Arabic and Koran lessons after school in Sri Lanka

This was a comment I made on a post in an online news paper.  Probably caters to less than 5% of Sri Lanka.

In the village I live (North West Province of SL), the young Muslim male children spend two hours after school at the Mosque learning Arabic and the Koran. Apparently funded by the Mid East.
No Science, Math or English. They can barely speak Sinhalese.

I dread to think what opportunities these children will have when they are adults.

A century or more ago, the English/American Christian Missionary Schools were similar. Missionary Schools pushed Christianity, while at the same time an education in Science and Math. Literature and History was limited to Europe, as an agenda.

There is one large difference between the students of the Christian Missionary Schools and the village students attending Islamic studies. That is class and economic status.

The Missionary School graduates were assured of senior administrative positions in govt or able to enter into professions such as Lawyers, Engineers, Doctors and Surveyors.

What is going to happen to the children in this Village. No science and math skills, not fluent in English or Sinhalese. What is their future?

To be done: Translate into Tamil and hand out in Village.

A Plea To Our Muslim Brethren; Please Look In The Mirror

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I am 3/4ths Sri Lankan (Jaffna) Tamil, 1/8th Sinhalese and 1/8th Irish; a proper mutt. Maternal: Grandfather a Govt Surveyor married my grandmother of Sinhalese/Irish descent from the deep south, in the early 1900’s. They lived in the deep South, are generally considered Sinhalese and look Eurasian (common among upper class Sinhalese). They were Anglicans (Church of England), became Evangelical Christians (AOG) in 1940's, and built the first Evangelical church in the South. Paternal: Sri Lanka (Jaffna Tamil). Paternal ancestors converted to Catholicism during Portuguese rule (1500's), went back to being Hindu and then became Methodists (and Anglicans) around 1850 (ggfather). They were Administrators and translators to the British, poets and writers in Tamil and English. Grandfathers sister was the first female Tamil novelist of modern times I was brought up as an Evangelical even attending Bible study till about the age of 13. Agnostic and later atheist. I studied in Sinhala, did a Bachelor in Chemistry and Physics in Sri Lanka. Then did Oceanography graduate stuff and research in the US. I am about 60 years old, no kids, widower. Sri Lankan citizen (no dual) and been back in SL since 2012. Live in small village near a National Park, run a very small budget guest house and try to do some agriculture that can survive the Elephants, monkeys and wild boar incursions. I am not really anonymous, a little digging and you can find my identity.

14 thoughts on “Arabic and Koran lessons after school in Sri Lanka”

  1. sbarrkum, you are too nice a person to say this directly, so I will say it for you:
    1) Christian Missionary Schools in SAARC didn’t push Christianity nearly as hard as muslim missionary schools funded by the gulf do now [not discussing Sufi missionary schools].
    2) Even the most extreme missionary evangelical Christian schools which I would have a problem with didn’t promote as extreme a vision of Christianity as the extreme version of Sunni Islam promoted by Gulf funded schools.
    3) Even the worst Christian Missionary School taught science, math, clear communication, philosophy that was useful in business and in life long careers.
    4) If at least they were being taught historical progressive South Asian liberal Islam (such as Sufism, somewhat liberal forms of Shia-ism, moderate forms of Sunnism that are not Sufi, Ahmedism) it wouldn’t be that bad. Rather they are taught extreme versions of Salafism that were rare and alien in South Asia before 1920. These forms of Islam are an aggressive import from the Gulf.


    sbarrkum, what can be done about this? I believe in freedom of religion, art and thought; and don’t think teaching kids Wahhabism or Salafism [including of the Ikhwan variety] should be banned. How to square both these contradictory impulses?

  2. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Muslim children (both male and female) being taught about their religion and how to read (or recite) the Quran-e-Pak. As long as they are going to regular school as well, which presumably these children are, since you referred to them going to the mosque “after school”. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that all school-age children are receiving a decent education which equips them to function in life. It is possible the Sri Lankan State is failing in this responsibility towards these children. The Pakistani State has certainly failed in this responsibility (I think the second-largest number of out of school children of school-going age is in Pakistan).

    The State should also regulate the content of madrassah education. However, this is easier said than done. But the State has a responsibility to make sure that preachers and teachers are not indulging in hate speech under the guise of religious education.

    Otherwise, Quranic Study is no different from Bible Study, Hebrew School, or anything else. In fact, one cause of extremism is people who actually know nothing about Islam deciding that ISIL represents the “true” version of the faith.

  3. The article linked in this post does have a tinge of blaming the victim ( I read the whole piece).

    Why should identity markers such as the burqa or the beard threaten non-Muslim Sri Lankans? Politicized Muslim identity is not an excuse for violence against them by the majority.

    To be clear, I don’t like the burqa. Pakistani women normally use a dupatta to cover their heads and chests. Some women of the elite class don’t even wear a dupatta. Yet Pakistan remains a Muslim country.

    People should have the freedom to dress as they please and it should go both ways.

  4. Sri Lanka paroxysm of anti Muslim violence by the Sinhala majority is New for that country, where the Sinhala usually kill Tamils.

    Facebook had a big role – see the interesting article linked in my next comment.

    This post is part of the hate machine

    1. Ikram, why do so many treat human beings as children? Don’t we need more freedom and trust people to use that freedom wisely? In general the vast majority of content facebook takes down should not be taken down. Shiites, Ahmedis, Sufis, Kurds, liberal muslim, atheist muslim content gets taken down by facebook left and right . . . presumably because it is “Islamophobic” or “hate speech”–whatever these phrases mean. Similarly Sanathana Dharma content gets taken down left and right. Many of the most popular mainstream content gets taken down, especially anything related to neuroscience, meditation, brain therapy, genetics and intelligence. Now there is an attempt to restrict content related to Sam Harris–which is completely bonkers. We live in extremely anti science times.

      Facebook needs to get out of the business of banning content. The best way to deal with bad speech is more better speech. With intuition. With heart.

    2. Ikram

      During the Arab spring Facebook was the coolest thing.

      The whole recent Muslim/Sinhalese riots started with groups with a political agenda using a road rage incident for their political gain.

      Four drunk (yes drunk, most Muslims in SL drink) muslims attacked a Sinhalese truck driver over a broken side mirror. The Sinhalese truck driver was hospitalized and died a few days later. The four drunk Muslim perpetrators were not taken into Police custody until well after the death of the Sinhalese truck driver and the agitators had started their work. One Muslim died because he had been trapped in a building that had been set on fire.

      There were reports that the Police/Army stood by and watched the rioters. Probably true. The Police have become averse to taking action, as the govt has been indecisive. The Police now wait for written orders, which no one seems to want to write, i.e.take responsibility.

  5. Kabir,
    An hour or two for day or two of a week of religious teaching is fine.

    Science, Math and Commerce teachers (govt) dont stay long in this village.
    They prefer and wrangle a transfer to another town/village.

    In Sri Lanka teachers supplement their income by after school tutoring.
    The National exams (O/L=year 11 and A/L=year 13) are extremely competitive.
    The big prize is gaining entry into a free Uni (including Medical and Engineering).
    (I was one too, and realize NOW what the big break that was).

    Anyway back to the teachers in the village.
    Most villagers cant afford extra tutoring, so the teachers move.
    Heck, there no newspapers available in the village, let alone a community library.

    So why not some of the resources spent on religious instruction or building bigger churches/mosques be spent on at least a community library with a subscription to newspapers and weekly children oriented science/math magazines (plenty in Sinhala/Tamil and cheap less than LKR 100/USD 1).

    Recently a Catholic priest came around asking for donation (maybe LKR 1,000/USD 10 or so) to do something or other for the small church. I said when you are building a library let me know.

    Everyone should be free to be “undressed” or “over dressed”. Obviously being naked is not permissible. The same with the Niqab or covering of the face. Sri Lankan and in many societies, recognition and trust are based on facial recognition. So no Niqab just as much as full face helmets are banned in Sri Lanka (armed robbery).

    1. The fault lies with Sri Lanka’s education system then, not with Islam. This is the same reason why people send their kids to Madrassas in Pakistan. At least they get food once a day and learn the Quran.

      But these children presumably go to school? What do they learn in school?

      Libraries and masjids are not mutually exclusive.

      Who are you to ban the niqab? I’m not a niqab fan but if a Muslim woman believes that her Allah needs her to shield her entire body and face from men she is not related to, that is between her and her Allah.

      1. Kabir, nothing that sbarrkum has written can be interpreted as anything other than pro muslim. Yes, the fault is not with Islam and mostly not with Sri Lankan muslims. To the degree there is a fault it is mostly with Gulf Salafis.

        Sri Lankans are trying to improve their education system and it is a long, slow, challenging process.

        My interpretation of the holy Koran is that a woman needs to cover her chest and be modest. There is no requirement to cover her hair or head. Many muslim scholars have had this interpretation since 632 AD. Of course the Hadiths are another matter–but note that many muslims around the world de-emphasize the Hadiths or reject them outright. For this reason I consider the Niqab to be an Arab “cultural” import rather than religious dress and the Niqab should be so treated.

        Every country has the right to insist that females dress in ways that maximize public safety–which in many cases includes leaving their faces uncovered. The Iraqis and Turks have at times done this (to reduce the number of suicide bombers) and they are good muslims. If they can do this, so can Sri Lanka.

        I agree with you that woman should generally be free to dress as they choose as long as public safety is protected. The only partial exception would be rules of public decency should the citizenry so desire (which equally ban naked men and woman).


        Kabir, you are a liberal muslim and this comment is not aimed at you. Any male who can’t handle a “naked” female face of a woman who is modestly dressed (assume for a moment covering her hair and head) has serious challenges. They need to be checked into a medical mental health facility and be treated–including through medication, brain therapy (electric shock therapy) and counseling. We need to have compassion for their mental disorder.

        1. The Sri Lankan State can ban the niqab if it chooses (I think banning anyone’s religious practice is deeply illiberal). The French State has banned the burqa.

          States can pass laws. The opinions of individual citizens of those states are just that–opinions.

          There are different Islamic interpretations of what “modest dress” means. I’m not an Islamic scholar, so let’s leave that to the experts. My limited point is that if a woman chooses to cover everything except her eyes from men who are not her husband, father, brother, etc, that is her right. Of course, she can’t expect to get a driving license like that. Some choices have consequences after all.

  6. Needed to add

    Not a single person from this and satellite villages have attended Uni or post high school professional/technical/trade (e.g. City and Guilds) qualifications.

    There has been one Tamil (extremely poor) who entered Uni last year, doing Geography (which includes GIS).

    AnAn, I have no solution to this spending only on Religious education.

  7. Kabir,
    Who are you to ban the niqab? I’m not a niqab fan but if a Muslim woman believes that her Allah needs her to shield her entire body and face from men she is not related to, that is between her and her Allah.

    What would be your stand be regarding women wanting to walk topless in Pakistan. Say for example “Dalit” woman who realizes their heritage is being topless.

    1. My individual opinion is irrelevant. It would be for the State of Pakistan to define what is decent dress in society. State laws and local social norms and threat of censure normally do this. For example, in Pakistan all women (unless of the super-elite Westernized class) wear a dupatta with their shalwar kameez, keeping their chest area covered at all times. The more conservative women of all religions cover their heads when in the public sphere and in the presence of men they are not related to. Some things are only meant to be seen by your spouse and your family members. That is our culture.

      The Sri Lankan State can ban the niqab. But unless such a law is on the books, one’s individual opinion is just one’s individual opinion. Interfering with the way a person chooses to practice their faith and express their understanding of their holy texts is deeply illiberal. We don’t have to like someone’s choices, but we have to respect their right to make them. The US is a secular country and yet Muslim women wear hijab. It is not against the law to wear a burqa either. The French have a different understanding of secularism and did make the burqa illegal. There was a lot of debate over whether this was a good or bad thing. Should the State have the right to restrict individual fashion choices? It’s an interesting philosophical question.

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