Sufism reigned. It was at its best in Kaththankudi. Aesthetics were part of the culture and there was a general air of lightness, positivism and cheerfulness. Women were bustling around the city in beautiful pastel coloured dresses. Lemon green, pink and light blue were the popular colours. The elderly women were dressed in simple silk sarees with white background. Nobody wore headdresses. Women worked alongside with their husbands and brothers in shops. In the afternoon the youth would gather in the compound of the mosques and discuss business, music, education and news around the country.
The businesses were doing well. There were prospects of greater prosperity. Most young men wanted to continue their family businesses. A few adventurous ones headed for the Middle East. The money they sent helped expand the business of their families. Everything was going smoothly. The sky was the limit to the happiness to the trading community in the happy go lucky Kaththankudi.
The peace loving Muslims in Kaththankudi were also strong believers in democracy. It was in this township that the first seeds of Sri Lanka’s main Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) were sown on September 11, 1981. A.L. Ahamed was appointed to party chair while M. H. M. Ashraff was elected its founder President. Though SLMC did not take part in election until 1988 the dialogue on country’s political issues continued. As analysts had pointed out the birth of the SLMC, which absorbed radical elements in the community to main stream politics, averted a possible rebellion by Muslim youth later, even in the face of gross crimes against the community by the LTTE.
Two years after the birth of the SLMC a full scale war broke out between the government security forces and the LTTE.The war was fought at the door step of Kaththankudi between the government forces and the LTTE. However Kaththankudi was not affected in a big way.
There were incidents of violence in 1985 in the Ampara district which prompted even SLMC leader Ashraff to flee his Kalmunai base. However Kaththankudi remained more or less unaffected. The 1989 general election saw M.L.A.M. Hizbullah from Kaththankudi entering parliament on the SLMC ticket. This kind of politics of compromise played by Hizbullah in the later years, largely contributed to both the prosperity and also the disintegration of Kaththankudi.
The political empowerment of Muslims was understandably not to the liking of the LTTE. Besides by then the LTTE started viewing Muslims with an enemy perception as there were reports that the community was playing the role of informants to government forces.
With the turn of 1990 the war dynamics changed and the massacre of 147 residents in four Kaththankudi mosques on August 3rd became a turning point of Sri Lanka’s conflict. The Kaththankudi Muslims were awoken to the reality from the utopia that they were living in. They could not afford to be a smug and self- sufficient community anymore. There was a strong, palpable fear and uncertainty for the first time.
The day before the LTTE massacre in Kaththankudi, some 5,000 kilometres away the United States launched Operation Desert Shield,which was later known as the first phase of the Gulf War. The war saw the return of thousands of the Middle East employees to the war battered Kaththankudi with their frustrations over ‘the US harassment of Middle Eastern Muslims’. An ideology which was based on protectionism and seclusion as opposed to the prevalent open culture of Sufism was propagated with the sole intention of forming a bulwark against the LTTE. Clerics were brought in from overseas to promote the theory. This was widely supported and patronized by the likes of Hizbullah for political survival. There were clashes between Hizbullah and SLMC leader Ashraff and by the time Ashraff was killed in the helicopter crash in September 2000 he had suspended the party membership of the Kaththankudi strongman.
While the Kaththankudi youth were keen on arming themselves against the LTTE a range of reasons prevented that. Being an essentially urban population and that too sandwiched between Tamil villagers there was no opportunity for the Kaththankudi youth to receive weapon training without the LTTE getting to know about it. There was a talk of a Muslim regiment to the Sri Lanka Army however that never saw the light of the day.
Gradually Kaththankudi became a mini Saudi Arabia, prosperous both in trade and Wahhabism. Beneath there were embers of a rebellion waiting to happen. However for two decades nothing happened. Mahinda Rajapaksa prevented a Muslim rebellion by annihilating the LTTE in May 2009. With its prime enemy thus destroyed the indoctrinated and radicalized Muslims were at a loss for some time. However politicians continued to fan the flames of radicalism for political expediency. Still on the surface nothing happened for one whole decade between 2009 -2019. Everything was happening underground. This fertile ground of political radicalism tempted those who were out to create mayhem, to exploit it for their ghastly schemes.
The rest was history.