To many non-Muslims, the existence of an Islamic community on the island of Sri Lanka may be surprising. Sri Lanka has been known for the past three decades as the scene of an atrocious civil war. Its Buddhist Sinhala majority, with 69.1 percent of the national population of 21.5 million, was challenged by Tamils – 7.1 percent, and mainly Hindu in religion, whom the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or “Tamil Tigers” aspired to represent. The “Tamil Tigers” were defeated militarily in 2009.
But Sri Lanka also counts 7.6 percent of its people as Muslims, and among them, as elsewhere throughout South Asia, the spiritual tradition of Sufism is vigorously present. After 1973, and the Arab oil embargo that enriched Saudi Arabia greatly, the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi sect, which is the official religious interpretation in the Saudi kingdom, began to penetrate Sri Lanka’s adherents to Islam. The Wahhabis in Sri Lanka act through a movement called Thawheed, or Monotheism. They opened numerous medresas. They despise Sufis.
According to M.C.A. Hameed, president of the All Ceylon Thareekathul Mufliheen, a Sufi order whose name means “path of the fearless victorious,” Sri Lankan Muslims then began to find employment in Saudi Arabia, and many young Sri Lankan Muslims were awarded scholarships by Saudi universities. But “those who completed their studies returned to Sri Lanka and… propagat[ed] the ideology” of Wahhabism, Hameed says. Further, “to pursue their goal the Wahhabis resorted to violence and intimidation culminating in death and destruction. Our religious society… was not spared and had to face untold hardship.”