Why there should not be an ethnic-based Arabic University in Sri Lanka


by Shenali D Waduge

The Minister of Education announced recently that the Ministry would do away with ethnic-based schools given its own “principled” stand we would next like to know how using the same logic of not allowing “ethnic” based learning, the education authorities have signed an MOU to establish the Malik Abdulla University College in Kattankudy, in Eastern Province.

When the announcement was given by the Ministry of Education that they would remove “ethnic-based” schools the first thoughts of everyone was whether leading schools that have been in existence for years, Government or Semi-Government would agree to changing their names. Ministers have a way of drawing public attention by announcements that provide no logic just as absurd as some came out with the need to change the national anthem and the national flag and now it appears someone has landed a lucrative deal to change the national ID card to include Tamil as well.

Obviously, objections would have been made with former schools, children, parents or past-pupils NOT wanting to change the name of their alma-mater that the Ministry quickly reversed its stand and declared “No NEW schools would be ethnic-based”. What do authorities propose to do about the rising number of Muslim Only and Tamil Only international schools, day care centers springing up in every corner while there are no Sinhala Only universities? Does this fall within the oft quoted “multi” label?

So if the Ministry has decided to not allow no NEW ethnic-based schools what explanation can be given to allowing a MUSLIM ONLY university college?

The University College is to be funded by Saudi Arabia which is known for funding institutes that radicalize youth and draws them towards Saudi brand of Islam and Sharia law.

The newspaper announcements claim that the University was requested by Deputy Minister Hisbullah and is established as part of the Mahinda Chintanaya which clearly goes to show how authorities have a way of manipulating the system because no where in the Chintanaya does it say to create ETHNIC-based private colleges unless another Chintanaya is being practiced. But the college itself is earmarked to be inaugurated by the President himself. The announcements last line that it would “cater to the needs of all three communities” is obviously a whitewash.

The argument against the establishment of an ethnic-based university has nothing to do with being against learning but everything to do with the principle that if authorities are attempting to integrate the youth and not segregate them why are they establishing places of learning that is imparting a brand of education that distances them from other communities?

Students coming out of such universities end up mentally and physically alienating themselves out of choice (in view of their new Arabic attire and thinking) and disassociating themselves from those in their age group – this affects the team spirit, the ability to work as teams even when they join employment. Is this a healthy environment we wish to create?

Moreover, we cannot ignore the rise in Saudi-funded Islamic radicalism to be naïve that while this may exist elsewhere it is unlikely to create similar catastrophe’s here in Sri Lanka too.

Recently wikileaks released US Embassy in Colombo cable identifying 4 such groups based in Sri Lanka – Jamthi Islam, Thauhid Jamath, Thableeq Jamath, and Jamathi Muslim. The cable was written by Ambassador Lunstead on 9 June, 2004. The cable also details training camps, while other youth are sent to Saudi and says that a Saudi-based NGO World Assembly of Muslim Youth fund these activities. The Ambassador cites that the Muslim youth initially started training to defend themselves against the LTTE. The cable also mentions the Muslim Congress being supported by the Islamic Unity Foundation which has military, intelligence, religious and political wings as well as weapons. Other groups mentioned in the cable include Knox group, Ossama group, Jetty group, Mujahadeen, Banda group all with Muslim Congress backing. Links to the underworld is also mentioned. Ambassador Lunstead also notes “very little insight into the veiled world of Muslim militancy in eastern Sri Lanka and the information provided is just one part of a vast puzzle that makes up the cultural/political/religious melting pot of Sri Lanka.” This clearly shows that we need to be alert to all Saudi-funded seats of learning because the outcome of these in other parts of the world have resulted in fatal consequences and have torn entire nations apart. The question is – do we want to invite the same in Sri Lanka when we have just come out of a 30 year chaos?

The argument is further strengthened by the fact that ALREADY there are 5 types of institutes offering Arabic in Sri Lanka – the GOSL conducts 2 types of examinations, there are the Madrasas (religious based schools) which offer 8 years Sharia courses, then 4 Government universities which offer degree level courses and the Jamia Naleemia in Beruwela which is also a private university. There is a rising number of children as young as 7 attending these madrasas instead of schools which raises the question of Sri Lanka’s international commitment that ALL Children must attend schools – not religious based schools.

However, Arabic language courses selected by undergraduate students raises more questions than answers – normally in marketing the demand creates the supply – from what is happening is that the supply is been geared to create the demand.

University 2010/2011 2009/2010 2008/2009
1.    University of Peradeniya 15 14 13
2.    Eastern University of Sri Lanka 11 15 14
3.    University of Colombo 2 4 3
4.    South Eastern University of Sri Lanka 22 27 20

There are 749 Muslim schools in Sri Lanka, and 205 Madrasas registered under the Department of Muslim cultural affairs which provide Islamic education though unregistered madrasas number far more.

For the 1.8million Muslims of Sri Lanka the number of already existing religious and educational establishments suffices to say the least. Authorities now need to work out a moratorium so that the demography of the country is kept intact and the peace dividends that 27,000 soldiers sacrificed their lives for is not eliminated by the shortsighted decisions taken by officials and public servants.