In the context of Sri Lanka's inter-ethnic conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, the Tamil- speaking Muslims or Moors occupy a unique position. Unlike the historically insurrectionist M[a]ppilas of Kerala or the assimilationist Marakk[a]yars of coastal Tamilnadu, the Sri Lankan Muslim urban elite has fostered an Arab Islamic identity in the 20th century which has severed them from the Dravidian separatist campaign of the Hindu and Christian Tamils. This has placed the Muslim farmers in the Tamil-speaking north-eastern region in an awkward and dangeruus situation, because they would be geographically central to any future Tamil homeland. The first part of this essay traces the historical construction of contemporary Muslim ethnicity and surveys their position in contemporary Sri Lankan politics. The second half of the essay provides an ethnographic portrait of a local-level Muslim com munity closely juxtaposed with their Hindu Tamil neighbuurs in the agricultural town of Akkaraipattu in the eastern Batticaloa region of the island.
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