BY R. K. RADHAKRISHNAN – The Hindu –
Salat al juma (Friday prayers) in Sri Lanka will attract attention from afar and near: today’s prayers and the sermons that follow, will determine which direction the country’s Muslim minority will take to salvage its rights. It was last Friday that a mob, comprising of Buddhist radicals, wanted a mosque demolished, because it was built in a place considered sacred by Buddhists.
Trouble is brewing in the Muslim majority areas of Sri Lanka, following the attempts to desecrate a mosque built in an area sacred to Buddhists in Dambulla, a town about 150 km north east of Colombo, and the shockingly insensitive approach of the Sri Lankan government to the issue.
Last Friday, some people in the attire of Buddhist monks, and a mob tried to force its way into a mosque that Muslim leaders say, has been in existence for over half a century. They said that it was built on sacred ground and had to be demolished. There could be no compromise on this, a section of Monks, belonging to the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a political party led by Buddhist monks, announced to the press later.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa busy with the Indian MPs delegation, and preparing for a four-day tour of South Korea, left the issue to be handled by Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratne. Following pressure from Buddhist clergy, the Prime Minister ordered the relocation of the mosque. This move was widely criticised by Muslim leaders across the country, and leaders of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, an ally of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance, had threatened to review support.
Muslims across the country observed a ‘black day’ on Thursday. In some parts of the country mass prayers were held while in the Muslim-majority parts of the Eastern Province, there was a partial closure of shops and business establishments. The moderate among the Muslims in the Eastern province came under fire, one official source in the Eastern province, familiar with the developments on Thursday, said.
The All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama had called for a fast on Thursday, and said that Muslims were “deeply worried over the recent incident took place in Dambulla in which a gang stormed the Jumma Mosque of Dambulla and damaged the place on 20 April, Friday. Muslims along with peace loving citizens of Sri Lanka are fretful if this incident would negatively impact the reconciliation that has started to sprout among communities since recently.”
“We should not forget the fact that majority of the Buddhist people are peace loving, rational and fair minded people and that they do not approve such acts and therefore we should be attentive of not hurting their feelings by taking offensive course of actions such as slamming other faiths which is not fitting for true believers,” said Sheikh M. M. A. Mubarak, general secretary, All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama.
But Non Governmental Organisations, and social activists, who think that executive intervention, and not divine intervention was the need of the hour, decried the “increasing religious intolerance” and appealed to the President, and officials to take steps to arrest the trend. “We strongly urge the state to take measures to curb the growing trend of intolerance and to do its utmost to make minorities feel in every way people of this country. In the post war context this is of the utmost importance for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. We also appeal to religious and community leaders to initiate dialogue at all possible levels so that minority communities feel secure. We pledge our support for a pluralist Sri Lankan society,” said the appeal, signed by 219 individuals and institutions, cutting across identities.