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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.

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Asef Bayat . 2007. Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Jonathan Goodhand , Bart Klem and Benedikt Korf . 2009. “Religion, Conflict and Boundary Politics in Sri Lanka.” European Journal of Development Research 21 (5): 679698.

Shahul Hasbullah and Benedikt Korf . 2009. “Muslim Geographies and the Politics of Purification in Sri Lanka ‘after’ the Tsunami.” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 30 (2): 248264.

Dennis McGilvray . 2008. Crucible of Conflict: Tamil and Muslim Society on the East Coast of Sri Lanka. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Benjamin Soares and Filippo Osella . 2009. “Islam, Politics, Anthropology.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 15 (1) special supplement: S1–S23.

Sultan Tepe . 2008. Beyond Sacred and Secular: Politics of Religion in Israel and Turkey. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
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