Living as we do ‘in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-cultural society’, there is much that the various communities have in common while simultaneously possessing sharply differentiating attributes.
In our collective effort to forge a common Sri Lankan identity, it is therefore imperative that we use what we share in common as the base for such an identity, rather than focus on our differences.
The most common attribute that the Muslim community shares with the other communities in Sri Lanka is our nationality – we are all ‘Sri Lankans’. This fact should underpin and be at the very core of our identity – not our ethnicity, religious belief or customary habits.
Once we have established and strengthened our basic common identity as ‘Sri Lankans’, we can then attach the various ethno/religious attributes that differentiate us to our label. We will then have:
Buddhist Sri Lankan
Hindu Sri Lankan
Muslim Sri Lankan
Christian Sri Lankan
Sinhalese Sri Lankan
Tamil Sri Lankan
Moor Sri Lankan
Malay Sri Lankan
Burgher Sri Lankan
The (stronger) noun is an identifying term, while the (weaker) adjective is a descriptive and differentiating term. If we are really concerned about strengthening our National Identity, then it is imperative that in all our verbal and written communication we refer to ourselves as ‘Sri Lankans’ first. Our identity as ‘a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious tolerant society’ will be reinforced and strengthened around the common national attribute.
When we refer to ourselves as ‘Sri Lankan Muslims’, we are only calling attention to what differentiates us from the other communities and sustains the divisions in society. We are sending the message that we are ‘Muslims’ (noun) first and then ‘Sri Lankans’ (adjective).
If the Muslims find it difficult to give pride of place to their nationality by identifying themselves as ‘Muslim Sri Lankans’, but choose to give their nationality secondary importance by identifying themselves as ‘Sri Lankan Muslims’, can you then blame the majority community for perceiving Muslims as ‘second-class citizens’ when the Muslims themselves are doing so ?
The Muslims must shed the current label ‘Sri Lankan Muslim’ which only emphasises that such persons are ‘Muslims who are Sri Lankans’ and adopt the label ‘Muslim Sri Lankan’ which would mean they are ‘Sri Lankans who are Muslims’.