This dissertation investigates the use of religious terms and symbols in politics. More specifically, it investigates Muslim politics. Its aim is to analyze the role of religious terms and symbols within a non-fundamentalist political party, namely the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), a Muslim political party that has been part of the democratic process in Sri Lanka since the 1980s. I thereby hope to broaden the range of research concerning political parties founded on religious ideologies. The empirical focus of the dissertation is on the official documents of the SLMC, such as internal documents to members, online publications from their official website and social media. The empirical data also includes parliamentary speeches made by the late leader M.H.M. Ashraff during the years from 1989 to 1992 and parliamentary speeches made by the current leader Rauff Hakkem during the years from 2006 to 2011. I have also conducted interviews with 33 leading members of the party on three different occasions. In 2006, 2011 and 2013 I visited Sri Lanka and had Colombo as my base.
This thesis also contains an introduction to the history of Muslims in Sri Lanka and thereafter the structure of this thesis follows the different empirical data that I have collected. The first of my empirical chapters focuses on official documents written by the SLMC. The second presents and examines interviews with leading members of the SLMC. The third and fourth empirical chapters concern the parliamentary speeches of the two party leaders mentioned above, M.H.M. Ashraff (1989–1992) and Rauff Hakeem (2006–2011). The final chapter discusses the conclusions drawn from the empirical chapters in relation to the theoretical framework presented in Chapter 2.
In sum, “Pragmatic Muslim politics” can be seen as the complete opposite of a politics that is ideology driven and utopian. This fits well with what has been observed in the case of the SLMC. The main use of references to Islam as a religious tradition in the party has been to delimitate Muslims as a specific group in a political situation in post-colonial Sri Lanka. While there have been some initial attempts made, particularly during the 1990s, to put forward specific “Islamic” solutions to social problems, with direct references made to the scriptures particularly in the field of economics, few if any such attempts can be seen today.
Lund: Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University , 2016. , 209 p.