tamils

  8. Great appreciation mr.DBSJ

    I thank you for this. Didn’t expect one on Mr. Ashraff so soon after article last week on Muslim Congress

    As you have said only the memory of Marhoom Ashraff is our sole consolation

  9. Ashraff had to run away from Kalmunai to Colombo in 1985 because he had actively supported Muslim violence against Tamils of Karaithivu. It was the EPRLF then very strong in Karaithivu and Pandiruppu that was planning to kill him. So he escaped

  10. I wish every Muslim politician claiming to be Ashraff’s followers must read this article and repent about how much they have failed to follow him through selfishness and being greedy

  11. All his party people have forgotten him and joined govt. Why are you remembering him in this article now Mr.Jeyaraj?

    May the almighty bless you for your kind article

  12. Well written article Mr.Jeyaraj but Ashraff is irrelevant now. The Muslim Congress he started has become a congress of Muslim parties

  13. Ashraf was Muslim only racist type of thinking man. I worked in Colombo port those days when he flooded harbour with Muslim workers who was lazy and not hard working. Only because they were Muslims Ashraf gave them jobs

  14. Ashraff is the man who ruined the good relations between Sinhala and Muslim people in the South by starting a Muslim only party. He was not a great man like what Jayaraj is writing

  15. Marhoom Ashraff did good by starting Muslim Congress but picked wrong type of people as party leaders. See where they are now?

  16. Ashroff was a good leader for Muslims especially in East. I agree. But he systamatically grab archeaological lands and settle Islamic families which belongs to archealogical Dept. The Digawapi temple which entitle 12000 acres land from kings who rule in the past , and he however curtail it to 500 acres today with the help of Chandrika government. Chandrika being a anti-buddhist leader ignore this issue and allow Ashroff to do whatever he need because without him she cannot survive.
    And Ashroff and his henchmen grab and settle 265 acres out of 267 acres of Muhudu Maha Viharaya archeaological site in Potthuvil, in Ampara district. Even today the Islamic people threatening the chief priest to leave the temple and then they can erect a Islamic church there.These are the few examples what he did in East.I did not worry about his death.

  17. Ashraff had good plans to coroprate with Tamils first but later got political selfish and used anti-Tamil communalism to be a big muslim political leader. He was bad for Tamil – Muslim relationship

  18. Hi DBS,
    If I remember all the blogs you did in the last 2 years, there was one on Ranil, one on Mrs. B, one on VP, now this one on Ashraf. So when are you going to do the one on Mahinda? Don’t wait till he is retired because the way he is going, god knows how long you will have to wait.

  19. Honourable Muslim Thesiyathalaiver of past was honoured in Kalmunai by present Muslim Thesiya Thalaiver honourable Rauff Hakeem who is worthy successor to our great leader

  20. who is a great leader,a leader is a person who respects every culture helps any kind of people regardless of being to any ethnic orgin .sad to say he was not.

  21. Ashraff was another of the incurably communal leaders of Sri Lanka who helped bring destruction and death upon our heads, slicing and dicing Sri Lanka into ethnic and religious communities, while using that strategy to propel themselves into power. They appealed to the basest most selfish emotions of people and played upon their fears. The kindest thing I can say about Ashraff, is that at a time when Eelamists were trying to carve out a kingdom only for themselves, and the GOSL appeared powerless to STOP IT, that he moved to protect his own people by carving out a kingdom for them.

    All Sri Lankans ultimately paid, and are paying, a monumental price for this politics of communalism.

    To my mind, if your article conveys anything, it is only the UTTER FUTILITY of trying to divide this wonderful country into ethnic enclaves, instead of sharing all of it seamlessly as equal citizens of one country. It just spreads hatred, creates walled off kingdoms, and embeds discord permanently in the fabric of our society. Let us not continue to drink from this cup of poison.

    Instead, we need to firmly discourage all forms of communalism, and focus on national approaches that address issues irrespective of community. We should implement policies that will discourage, dilute and ultimately eradicate communalism from our society, totally.

    For example, let us distribute government aid to people on the basis of poverty and need, not according to ethnicity, religion, language, caste, sex etc. Let us dismantle all ethno-religious laws, such as the thesawalamai law, and the recently approved Sharia law for Muslims, in favour of just ONE SYSTEM OF LAW .. the national laws of Sri Lanka. Let us make it possible for all citizens of Sri Lanka to live wherever they want, subject only to their financial ability to buy a home, and get a job in that locality.

    Ashraff was following closely the ideological footsteps of Velupillai Prabhakaran; the only difference is that he was only allowed by other Muslim leaders to do to the Muslim community, what the Tamil community allowed Prabhakaran to do. Thank God he did not succeed in destroying the Muslims.

  22. Oops! I meant ..

    [Ashraff was following closely the ideological footsteps of Velupillai Prabhakaran; the only difference is that he was NOT allowed by other Muslim leaders to do to the Muslim community, what the Tamil community allowed Prabhakaran to do.]

  23. Mr.Jeyaraj is right in calling him autocratic. We have suffered his dictatorship in pary and left. Even if living he would have ruined party by this dictatorship attitude

  24. 20. Ranjan, Toronto

    Power corrupts. and “Absolute power” corrupts absolutely.
    DBSJ may wait to see if MR walk the talk.

  25. I happened to meet Mr. Ashraff once in Chennai when I went to interview the famous actress -producer Ms.Radhika Sarathkumar

    He was charming person and pleasant to talk to

  26. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem delivered Ashraff memorial lecture in Kalmunai . It was very good. Mr.Hakeem is the rightful heir to Ashraff political legacy

  27. Ashraff was without doubt the most able Muslim politician of his generation if not independent Sri Lanka. He was also incredibly ambitious.

    I first met Ashraff when he was studying Law and he was a co-founder of the Sri Lanka Muslim Students Federation. I was still in school doing my A-Levels. Even at that time he stood out as a bright light among all those bright young Muslim men of that generation. I subsequently left Sri Lanka but intermittently met him in the coming years and on a couple of occasions when he came to the UK. Unfortunately his ability and ambition translated into the wrong type of politics.

    His decision to found the SLMC as a separate poltical party was ill-judged. Similar decisions made in the 1940s by Tamil leaders via the ITAK and TC resulted in the Northern and Eastern Tamils being separated from the mainstream of Sri Lankan politics, leading to increasing communal actions by extremist Sinhalese groups and in turn leading to the LTTE. We all know where that led Sri Lanka in general and the Tamil people in particular. A military victory by the LTTE would likely have led to increasing tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslims. These were obvious in the latter part of the LTTE years.

    Ashraff was a Muslim of Eastern Province origin but he was also a Sri Lankan. Anyone who knew Ashraff well enough would know that he did not have a racist or communalist bone in him. He did what he did because he thought he was doing it in the interest of the Muslims in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately he made many mistakes and made many rather loose and bombastic speeches which when quoted out of context sounded very extreme and threatening. He was also surrounded by many
    hangers on and once cocooned in power could not always distinguish good from bad advice. The last time I met him in Colombo 1 or 2 years before he died, it was clear that he was already thinking of a post SLMC world. I was not surprised when I heard of the formation of the NUA. His death was a loss not only to Sri Lanka’s Muslims but also to Sri Lanka itself. Those who purport to be his successors appear pygmies in comparison.

  28. having an article on ashraff after the one on the SLMC is good. Writing about the SLMC without about ashraff will be like LTTE without prabha. Ashraff was the SLMC. Nobody will be able to fill that void again.

    His death was just like Upali’s.The moral of the story is if you want to take on powerful interests in srilanka head on,stop flying first. That should be the first rule like the first commandment. The second rule is don’t travel by car. The third rule is don’t try have a transition from the armed forces to politics if you are non govigama. Historically govi’s are there to rule while others have been brought from south india to fight tamil invaders.

    If you follow these 3 rules to the letter you will have a trouble free life and will be treated as a well behaved guest who does not make undue demands in srilanka .

    If you think you can pack our ports with muslims heh, heh, heh.

  29. #35 shankar really you seem to blend intellect with hillarity i really admire you as told by mahesh previously your family will be having a good time with you .while i dont know much about muslim politics or muslim politicians of srilanka but one thing i feel is the universal concept if u adhere to islam your identity is totally different it cant be subsumed by ethnicity,language etc hence it is not surprising that mr.ashraff after being with tulf alliance he had to form his own party after his alliance was rejected in that election and went on to campaign on a communal platform which sowed the seeds of discord between muslims and tamils.

  30. In ports, all the Sinhala ministers when appointed gave jobs for their supporters, who are mostly Sinhalese. But when a Muslim minister did this it was highlighted and opposed.
    By seeing some comments, it seems minorities in SL cannot even start a political party, democratically.
    Ashraff did not start a arm struggle but a political party and he convinced many Muslim youths to voice democratically who are about take arms to get their rights.
    Still the plight of Muslim refugges is not attended. No political party or international organization is speaking about them. I don’t understand what’s wrong to start a organization or political party to specifically speak about a community.

  31. Good to see that you are remembering Mr.Ashraff on his tenth death anniversary Mr.Jairaj

    But his dream has dissolved. All his followers are cutting each others throats to join govt and enjoy power.Whats the point in having a party for Muslims?

  32. I have known Mr.Ashraff from his law college days.I agree with lot of sentiments expressed by some previous commentators.
    Mr. Ashraff was a great national leader who wanted all citizens to be recognised as equal citizen with equal rights and firmly believed in all cultures and territorail intergrity preserved and respected.
    As all politicians, he made mistakes but he firmely believed in intergrated undiveded Srilanka.
    His untimely death was great loss to majority srilankans and muslims in particular.

  33. Mr.Ashraff’s Muslim Congress has lost its way now. Every time MP”s get elected they cross over to govt side. Now to prevent party break up Hakeem is supporting govt wholesale

    Might as well dissolve SLMC and join Sinhhala parties straightaway

  34. Dear Moderater,
    Please make an amendment to my comment. The second paragraph should read as Mr. Ashraff was a great leader and not as wasn’t a great leader. It was a typo. many thanks
    Ahamed Mashoor

    It was corrected………..DBSJ

  35. 38. Minority
    40. Lankan

    Communal and ethnic based politics of last so many decades resulted in the madness that Sri Lanka experienced for the last 30 years. Whether it is JHU, TNA or SLMC, their basic aim is to get power by playing ethnic politics. There should not be any room for such activities in the political environment of the country.

    It is the responsibility of the mainstream political parties to ensure that their parties have room for the minorities to exist and room for the minorities to voice their concerns and issues.

  36. #27 . ananda -USA,
    I agree with most of your comments.

    The main problem of SL is the uneducated poor being the majority… what ever the race the politicians can take advantage of this.

    The day the poverty is elimenated and the masses are educated people will think as equal citizens. Then they will not vote for politicians blindly hoping for a better future.

    How do u think politicians like Mervin, Duminda & Weerawansa can muster popular votes … from the poor undeducated masses. The more the masses remain so, better life for these communal and oppertunistic politicians.

    Why are the university students agitated? because they can think and they see the truth.

    There should be a strategic planning for this country by learned experienced public servants. When oppertunistic politicians make all the plans & decisions is there any hope for the future?

  37. # 35 Shankar
    In regards to your comments “Historically govi’s are there to rule while others have been brought from south india to fight tamil invaders”
    If you look at the history of Tamils, all Tamil politicians were from high caste Tamils. For example Chelvanayagam, GG Ponnambalam, Amithalingam etc were from so called high caste vellala. Low caste Tamil were to do subservient work or used as cannon folder. Only one low caste Tamil MP was elected to parliament that is MC Subramaniam.
    what I wanted to highlight is that historically high caste Srilankans have ruled the country regardless of race.

  38. 45. TRN  | How do u think politicians like Mervin, Duminda & Weerawansa can muster popular votes … from the poor undeducated masses. The more the masses remain so, better life for these communal and oppertunistic politicians.  
    This is true. These politicians use the communal line to get votes and as long as these fellows exit, communal politics shall remain. Because the uneducated masses cannot think while the rebellious UNI students can see through what is happening. BUT this is a world wide phenomenon. Because even in the WEST where people are not poor, 75% of the people cannot think. 25% can. But the politicians address the emotions of the 75% with stupid promises which the 25% think is a lot of BS but they cannot change the system! If politicians can at least convince 60% of the stupid, they have won the day and this is what happens! So it is not only the SL politicians who do it but the problem is, SL being a poor country, this sort of thing can drive the country backwards where as in the west, countries are rich and therefore no body much cares who rules them or what corruption goes on because the average populations basic needs are more or less met.

  39. 46. Kumar  | what I wanted to highlight is that historically high caste Srilankans have ruled the country regardless of race.  

    This is correct and I have been trying to find out why without results. But I suspect, the higher casts have some superiority complex which probably tells them in their sub conscious that they can hold any job and get to any position or rule their people. This may be triggered by their having more family wealth and therefore can get a privileged education and facilities. I think we humans always want a pecking order and cast system complements this desire. In the west among whites where there is no cast system  like Asians, there still exist a class structure if one care’s to look closely. Bankers, lawyers, medical specialists etc  are a different class to the average working Joe Blow and of course the former looks down upon the latter when ever the case arises. Now, if the bloggers think I am talking BS that’s ok because I can be wrong and these observations can be highly subjective. 

  40. Thank you very much DBS, for this commendable piece on Late MHM Ashraff.

    Whenever I read one of your touching articles, I am amazed by your marvellous style of narration and adroit journalism. Many times I had thought of leaving a few comments but I couldn’t. The last time I failed to do so was on the KP’s interview series. Before that I felt I should have written a few lines for the blog on Lasantha.

    But this time I have to write something.

    I really appreciate your efforts with the pen at bringing peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka through ethnic reconciliation and mutual understanding. There are very few people in the world, who dare to speak the truth, live for fairness and act for justice. Whenever their gentle approaches don’t bear fruit, such people become rebellious for the causes they deem as principles in their lives. And at that point they face being criticised. Even then they carry on regardless of those criticisms – positive or negative. This suits Late Mr. Ashraff as well. Kaaykira Maram Thaan Kalleri Padum (It is always the fruitful tree that gets stoned). I feel this proverb suits you too DBS.

    There are a few people in Sri Lanka who make an effort in bringing all three communities united. But their voices are very low and feeble; sometimes it goes mute when faced with extremism from all sides. Sri Lanka really needs people like you to address its weaknesses and empower its silent majority.

    On this article; it’s a very detailed analysis. A fitting tribute to one of the greatest sons of Sri Lanka. For those who say that Ashraff was a communalist, the fact that there was not a single major incident of violence against Tamils in the East by Muslims during Ashraff’s seven years in power (1994-2000) is a testimony on the contrary.

    Once again I appreciate the courageous way you write without considering factors of ethnicity, race & gender. But one question DBS, why didn’t you write anything about Murali when he achieved an unparalleled and most probably unbreakable world record? Is their any thing behind that….?


    Thank you very much for this comment and sentiments expressed.It is indeed encouraging when people like you take the trouble to post such comments

    As for Murali , some others too have e-mailed me requesting me to write on him

    I too wanted to write about him but somehow matters dragged and it did not happen (at least so far). There is nothing else to it and there are so many things I want to write but never do.

    I did carry some pieces on Murali in my website http://www.transcurrents.com by others both on the man and his cricket. But then readers want me to write on him and I understand why

    I like Murali for many reasons and did write on his impending marriage for “The Sunday Leader” which was well received

    I do hope to write about him hopefully in the near future

    Thanks again for this comment and I do hope you will post comments more frequently in the future

  41. 46. Kumar
    MC Subramaniam was appointed. Rasalingam was elected from Udupiddy. The proportional system had produced many MPs from the poor and other castes, most recently two from Batticaloa District (there was an article by DBSJ).
    The main reason is money and electioneering needs money and people from the lower echelon don’t have that kind of money to spare.
    But what Shankar(35) mentioned was the ruling class not the CP de Silva variety. Interestingly it is said the last king of Jaffna, Sangili is the son of the paramour who came to power by disposing or chasing away the rightful claimants, some of them teamed up with the Portuguese.(Seemed familiar!)

  42. 44. Ranjan, Toronto

    I like your views in this regard. I would like to add that even if the minorities prefer to have a political party of their own, it is not wrong, provided they adhere to the constitution.

    Also you cannot have a political party which will admit only muslims, hindus or christians and budhists.

    Most countries constitution will say that no political party should be formed to benefit one particular caste or group..

    For example I know many hindus being members into some minority parties.

    Shunning other groups cannot be in the constitution of any political party.

    That is against the constitution.

    So long as the minorities voice their views within the constitution of a country then no problem if they have a separate political party or not.


    Greatly missed during this turmoil time.

    DBSJ, you do not have to post this, as this will definitely stir a hatred postings from others but you do understand what i just said. Being outspoken is my character.

  44. A hypothetical.

    Will the West,who are determined to carve out Homelands for Tamil people in the North and the East allow the Muslim people the same privilege?

    Will they tolerate fully independent , autonomous provinces for the Muslims with full police powers ?

    Will they tolerate radical Islamists running these provinces?

    From this detailed account here Mr Asraff’s goal is pretty much the same as Mr Sampathan.s

    With the Muslims around 10 percent of the total population and as virtually the same as Tamils ,they are entitled to the same privileges as the Tamil people if the West succeeds in their endeavour to partition Srilanka.

  45. #46-kumar

    If you look at the history of Tamils, all Tamil politicians were from high caste Tamils
    The tamil politicians that you mention, were they really high caste. To know about caste, you have no choice but to really go back into history, not the history you mention from independence day. The caste system was brought to india by the aryans, and this was just like an allocation of jobs. Some people were allocated some jobs that were considered prestigious like ruling and administrating , while the large majority were allocated jobs such as farming because it was necessary to eat and many farmers would have been just subsistence farmers producing mostly for their families and a few others.. Some poor fellows were given jobs like probably garbage collection, toilet cleaning etc which would have been also vital and became gradually shunned by society. So this became embedded finally as the hierarchy in the society, because it was impossible at that time for mobility between these three levels.
    The vellalas you mentioned as high caste were mostly farmers. they got educated under the british, got along well with them and started calling themselves as the high caste. It is common sense that you can’t be numerically superior and call yourself high caste, because that is not the way the caste system originated. You need only a few people to administer and rule the others, though at that time you would have needed a lot of people to produce food.

    The nobles and warriors and army, navy commanders, before the portugeuse came into the scene in srilanka were the karayar. The portugeuse, dutch and british found them very rebellious and difficult to deal with.Their preference was to fight to the death and numbers also would have come down further. Their counterparts the karawe in the south did the opposite and bumsucked the portuguese and became like the ruling class, some adopting portuguese names too. All their privileges went for a six after the british took over, and the govi, the sinhalese farmers now became the high caste.

    So all this present caste system has to be taken with a pinch of salt today, because it all depended on who bumsucked the colonial rulers more. It would have been one big lick,lick, lick of the ass and that habit you can see even today. It is the survival of the lickiest .Today’s opposition are tomorrow’s ruling party supporters, like as if they got up in the morning and suddenly found enlightenment.

    The present political system,where the majority rules unlike the monarchy which was the opposite, will always have so called high caste farmers ruling the country, as long as people cling to their castes.

    This shows that the caste system is outdated and well past its use by date and should be caste out of our culture altogether.

    One people, one caste, which is the srilankan caste and srilankan people, in future.


  46. Ashroff was a crown counsel for a short period.

    In the history of the Attorney General’s department, only two proctors joined the department as crown counsels; one of them was Ashroff. He was hired so because of his advocacy skills.

    Proctors joined as Crown Attorney and Advocates joined as Crown Counsel. Ashroff was an exception.

  47. The main problem of SL is the uneducated poor being the majority… what ever the race the politicians can take advantage of this.

    This kind of patronizing nonsense is heard all the time. The poor are not uneducated, and their voting choices are perfectly rational.

    The country has been ruled since independence by the English educated elite, who are responsible for the corruption, violence and sectarianism the country suffers from. With Mahinda the mantle passed from the first tier of English speaking private schools to the second tier, but anybody who believes a President who went to elite schools in Colombo, was the son of one of the founders of the SFLP, and spent his childhood in the MPs flats in the centre of Colombo, is a bhumiputra is dumber than the stupidest yakko.

  48. It’s disgusting to think that just across the Palk Straits Muslims are being persecuted and oppressed by the so-called “Mother India.” Sri Lankan Muslims have a much higher standing in their country than do Indian Muslims in their country. From Babri to Kashmir to Gujarat, it’s a history of oppression of Muslims in India. When the Bari Masjid verdict comes out in a few days there is a high likelihood of mob violence directed at India’s Muslims. India should be ashamed at the way it treats its largest minority.

  49. 58 Stephen Jones

    I agree with your first point, the poor are not uneducated. As you say, their choices are very rational. With 90% literacy rate, not many in SL can be called uneducated although one must admit that ability to read and write does not make one wise and learned.

    However, I disagree with you on the second point. Just because one went to a Colombo school, and lived in Colombo one does not become an elite. I know a number of people who came from schools like St. Thomas’s and Royal, yet these guys had fantastic ways of dealing with the so called common man and a superb understanding of how and why rural Sri Lanka functioned. One such guy I knew, went to St. Thomas’s all his life, then went to England for his higher studies. Those days, he could be most frequently found in posh Colombo hotels doing ballroom dancing with his lovely wife. He could not write in Sinhala. Yet, I have seen him in villages in the interior of southern Sri Lanka, dressed in a sarong, seated on the floor of a small village butique, a chewing a beetle leaf and shooting the breeze with village folks that came to that store for hours. Then he would come and tell us what those villagers were thinking. Now that is someone I would call a real bhumiputra,

    Rajapaksha’s to a great extent were like that. They may have been educated in Colombo and were the founders of the SLFP, but at the same time they had a very good understanding of the common masses’ thoughts and reactions, especially in the Southern Sri Lanka. As we have all seen, that can be both good and bad. I think MR used his ‘street smarts” very well to stay away from trouble during 88-89 JVP insurrection. So to dismiss MR as a Colombo elite is to seriously under estimate the guy. That is also why he is at the moment running circles around the likes of Ranil and SF.

    Lastly, a good example of a non-elite from a Colombo school is the owner of this Blog. He really shows you that it is not where you were but what you think that matters.

  50. —-One people, one caste, which is the srilankan caste and srilankan people, in future.—– Shanker

    Now you are on the same “wave Length” like “Balu Albert”


  51. #58 Stephen Jones.

    Think you missed Pres Premadasa. certainly not the english educated elite. but if we take the next generation Sajith where would you put him. Or Namal the present pres son.

    Corruption and education are too different things. Whether you are educated in English Sinhala or Tamil corruption comes from Greed.
    Greed has nor caste race or creed.
    Good schools, Good parents belief in religion and trying to be a human being is what is expected of ALL.
    You dont need to be literate or educated to know whats right or wrong. Your own heart will tell you when you go wrong. what you do at that time makes you what you are.

  52. #45-TRN

    The main problem of SL is the uneducated poor being the majority… what ever the race the politicians can take advantage of this.

    The day the poverty is elimenated and the masses are educated people will think as equal citizens
    I was speaking to a chinese singaporean and his explanation for their sucess story is governance. He said goverments were always thinking of the people and working for them.he credits the foundation laid for that on lee kuan yew, who cleaned up corruption, crime and inneficiency and wastage. Singaporeans were all a poor and uneducated lot at the time they got their independence from britain. They had been brought as coolies and labourers, and comparatively we were much more prosperous and educated.

    So the root cause of the problem was governance. To govern well, you need a good leader. They were lucky that they had lee kuan yew, and we were also lucky to have sirimavo, JR etc, but they mistook the reverse gear for the clutch.

    I suppose luck plays a big part. Some countries are lucky to have had great leaders, who set the foundation for others to follow up later on, while other countries have not been so lucky. We had leaders like DS Senanayake, SWRD and premedasa who died prematurely, while potential leaders like Athulathmudali, gamini dissanayake, ranjan wijeratne all were killed.

    Another problem i think in india and srilanka is we don’t kick out people when they don’t perform, unlike in the west and east asia where they are very ruthless in this regard. Whether in the private or public sector, we feel sorry for the guy and give him more and more chances,and that reduces our competitive edge over other countries where the culture is to make decisions from the head than the heart. You can see that mahinda has never sacked anybody for inefficiency, whereas lee kuan yew would have sent half our cabinet packing home.

    Another problem is the corruption. For every step you take forward, one step backwards it is.The rot always starts at the top. If the boss is corrupt, how can you tell others to be clean, just like if the boss is lazy, everybody working under him also becomes lazy. The boss has to always set the example, and the culture starts permeating from the top to the bottom.

  53. Dear Mr Jeyaraj,

    I agree with you as do all Sri Lankans that Mr Asroff was indeed a Legendary leader of the Mulsim Congress. I am thankful to you that you have consciously or unconsciously not used the words “Ledgendary leader of the Muslims of Sri Lanka”.

    I think this distiction is extremely important and as an unbiased and responsible senior journaist you have throughout your article maintained this theme, while presenting the facts in a well orgnized manner whiout insulting the inteliigence of the reader.

    For this I as a Sinhales educated Sri Lankan Muslim who can bearly manage to speak Tamil am greatful to you personally.

    Why I write to you is to keep you informed that while repsecting Mr Asroff as an individual I have always disagreed with his political vision of religious based politics.

    I am only of the opinion that religion should not be used for politics. Political activities based on needs and aspirations of ones comminity should be enouraged and indeed sustained.

    There is one more point I wish to make. The majority of Sri Lankan Mulsims (2/3 of them) live out side the North and Eastrn provinces of Sri Lanka. Only 1/3 live in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

    This demographic fact will remain so fo the next 50 years according to population projects by experts. Mr Asroff only tapped the potical potential of the minority of Mulsims in Sri Lanka who formed his potical base in the Eastern Provinnce of Sri Lanka.

    Hence with all due respect to him and his succesor at the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress the majority of Mulims living outside the North/East never interested them as they never constituted itsd politcal base.

    This led to a situation where the national and regional political leaderships of national parties began to ignore majority Sri Lankan Mulsim political, social and economic aspirations.

    This inturn has caused a poliraization of the Sri Lankan Muslim community in to a politically empowered minority eastern segment and a poltically deprived majority non eastern segment.

    I am sure you are agreement with me of the consequences when a miority tries to impoese its will on a majority be it in a community or between communities. The damage in terms of poltics to Mulims living out side the eastern province is already done.

    This political damage has been further perpatuated by the Proportional System of representation at elections which Mr. Ashroff championed with President Premadsa the history of which all minmority commiunities are aware.

    This short sighted decision (in my opinion) has led to a situation where a minoirty person can never claim to represent the majority ever again.

    Gone are the days where Mr M H Mohamed represented the people of Borella whith less that 5% Mulsim population, GOne are the days where Mr Aboosally represented the Balangoda with less that 8% Muslim population.

    In this era of coalition governmants even national parties are ignoring there indigenous Mulsim leaders and relying on religious based parties to gain the needed votes to form govenments in the short term.

    The impact of such “divide and rule” thnking will have devastating effects on Sri Lanka as a nation in the future. If such perceptions and thninking is not iver come soon it will only be a matter of time before the next ethnic striffe hits us all once again.


    Thank you for this comment. The description “Legendary leader of Muslim Congress” in the heading was deliberately used

  54. Dear DBSJ
    I copy it from your passage
    “The NUA’s birth indicated that the one-time “Tamil Eelamist” supporter who pioneered an exclusive party for Muslims had reached an evolutionary stage where his outlook was blossoming into a nationalist one.”
    I observed you put “Tamil Eelamist” in the inverted commas?
    I feel deceived. You might have a reason to put that word in the Inverted commas,
    I am also interested to know the reason. I understand that
    If ‘ism” affix any word that denote a theory and ‘ist’ affix denotes the followers of the theory.
    For Example socialism and socialist but supporters of any demand or country I feel “ism’ affix is not suitable.
    Is it correct to call Srilankanist supports or Americanist supporters or Taiwanist supporters?
    If said I thing it is deferent in meaning.
    I feel happy if you correct it here as “Tamil Eelam” supporter

  55. 54. shankar The nobles and warriors and army, navy commanders, before the portugeuse came into the scene in srilanka were the karayar. The portugeuse, dutch and british found them very rebellious and difficult ,
    I got to disagree with you on this. In India I believe people like the Rajputs were next to Brahmins in the cast structure and ahead of the farmer caste but this did not happen in SL even before the Portuguese. If you read “ the kandiyan kindom” by Dr Lorna Devarajah” or “the singhalese and the portuguese” by Dr Paul E Pieris, you will find that the Singhalese nobility always constituted govi radala caste and they were the warriors. Example is Edirille Rala, the ancestor of the modern Corea’s of SL was govi, a great warrior. Nobles who fought with the last Sinhalese king of SL, Rajasinghe 11 or Sitavaka Rajasinhge were govi and the Kuruwe people who led his elephant brigades to war were Govi and the people who carried the sun and the moon flag with the kings standard to war were govi.

  56. 60. Ranjan,Toronto  | However, I disagree with you on the second point. Just because one went to a Colombo school, and lived in Colombo one does not become an elite. I know a number of people who came from schools like St. Thomas’s and Royal, yet these guys had fantastic ways of dealing with the so called common man and a superb understanding of how and why rural Sri Lanka functioned.  

    Ranjan you are correct. But this is a common misconception that those from elitist schools have no feelings for common people & are snobs. Many forget that Banda the first true socialist SL Prime minister came from St Thomas’, DS Senanayaka, W. Dahanayaka   SJV Chelvanayagam again from the same school. There were I think two top  leaders of the 1971 JVP insurrection who were from St Thomas’ .  I don’t think any one can call these people elitists. True to our human nature we make judgments at the drop of a hat but association like what you experienced makes our views much more realistic. Mixing with all sorts of people, even with pimps and prostitutes makes us understand people in the correct perspective.

  57. Attending an Elitist School is OK if one is lucky. It is not a problem.

    Attending Elite Schools and acting and operating like Elitists is the problem.

    It is still right there in Colombo .

    Obnoxious terms like ” Sarong Jonnie” and “Yakkos”are still used against even the Head of the State.

    One thing the majority Srilankans, which are the rural poor must remember is the good work of some Elite people who got educated at Elite schools but thought and acted in the interests of this majority.

    Central Schools with at least some facilities that were denied to 90 percent of the population since the White rule commenced , education in the mother tongue are what helped the renaissance of the rural poor.

    It is up to the rural majority to keep up the momentum and let the current leaders consolidate the hard won freedom and build a prosperous and equitable Srilanka for future generations.

  58. #66-don

    Singhalese nobility always constituted govi radala caste and they were the warriors
    I agree with you, the sinhala history was a bit different from the tamil one where the caste was concerned. If you see my comments i have referred to the karayar, not karawe thogh they are both the same caste karayar in india, who settled in different parts of srilanka.

    The tamil karayars, were part and parcel of the pandya and chola armies and led them, and also were the nobles. The sinhalese karawe were brought to fight the tamils and subsequently many more came and settled down . So i agree with you they were not the nobles and that is why i said rather jokingly, they can aspire to be the army commander but not the president. They would be always second in te pecking order due to the way they came into srilanka, unlike the karayar who never came invited by the vellala’sas such. So i also jokingly referred to the fact that those who should be well behaved guests, not making undue demands is the karawe, not the minorities of srilanka, as the karawe man fonseka stated and is now languishing in prison, while the minority guys like Karuna, pillayan, douglas and now increasingly KP have become blue eyed boys of the ruling Govigama.

    I think it was because the karawe were below in the pecking order to the govi, and knew that is where they will have to stay forever, they decided to cooperate with the portuguese. Then when the dutch and british took over , probably because of their previous closeness to the portuguese they were not trusted and were brought back again below the govi in the pecking order. I never said even under the portuguese they were the nobility, only that they got high positions. Nobility is something that is hereditary due to your ancestry, and due to the way the karawe came and settled in srilanka, they were obviously not nobility.

    You are right about the govi radala caste having the nobles and warrious.. I clearly said that govi and vellala were mainly farmers, not that they all were.. There will be subcastes among them and nobles and warrious too. Vellalas too have had nobilty and very influential people.You can only make a broad views on these things, unless you are a history scholar, which i ‘am not. Because when i have spare time which is not much anyway, i love to read about world and local history, especially the battles which i am addicted to, i get a broad picture,but i’am not an expert on this, because i have not got the time to read specific books like the ones you mentioned.

    I knew about the govi radala caste and that they were the nobles, but thanks for clearing up any confusion that readers may have had. That is why this blog is valuable for sharing information amongst us. We all become richer by the shared knowledge.

  59. In my previous comments i mentioned that the karawe were broght to srilanka to fight the tamils. I think i should make it more accurate by stating that they were broght to not only fight the tamils, but also the sinhalese because there were 5 warring kingdoms , and then there were three with the Kotte one gobbling up 2 smaller ones. There was frequent wars between the kandyan and kotte kingdom with the jaffna kingdom generally allied with the kandyan one.

    The kotte kingdom army commander canpakap perumal the keralite adopted son of parakramabahu the sixth of the kotte kingdom, who was also known as prince sapumal kumaraya, attacked the jaffna kingdom and for the first time in the history of srilanka conquering it for 17 years from 1450 to 1467, before it was taken back by the deposed king kanakasooriya cinkaiarian who came back with an army from madurai. After his fathers death sapumal kumaraya became the king of the kotte kingdom and subking of the jaffna kingdom and ruled as sanghabodhi bhuvanekabahu the sixth.

    At the moment 3 people are claiming to be sapumal kumaraya, namely mahinda, gota and fonseka. In my opinion the army commander sapumal kumaraya is fonseka and and his father parakramabahu the sixth is mahinda. Gota would have been the senior minister and coordinater for both of them, as the kings always had such a person whose advice they valued. In this case unlike sapumal, the overambitious fonseka got the chop, because he did not wait patiently till the king died. He should have been loyal to mahinda and not contested the presidential election, though he had every right to do so.

    It is intersting to note that the famous nallur kandaswamy temple was built by sapumal kumaraya.

  60. 67. Don
    In Sri Lanka one is considered to be an “elite” if he/she speaks English. This was prevalent in the Universities in the 70s and 80s. From what I hear these attitudes have not changed that much even now. The other day I heard that the JVP who controls the student unions in the campus’s are conducting a campaign against English in the universities. This is height of stupidity and shows you why JVP is rapidly becoming irrelevant as a political force.

  61. 64. Dr.Ruvaiz Haniffa

    I remember the by-election in Borella in early 60s where
    MH Mohamed was elected for the first time under Dudley’s leadership. As small boys we enjoyed the campaign and green flags and all our folks voted for him.. Our land lord was a Muslim and we used to exchange our Daily Mirror/Times and Thinakaran to the Veerakesari with them. Dr Kaleel was a friend of my dad and in fact I was borne in his hospital.Sadly we don’t see such a barrier free relationships nowadays.

    In your article posted separately in the block there are many blanks in the period 13-16th century and scant details regarding the emigration of Muslims to the East & North of the Island which would help understand the link between the Tamils & Muslims. It also does not explain why and how the Muslims spoke Tamil at home if they only came from Arab and first settled in the Western coast. I have met many moors who said their ancestors came from Kayalpattanam. I am sure this period needs very detailed and unbiased study.

    65. Eelappirazai

    You sound like a follower of ‘Prabhaharanism’.

  62. #73 Palan
    “Ennith thuniga karumam Thuninthapin Ennuvamenpathu Izukku” Thirukkural
    Eelam was decided by our intellectual leaders after several serious brainstorming sessions not by Prapaharan
    In the near future Eelam will be recognized by UN and subsequently by other countries. What is my contribution for that? I know I have to do nothing but by simply avoiding srilanka .while living in India Ghandi avoid the British India and liberated India.. If you can’t understand my method any more that is not my fault. please don’t blame me as the follower of poor Prapharan.

  63. #73-palan

    In your article posted separately in the block there are many blanks in the period 13-16th century and scant details regarding the emigration of Muslims to the East & North of the Island which would help understand the link between the Tamils & Muslims. It also does not explain why and how the Muslims spoke Tamil at home if they only came from Arab and first settled in the Western coast. I have met many moors who said their ancestors came from Kayalpattanam. I am sure this period needs very detailed and unbiased study.
    Maybe he is ashamed of his real roots. No point in hiding it nowadays because with a click of a button you can find it. The internet has both advantages and dis advantages.It is indeed true that upto the 13th century they came from west asia, but then the second wave that came 13th century to 16th century , which is blank, blank, blank is now filled, filled, filled with the following excerpt from a book.

    “Lorna Dewaraja, in her book “The Muslims of Sri Lanka, 1000 years of ethnic harmony 900-1915 AD” (Lanka Islamic Foundation, 1994) has studied the situation of the Muslims in Sri Lanka, with particular reference to the Kandyan Period

    In the latter half of the 13th century, with the decline of the Caliphate of Baghdad, Arab commercial activity in the Indian Ocean decreased. This trade was taken over by the Indian Muslims of Gujerat and other Indian centres. Hindu merchants did not travel. They were based in India. They exported their marchandise in Muslim owned vessels. Thus colonies of Islamised Indians came up in the ports in India’s south western (Malabar) and south eastern (Coromandel) coasts right up to Bengal. Thus thriving centres of Muslim commercial activity studded the Indian coastline. Subsequently, colonies of such Indo-Arabs emerged along the coasts of Sri Lanka. These settlements were described by the Dutch and British as ‘Coast Moors’. (Dewaraja p 41, 43).

    The second wave of Muslims came to Sri Lanka from South India. They were the descendants of earlier Arab traders who had settled in South Indian ports and married local women. Thus Tamil and Malayalam came to be written in Arabic script, and was known as Arabic Tamil. The Koran was translated into Arabic Tamil. It was translated into Sinhala only recently. Since it was compulsory for Muslim children to read the Koran, they had to know Arabic Tamil. This partly explains why Muslims who have lived for centuries in wholly Sinhala speaking areas retained Arabic Tamil as their ‘mother tongue’. Generations of Sri Lankan Tamils went to theological institutions in Vellore to study Islamic learning. It has also been suggested that Muslims speak Tamil because Tamil was widely used in maritime commerce in the Indian Ocean (Dewaraja p 17).

    When the Dutch appeared and persecuted the Muslims in their coastal settlements, the Muslims ran to the Kandyan Kingdom. Senerat (1604-1635) and Rajasimha II (1635-1687) settled these Muslims in the Eastern coast. Senerat settled large numbers of Tamils and Muslims in Dighavapi area of Batticaloa to revive the paddy cultivation

    Through Kottiyar in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Kalpitiya and Puttalam they traded with India, and the Muslims and Chetties acted as the middlemen. From Kottiyar (Trincomalee) to Kandy there was a land route following the Mahaweli. Muslims had pack oxen and caravans and travelled this rout. The resting places on this route became the nucleus of later Muslim settlements (Dewaraja p 91, 125, 126

    From about 1350 onwards the predominantly Arab strain in Sri Lankan Islam began to change as Tamil Muslims from neighbouring South India moved to the island in increasing numbers. By the late 15th century, when Portuguese vessels first arrived in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka’s Muslims were truly indigenous to the island, representing a mixture of Sinhalese, Arab and Tamil blood, and speaking Tamil with Arabic overtones, sometimes known as “Tamil-Arabic”. None of this made any difference to the newly-arrived Portuguese, for whom all Muslims were “Moors” – the name given to their traditional enemies in Morocco and southern Spain.

    In Sri Lanka, as everywhere they went, the Portuguese made a special point of persecuting the Muslims. As a consequence, many fled the western littoral which had passed under Portuguese control, and settled in the north and east of the island where their descendants live to the present day. A hundred years later, in 1656, when the Dutch replaced the Portuguese, a third (and final) element was added to the island’s Muslim population – the Malay. Malay sailors had been visiting Sri Lanka for centuries using long-distance outrigger canoes; now, with the arrival of the Dutch, many more were brought from Java to serve their Dutch colonial rulers in Sri Lanka. In time they were absorbed into the island’s ethnically diverse Muslim community, though even today many Sri Lankan Muslims identifying themselves as “Malays” rather than “Moors” can be found living in Western Province, and especially in Colombo

    Initially, it seems, the Tamil separatists hoped to enlist the Tamil-speaking Moors in their struggle for an independent Tamil state encompassing all of Northern and Eastern Provinces. When the Moors remained aloof – and even indicated support for the government position – they became identified as enemies. Worse than that, as Tamil-speakers there seemed, to Tiger minds at least, an element of treason in their lack of support. Subsequently, as the LTTE struggle for secession developed into open warfare with the government in Colombo, Prabhakharan, showing characteristic ruthlessness, targeted the Moors for “ethnic cleansing” – that is, physical expulsion or elimination – from the lands sought by the Tigers as a Tamil homeland.

    The Tigers first began to attack the Moors on a systematic basis over a decade ago. In August, 1990, in two separate incidents, more than 230 Muslims were massacred at prayer at towns near Pulmoddai, in the north-east of the island. At the same time Prabhakharan gave notice that the entire Muslim population of Northern Province, including the then rebel-held capital of Jaffna, should leave contested areas forthwith or face being killed. An estimated one hundred thousand people were affected by this threat, many of who have since fled to government-controlled areas in the centre and south of the island. Tens of thousands were made destitute, the majority of whom still eke out a living in refugee camps. Following this incident, Muslim fishermen became a favourite target of LTTE maritime patrols, and Muslim businessmen a preferred target for abduction and ransom.

    Muslim leaders in the north and east have responded by voicing their own claims for autonomy in the region, making it clear that – should the LTTE reach an agreement with Colombo on autonomous status – they would seek to opt out from Tamil control. Prabhakharan’s response has been as vigorous and ruthless as ever. If the Muslims won’t accept Tamil rule, they must be expelled from Northern Province and Eastern Province en masse”

    So this excerpt i have given should explain why the muslims speak tamil. It is because of the koran, because in south india, when the arab traders married the local women, they had to read the koran in tamil.These people still have arabic ancestry though diluted by marrying local woman, though they are from tamilnadu. After they settled in sriilanka 13th century onwards the language would have spread to other arab mulims who came from west asia earlier, because of the koran. So it is a mistake to think that the current muslims are tamil, just because they speak the tamil language. Now that the koran has been translated to sinhalese in a few centuries, they might be sinhalese speaking, and ditch tamil altogether.

    This excerpt will also shed light on Ashraff’s policies. The emergence of the LTTE trying to rope them in to their fight and then trying to bully them and ethnically cleanse them when they refused, would have resulted in Ashraff’s policies for autonomous regions for the muslims. Those who say he created trouble between muslims and tamils, can see that prabhaharan was the culprit, not ashraff.

  64. This the man who hidden H’tota harbour development plan in his cabinet demanding that projject should be passed to Oluvil.

  65. 75. shankar :- I think you have done well in writing this piece.

    I am still thinking of  your response at 71. and may respond when I research sapumal kumaraya and  canpakap perumal. I have never read that name canakap perumal  though the original bandaranayaka ancestor was neelaperumal pandaranayagam , a Brahmin from India. I am also trying to see whether there is a connection between the two. Generally in SL those with Perumal family name happen to be Colombo chetties.

  66. 75. shankar
    Excellent write up here. I learnt a few things. Thanks. In fact participating in this blog is like sitting through a history-political course. Thanks to DBS.

  67. 75.& 71. shankar

    Thanks for the extensive and informative posts, most, if not all of which collaborates the information I had or heard from other sources. Some minor additions-

    Tamil speaking Muslims(Sonakars) from South India came to Mannar, Kalpitty & Jaffna Islands for Pearl(muthu sippi) and Conk(Sangu) fisheries. They also married local women from the fishing trade(thimilar) and settled down. For instance the Sonakar from Nainativu(Nagedeepa) never left the island despite Prabha’s ultimatum and were protected.

    Some came as soldiers in the army and settled near Chavakacheri. There is a place called Usan(Hussein) where the muslim contingent camped.

    The English also brought some soldiers from Muslim African colonies and we can see their descendants near China Bay.

    In the East there were many intermarriages between the local Tamils as well as Vedhas and these Muslims, mostly as second or third wives to look after the children, cattle and farm. We can see that the predominantly Muslim villages have pure Tamil names-SainthaMaruthu, KathanKudy, KalMunai, MuThoor etc.

    Regarding the Nallur Kanthasamy Temple, there is a stone inscription proclaiming the support of King Bhuvanehabahu and the name Sanpakaperumal also referred. The original temple was demolished and a church was built in that spot. Some Muslims lived in the present location who sold it and moved to Chavakacheri.There is(I have seen) a Muslim baba’s samathi inside the premises and it is said to be adding the temple’s power.

    All this shows that people were living amicably and with understanding and tolerance in the pearl shaped Island.

  68. dear shankar i should thank you for providing insight into various communities in srilanka that is why i love this blog.i should specially thank jey for the good work being done by him.when u talk of vellalas even in tamilnadu vellalas are found in large numbers.in south tamilnadu their surname reads pillai.even among the vellalas there are divisions there are thirunelveli saiva pillai mars they are strict vegetarians they are found in large numbers in thirulnelveli town.nedumaran tamil nationalist belongs to that caste.there are other pillaimars who eat non vegetarians like illathu pillaimars i guess comedian vadivelu belongs to that caste.there are general vellalas who call themselves sozhiya vellalas.in thanjavur area vellalas call themselves karugatharas they are also vegetarians.in northern tamilnadu vellalas get married into mudaliyar caste which is considered to be equivalent of vellalas in kanchipuram,chennai,vellore,cuddalore districts.one of the striking things about vellalars in tamilnadu is that they have their own atheenams which propogate saivism like thondaimandala atheenam which belongs to mudaliyar caste,tharumapuram atheenam which belongs to vellala caste.one of the interesting things is that nair of neighbouring kerala have surnames pillai since mgr who was chief minister of tamilnadu was a nair and prabakarans father also had a surname in 80s when i was in school people used to tell that mgr was supporting prabakaran becoz both were malayalis.bizzare thing was last year one old lady claimed that prabakarans father was her uncle who was born in kollam and migrated to srilanka lol.

  69. Regarding my earlier post #73 I remembered we lived in Punchi Borella at Marikkar Place at a house belonging to a late Marikkar.

    Marikkar/Maricar/Maraikayar were said to be local Hindus from the area Tamil Nadu/Karala who accepted Islam for variety of reasons and also played the major role in spreading Islam in Malaysia. They have a distinct Arab-Tamil culture and traditionally belonged to the Shafi school.

    The word Maraikayar came from the word Marakalam because they were operating wooden ships. Muslims are also known as Marakala miniyo or Marakalayo in Sinhalese.

    Maraikayar Patinam is a small place in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu and the adjoining Rameswaram gave birth to a famous Maraikayar-Dr Abdul Kalam.

    We also find in Colombo, Bohras/Sindhis like Dawoods, who came for trading from Gujarat & Sindh and follows Sunni Islam.

    Ismailies on the other hand are a breakaway sect of Shia Islam.

    Thanks Don & Shankar for referring to the great works of Dr Lorna Dewaraja.

  70. There was a Muslim King Vathami Rajah who ruled from Kurunagale and his descendents ruled for over hundred years without the prefix Sri Sangabothi. His eyes were gauged by his Sinhala step brother. This fact was hidden in Mahavamsa by removing the ola leaf.

  71. Hi DBS

    All sorts of third class people are issuing challenges to you nowadays

    I remember the open challenge you issued to the LTTE and its overseas spokesmen like Rudrakumaran and Satyendra to debate you in 1996

    I recall your saying then that you will prove through the debate that the LTTE will only bring misery and ruin to the Tamil people

    Not even one mangy tiger dared to accept your open challenge then but wht you predicted then has come true

    You must be amused at the comedy of new born jokers like lion would be at mongrels barking

    I only feel sad at the fate of my people…………DBSJ

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