Photo by AFP/LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI via Pakistan Today

On the 19th of July 2014, my cook hands me a police form to fill. It is one of those usual forms that we were inundated with during the war. The form asks for almost the same information as the election registration forms, with the one exception of asking for details of everybody in the house, not just those eligible to vote from there. Being inculcated in the behavior of obeying authority, I duly filled in the form. Head of household being me, then my husband, then my parents, then my cook. I didn’t fill in the name and details of the maid; for one reason, she doesn’t have an ID, and secondly, she looked as if she would be leaving us quite soon. But there was something else I did. I am married to a Sinhala man, but I have retained my surname. After I had filled in the form, for some reason I cannot quite explain, I added his surname to my surname, I was now Hussein-Perera. When handing the form back to my cook to give it to the policeman who said he would come in a few days, I jokingly told her: they are asking for details to know which households are Muslim so that they can come and whack us like they did the Tamils in 1983. Imagine my horror, when she told me, the policeman had asked her if this was a Sinhala or a Muslim house? She replied, Sinhala, for what reason I don’t know, and she said she did it instinctively. The policeman gave her the form and told her to fill it out in any case. My blood ran cold.

The next day I met a friend who is a lawyer. It was a Sunday and she didn’t want to hear work related issues, but the form was niggling me enough to force myself on her. She seemed surprised the form was being circulated, because in her memory, a similar form had circulated in 2007 and a Supreme Court order was issued in 2008 to stop such circulation without an IGP or magistrate authorizing it. She asked me to go back and see if the form had a seal from a particular police station and a signature.

I checked the form, there was no such seal or signature; it was a plain form that could be photocopied and distributed by anyone in a uniform irrespective if they were genuine or not. I now didn’t want to hand the form in. I had visions of Nazis asking Jews to register themselves in police stations, ostensibly for their ‘protection’ and the Jews obediently doing so, and we all know what happened then.

Soon after, I met another friend who casually told me that a police officer had visited the site of the house he was building and handed the same form to him to fill. The first question he had asked was if my friend was Muslim. To which the answer was yes. In casual conversation, he had told my friend that after they obtain the forms they divide them in the station according to religion. My friend was uneasy when he heard this and more chills went down my spine.

I phoned a neighbor who lives in a small block of flats and is Sinhala. Yes, they had got the form as well. She had duly filled it and handed it over. In passing, she said something else. There was a Muslim family that had moved into the flat above, but she didn’t tell the policeman about them, didn’t write their names in the form, even though the other flat residents were included in the form. She explained it casually, by saying she didn’t think it was important to write their names, she thought they may be leaving soon. More chills.

Another friend who lives in Colombo 5, said that the Tamil neighbor at the top of her lane didn’t receive a form, but all the other houses, that belonged to Muslims did get forms. The Tamil neighbor jokingly had told her to put her Sinhala maiden name on the name board of the house.

My cousins living in various areas of Colombo all got forms and duly filled them and even handed them over.

I threw my form. The policeman now comes daily to my house to get the form. Luckily for me, both my husband and I have been away from the house each time and he has been fobbed away. He came one day when I was at home, I hid and sent the driver to say that my husband was not at home, which was true. The policeman said he will come the next day. We were due to leave Colombo, so I instructed my driver to tell the policeman we lost the form and could he please give us another form.

Later in the morning I receive the following message on my phone:

“According to Lanka E news a secret meeting has taken place between GOTA, Gnanasara and all chiefs of Police and Armed forces to start island wide violence from 10th August. In those meetings Gnanasara will speak against the government to make it believe the Government is also helpless. Please spread this message as much as possible so that the people will know about it including the Sinhalese people. Let us do something to our community and our country without being mere spectators and critics.”

Upon reading this, I ask my husband if I can store the deeds to our house with my mother in law. He nods. I wonder: have I gone mad? Am I paranoid? How have things come to this?

On the way to our land in Puttalam, there is a tea kaday we stop at to have breakfast. It is run by Muslims but they think I am Sinhalese, possibly because of my inability to speak Tamil and the way I look and dress. While chatting, the tea boy, dressed in trousers and a funky t-shirt, sporting a wispy beard on his chin, tells me: “If we both (him and I) are cut, we will both bleed red. We are the same, we should be able to live in harmony. I nod in agreement, a smile plastered on my face, but my heart was breaking. What tragedy we have come to this”.

Like the Israel-Palestine tragedy that is happening now and has been dragged on for many years, I cannot assign blame to only one people. In that instance both sides have their fair share of grievances, some more than others. But now, Israel has got to a point where she is acting in a criminal manner, and there can be no doubt, no discussion even about it. Similarly, I will not say that the Muslim community living in Sri Lanka has been free from blame. Conversations with the mildest of Sinhalese and Tamil friends, tell me that the visible extreme representation of Islam be it the innocuous black abaya or the long white thobe that some Muslim men wear these days or the long beard, or the niqab, or the mosques filled to such capacity, men pray on the road on Friday Jumma, or the azan at 5 in the morning, or the halal certificate, or the new big mosques being built right bang on the road, or the ritual animal sacrifice that is conducted, or the conspicuous consumption that they view as excessive, irritate them in some way or the other. We cannot ignore the elephant in the room. The Muslims have seemingly stopped integrating, seemingly gone out of their way to be different, seemingly enjoying with pride the fact that they are not like other Sri Lankans. We Muslims have indeed become more visible, but it doesn’t make us any less Sri Lankan, it doesn’t make us not belong to this country. We too work hard, and invest our life and soul in this country, our Mother land. We even chose sides in the war that went on for 26 years and suffered the consequences of expulsion, exclusion and discrimination by the LTTE.  What have we done that makes the Sinhala people think we don’t want to belong?

A year ago, I sat next to a Sinhala-Chinese interpreter. She was interpreting at a banquet given for Chinese business women and for some reason, I was invited. They were intrigued that there were Muslims in Sri Lanka, and I heard the interpreter give them some explanation of our origin. I asked her what she said. She told me that she said, the Muslims had been here only for the past 500 years, which dates them to around 1500 or so. I was shocked at her ignorance. My friend seated next to me, told her, “The Arabs have been here for around 1000 years, if not more and after Islam from 7AD, those Arabs who became Muslims kept on coming.“ The interpreter looked surprised. She had never heard of that, she thought the Muslims had come with the Portuguese!

I have written many articles on almost the same theme. The constant beating of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious drum. I am getting tired of it. No-one in authority wants to listen. No-one seems to care.

So, perhaps this essay is just to say: The Nazis did it to the Jews, the Israeli government is doing it to the Palestinians, the Sinhalese governments did it to the Tamils, and now perhaps it is our turn. And if anyone reading this, thinks this is a call for violence in return, you cannot be more mistaken. It is time for Muslims or any minority, to teach the majority their own great philosophy of Buddhism. For didn’t the Buddha say: Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule..And that is what I think we should be doing. We should be radiating love.

  • Dev

    Until and unless there is a separation of state and religion then the problem will persist.

  • Fathima

    good write up.
    Agree we live in fear,
    but disagree with the part ‘extreme representation of Islam’.

    Praying at Mosque, Choosing Abaya, taking part in Qurban, growing beard, opting for halal food are not extreme practises.

    These are fundamentals of islam any practising muslim will adopt.
    And our constitution guarantee those practises as fundamental right.

    These practises cannot harm anyone except if Sri Lanka muslims thrust this into other community causing significant harm.

    If author can sight any such incidents, it will help us to correct.

    We are responsible to correct our attitude, If our gathering at mosques cause mayhem in any area , If our way of carrying out Qurban activities cause disturbance to other communities.

    FYI: past three years Qurban activities are well organised and carried out in a way not to cause disturbances to other communities.
    We are learning, we are trying.

    religion aside, My choice of dress, beard, food how can be extreme?

    We choose abaya like u choose tank top! That’s it.

    I believe these are not real reasons for all these issues.

    political agendas, trade jealousy play major role which author failed to mention.

    *excuse typo/grammar

    • MysticCobra

      Well, covering one’s face is rude and offensive when engaged in face to conversation and that applies to those wearing sunglasses, coolers etc..

      • georgethebushpig

        I think it would be wholly appropriate to wear my Vendetta mask when conversing with vipers like you! You should not presume to think that you actually have a say in other peoples choices. If you find it rude and offensive then don’t have conversations with people who wish to cover their faces. It’s not compulsory you know…..

    • My view

      Do ant other Muslim states in the world do give other faiths religious freedom?

      • David Blacker

        why do you want to follow the ways of Muslim states?

  • Moh Mars

    I agree with @Dev:disqus. State and religion must be separate. But that does not mean that a State ought not to recognise everyone’s right to practice his or her own religion. The Constitution ought to be neutral both in its language and spirit. Article 9 of the Sri Lankan Constitution that gives prominence to one religion or phylosphy is a bad way to have drafted a Constitution. Although such drafting certainly may not have legal significance in view of other provisions of the Constitution that guarantees every citizen of Sri Lanka his or her right to religion, Article 9 creates a sense of supiriority which is totally unnecessary. Article 9 is there no doubt for a reason – if anyone argues that it has no real “effect” that’s completely wrong – for if Article 9 was meant to be merely superficial then why have it in the first place.

    At any rate, there is a systemised scheme in place where minorities in Sri Lanka are becoming increasingly worried about the State’s state of affairs.

  • vinod sudharshan

    Well one things that baffles me is that “suffered the consequences of expulsion, exclusion and discrimination by the LTTE”, based on what are you saying this?

    • Dev

      Let’s not try and white wash the crimes of the LTTE please !

    • David Blacker

      it’s probably based on the expulsion, exclusion and discrimination by the LTTE of the Northeast Muslims.

  • georgethebushpig

    I sincerely hope your fears are unfounded but then again we should learn from history.

    I was however unsettled to read the following: “What have we done that makes the Sinhala people think we don’t want to belong?” What exactly are you trying to belong to/with? If you haven’t read Qadri Ismail’s article a few weeks ago on GV you definitely should. The acquiescent attitude of the Muslims over the years has done more to put them in jeopardy now than any beard or niqab ever did.

    Peace
    GTBP

  • my view

    I am fed up Muslims playing the victim card everywhere around the world. Problem is that Muslims find it difficult to live amongst other faiths. Try and name me a one Muslim country which gives others religious freedom? There isn’t a single one, however,where ever Muslims live they want their religious freedom.

  • justitia

    Ameena should have taken the form to her MP and asked for advice.

  • Rifat Halim

    Dear Groundviews Editor,
    I found this article distasteful. The author of this article (Ms. Ameena Hussein) is not Muslim. Under the Holy Koran, a Muslim woman cannnot marry a non-Muslim and remain within the faith. It is not permissible for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim from any other religion, whether from among the Jews or Christians, or any other religion.
    The evidence for that is the verse in which Allah says:

    “And give not (your daughters) in marriage to Al?Mushrikoon (non-believers) till they believe (in Allah Alone) and verily, a believing slave is better than a (free) Mushrik (idolater), even though he pleases you. Those (Al-Mushrikoon) invite you to the Fire, but Allah invites (you) to Paradise and forgiveness by His Leave, and makes His Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) clear to mankind that they may remember”

    Also, Ms. Hussein is confusing religion and ethnicity. The vast majority of Sri Lankan Muslims (known as Ceylon Moors) are Tamil-speaking Hindus whose ancestors converted to Islam. The genealogical connection with the Arabs is merely conjecture. The Tamil-speaking Muslims of Sri Lanka are the only Muslims in the whole of South Asia that are claiming Arab descent. The Tamil-speaking Muslims in India consider themselves Tamils.

    Please read my article in the Colombo Telegraph
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lankan-muslims-are-low-caste-tamil-hindu-converts-not-arab-descendants/

    Yours sincerely,

    Rifat Halim

    • Reason

      Ameena could be a Tamil Muslim (who does not know Tamil)
      married to a Sinhala Muslim (who does not speak English) . Does this make her a Muslim or not?
      Rifat, what a web you have weaved!

    • georgethebushpig

      What on earth are you going on about? Is this just click bait to get people to read your weak article?