Muslims in Sri Lanka number about 2 million, 10%, concentrated mostly in the east of this exotic island. There was a time when Muslims dominated business and commerce, especially in Jaffna, but war by LTTE saw atrocities against them. Scores of Muslims were gathered in mosques and grenades thrown at them; those that survived had their throats slit. So they scattered, impoverished, leaving behind everything they owned. Almost every Muslim I met expressed happiness and satisfaction with the defeat of LTTE.
The Shias of Sri Lanka number no more than about 2,000, concentrated mostly in the east of the country around Walachil and Calcuda in Batticaloa District; there are also some in Kandy and in Noorelia as well. None of these were born into Shiaism, but have reverted after reasoning and research, especially after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Though mainstream Shaafi Muslim populace of Sri Lanka is ripe for accepting madhab of Ahlebeit (A), progress has been tentative at best due to a host of reasons, mainly lack of support from Shia countries and institutes that matter in these field.
My contact point in Sri Lanka is Az Zahra Foundation headed by Sister Zaveeni and her husband Haaris Jamil, both committed to the service of humanity and very strong in their love for Ahlebeit (A). I am in Sri Lanka to oversee relief aid to flood victims of devastating floods in eastern part of the country. This will be done through Az Zahra Foundation, for they have humanitarian aid experience and credibility of several years.
Day one takes me to outskirts of Colombo, to Duwatta where many marginalized Muslims live in shacks that flood every time it rains, not unlike Govendhi and Malaad slums of Mumbai. Residents of this area are either new reverts to Shia Islam or almost there, thanks to the efforts of Az Zahra Foundation. Slowly, surely, they are guided along to the right path and gather at the Jalil residence for Dua e Tawwasul and Komail.
We are off to Walachil early next morning to survey flood damage, a distance of about 200 miles. For a ‘poor’ country, Sri Lankan roads are remarkably good and well maintained, at least compared to other ‘poor’ Southeast Asian countries. Remarkable also, is absence of filth and evil smells I have come across major urban cities of India. Even in the slums of stark poor Duwatta, there is semblance of order and cleanliness, unpolluted by the ghastly, revolting gutter smells of Govendhi or Malaad of Mumbai perhaps. An argument can be made regarding the imbalance (and management) of populations between the two; Mumbai’s 14 million is almost two thirds the whole of Sri Lanka’s 21 million, true; but comparing the economies and GDP of the city and country blows this argument away.
The scenery along the way is fantastic; that of rolling meadows and thick forests dotted with small towns and villages offering an array of fruits. It is good this is not summertime, so tropical fruits like mangoes, jack fruits etc are absent, else I would have been delirious in fruit frenzy that my hosts would probably have found peculiar. Nevertheless, yummy pineapples abound and some soursop (ramfur?); this fruit was no more than 10 cents for a healthy piece not too long ago. Prices have shot up 30 times since its cancer fighting benefits have come to light.
We get lost as we near Walachil some 6 hours later and it takes some frantic calls to get us guided to a guest house at a dairy farm. This area was out of bounds and very dangerous not too long ago under the LTTE. We are in an area rich with cattle farming and management; one company has a charming bungalow that it rents out to visitors. Modern and clean with power, even air conditioners, in the middle of nowhere, this is a pleasant surprise. We lunch on delicious fish curry that is a delight. This is a blessing throughout my stay in Sri Lanka, excellent seafood that is spiced just right. I am to be treated on fish head curry and massive prawns later on at the Jamil residence, a culinary experience that I am hard pressed to equate in the past, ever.
We then survey the damaged homes, a mission most depressing and unpleasant. As with other world areas where CAI has helped the unfortunate, I get a lot of requests from poor people appealing for home building aid. Yes, some homes are in pitiful conditions, but my mandate and budget are constrained for flood victims only; unfortunately, I have to disappoint. 12 homes within CAI budget are identified for repair / rebuilding. However, there is chorus appeal for replacement of school supplies lost in the flood from needy students. These are about 500 students that have lost school books and supplies, are finding it very difficult to continue studies without them. CAI will work towards replacing these for the most poor; soon insha’Allah.
At night, after meeting local leaders in a makeshift mosque (the community lack a mosque, Husseinya or community center) and seafood dinner, we retire as we have further home inspections and a long journey back to Colombo next day. In the morning, we visit a hauza, Man Bul Huda, a massive boarding school donated by foreign donors; Jaaferi school of thought is taught here, smack in the middle of a large Wahabi community. After another seafood lunch, we return to Colombo later in the day, stopping for a light non seafood dinner. I am happy to observe most restaurants in Colombo are Muslim owned with prayer rooms for both sexes in almost all of them.
My last day in Colombo is spent visiting a boy’s orphanage that was formed and donated by an Iraqi almost 50 years ago. I spent a delightful few hours at dinner with the Jalil family that night; Sister Zaveena, Brother Haaris, their daughter Amina and granddaughter Aariana, their son Ashique and his fiancée Zainab. My trip to Sri Lanka would not have been so comfortable and memorial without the kindness and generosity of this family for which I will ever be thankful. CAI will, in the future insha’Allah, partner with Az Zahra Foundation in service of humanity for Allah’s (S) pleasure.
I return to India next day without incident, no flight delays, crows crapping good luck on me or rickshaw drivers offering worldly pleasures.
View photos here.