Skip to main content

Islam, Politics and Violence in Eastern Sri Lanka


This article bridges Sri Lankan studies and the academic debate on the relation between contemporary Islam and politics. It constitutes a case study of the Muslim community in Akkaraipattu on Sri Lanka's war-ridden east coast. Over two decades of ethnically colored conflict have made Muslim identity of paramount importance, but the meanings attached to that identity vary substantively. Politicians, mosque leaders, Sufis and Tablighis define the ethnic, religious and political dimensions of “Muslimness” differently and this leads to intra-Muslim contradictions. The case study thus helps resolve the puzzle of Sri Lankan Muslims: they are surrounded by hostility, but they continue to be internally divided. Akkaraipattu's Muslims jockey between principled politics, pragmatic politics and anti-politics, because they have to navigate different trajectories. This article thus corroborates recent studies on Islam elsewhere that argue for contextualized and nuanced approaches to the variegated interface between Islam and politics.

Hide All
Abeysekera Ananda. 2002. Colors of the Robe: Religion, Identity and Difference. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
Ahmad Mumtaz. 1991. “Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia: The Jamaat-i-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat of South Asia.” In Fundamentalisms Observed, ed. Marty Martin E. and Appleby R. Scott, 457530. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.
Ali Ameer. 2001. Plural Identities and Political Choices of the Muslim Community. Marga Monograph Series on Ethnic Reconciliation No 9. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Marga Institute Centre for Development Studies.
Ameerdeen Vellaithamby. 2006. Ethnic Politics of Muslims in Sri Lanka. Kandy, Sri Lanka: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
Asad Talal. 1986. The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam, Occasional Papers Series. Washington DC: Center for Arab Studies. [accessed 1 September 2009].
Bayat Asef. 2007. Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Brubaker Rogers. 2004. “Ethnicity without Groups.” In Facing Ethnic Conflicts: Towards a New Realism, ed. Wimmer Andreas et al. , 3451. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Census Department (2008) Statistical Abstract 2008. Chapter 2: Population. [accessed 10 March 2009].
De Munck Victor. 1998. “Sufi and Reformist Designs: Muslim Identity in Sri Lanka.” In Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka, ed. Bartholomeusz Tessa and De Silva Chandra, 110132. New York: State University of New York Press.
Dewaraja Lorna. 1994. Muslims of Sri Lanka: One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony 900 - 1915. Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Lanka Islamic Foundation.
Eickelman Dale F. and Piscatori James. 1996. Muslim Politics. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Goodhand Jonathan and Klem Bart, with Fonseka Dilrukshi, Keethaponcalan S.I., and Sardesai Shonali. 2005. Aid, Conflict, and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka: 2000–2005. Washington DC: the Asia Foundation.
Goodhand Jonathan, Klem Bart and Korf Benedikt. 2009. “Religion, Conflict and Boundary Politics in Sri Lanka.” European Journal of Development Research 21 (5): 679698.
Gombrich Richard and Obeyesekere Gananath. 1988. Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Haniffa Farzana. 2008. “Piety as Politics amongst Muslim Women in Contemporary Sri Lanka.” Modern Asian Studies 42(3): 129.
Hasan Mushirul, ed. 2007. Living with Secularism: The Destiny of India's Muslims. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers and Distributors.
Hasbullah Shahul and Korf Benedikt. 2009. “Muslim Geographies and the Politics of Purification in Sri Lanka ‘after’ the Tsunami.” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 30 (2): 248264.
Hefner Robert W. 2000. Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.
ICG, International Crisis Group. 2007. Sri Lanka's Muslims: Caught in the Crossfire, Asia Report 134. [accessed 10 February 2009].
ICG, International Crisis Group. 2008. Sri Lanka's Eastern Province: Land, Development, Conflict, Asia Report 159. [accessed 10 February 2009].
Ismail Qadri. 1995. “Unmooring Identity: The Antinomies of Elite Muslim Self-Representation in Modern Sri Lanka.” In Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka, ed. Jeganathan Pradeep and Ismail Qadri, 55105. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Social Scientists’ Association.
Ismail Muhamed, Abdullah Rameez and Fazil Mansoor. 2005. “The Other Side of the Muslim Nation.” In Dealing with Diversity: Sri Lankan Discourses on Peace and Conflict, ed. Frerks Georg and Klem Bart, 191200. The Hague: Clingendael, Netherlands Institute of International Relations.
Knoerzer Shari. 1998. “Transformation of Muslim Political Identity.” In Culture and Politics of Identity in Sri Lanka, ed. Tiruchelvam Mithran and Dattathreya C.S. , 136167. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Centre For Ethnic Studies.
Lewer Nick and Ismail Muhammed. 2011. “A Voice in the Political Process? Creating Political Space for a Muslim Contribution to Peace in Sri Lanka.” In Aid, Conflict and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka, ed. Goodhand Jonathan, Korf Benedikt and Spencer Jonathan, 119131. London: Routledge.
McGilvray Dennis, ed. 1982. Caste Ideology and Interaction. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
McGilvray Dennis. 2008. Crucible of Conflict: Tamil and Muslim Society on the East Coast of Sri Lanka. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
McGilvray Dennis and Raheem Mirak. 2007. “Muslim Perspectives on the Sri Lankan Conflict”, Policy Studies 41. Washington DC: East-West Center Society of Environmental Economics and Policy Studies.
Metcalf Barbara D. 1982. Islamic Revival in British India, 1860–1900. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Mohan Vasundhara. 1987. Identity Crisis of Sri Lankan Muslims. Delhi: Mittal Publications.
Mohideen M.I.M. 2006. North-East Muslim Question and Peace Process in Sri Lanka. Maharagama, Sri Lanka: Impulse Printers & Publishers.
Moore Mick. 1985. The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mouffe Chantal. 2005. On the Political. London: Routledge.
Nuhman M. 2002. Understanding Sri Lankan Muslim Identity, International Centre For Ethnic Studies, Ethnicity Course Series. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Centre For Ethnic Studies.
O’Sullivan Meghan. 1999. “Identity and Institutions in Ethnic Conflict: The Muslims of Sri Lanka.” PhD diss., Oxford University. (O'Sullivan 1999)
Robinson Francis. 2007. “Islamic Reform and Modernities in South Asia.” Modern Asian Studies 42 (2–3): 259281.
Ruwanpura Kanchana. 2006. Matrilineal Communities, Patriarchal Realities: A Feminist Nirvana Uncovered. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Salman M.H.M. 2008. Peace Process and Muslim Consensus Concerns, Interests and Recommendations. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Peace Secretariat for Muslims.
Sidel John T. 2007. Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.
Sikand Yoginder. 2007. “The Reformist Sufism of the Tablighi Jamaat.” In Living with Secularism: the Destiny of India's Muslims, ed. Hasan Mushirul, 129148. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers and Distributors.
Smith Anthony. 1993. “The Ethnic Sources of Nationalism.” In Ethnic Conflict and International Security, ed. Brown Michael E., 2741. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Soares Benjamin and Osella Filippo. 2009. “Islam, Politics, Anthropology.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 15 (1) special supplement: S1–S23.
Spencer Jonathan. 2007. Anthropology, Politics and the State: Democracy and Violence in South Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tepe Sultan. 2008. Beyond Sacred and Secular: Politics of Religion in Israel and Turkey. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Uyangoda Jayadeva. 2007. “Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Changing Dynamics,” Policy Studies 32. Washington DC: East-West Center.
Wagner Christian. 1990. Die Muslime Sri Lankas: Eine Volksgruppe im Spannungsfeld des etnischen Konflikts zwischen Singalesen und Tamilen. Freiburg (Breisgau): Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut.
Zackariya Faizoun and Shanmugaratnam Nadarajah. 1997. “Communalism of Muslims in Sri Lanka: An Historical Perspective.” In Alternative Perspectives: A Collection of Essays on Contemporary Muslim Society, ed. Muslim Women's Research and Action Forum, 746. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Muslim Women's Research and Action Forum.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 89 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 261 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 16th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.