25 September, 2020

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Sri Lanka’s Muslims Under Siege?

By Joseph Hammond –

The end of the civil war brought hopes that the country could become united. But attacks by radical Buddhists suggest Sri Lanka faces a new challenge to internal harmony.

Colombo’s suburb of Dehiwala is probably best known for housing the Colombo Zoo. But late last month, it became the site of a wild protest at a small mosque, a protest that has many Muslim leaders in Sri Lanka worried.

Sri Lankan Muslims protest after Friday prayers outside a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, April 27, 2012

On the morning of May 30, police officials reportedly informed the leader of the Dehiwala branch of the Association of Muslim Youth of Seylan that an illegal demonstration was likely to take place at the group’s mosque. Sheikh Ramsy was instructed to cancel madrassa lessons.

True to the warning, by midday, some 200 demonstrators led by several dozen Buddhist monks allegedly converged on the small Islamic center and began throwing stones and rotten meat over the gate at the mosque. Fortunately, most projectiles landed harmlessly in front of the mosque. Protestors shouted slogans demanding the closure of the mosque, claiming it was performing daily animal sacrifices, a charge the mosque denies.

“This charge is really unbelievable and shows how little they know about the religion of Islam. We only conduct sacrifices associated with the Eid ul-Adha and often the meat is distributed to poor families,” Sheikh Rasmy explains.

The incident is the latest in a string of serious incidents involving extremist Buddhist provocations against Muslims in Sri Lanka. In April, for example, a number of Buddhist monks disrupted Muslim prayer services in the village of Dambulla. The attackers claimed that the mosque, built in 1962, was illegal. Weeks later, monks are said to have drafted a threatening letter aimed at Muslims in the nearby town of Kurunegala, demanding Islamic prayer services there be halted.

Reza, a clerk at the Darul Iman Islamic Book House in Colombo, says he is confused by the outbreak of intolerance. “We in the Muslim community aren’t used to anything like this. But the last few months have seen new tensions across the country. We aren’t sure why this is happening now. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus we have all lived together for a long-time.”

During, the 30-year civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam and the central government, the island’s Muslims, though Tamil-speaking, sided with the government against the LTTE. This was in part a result of thousands of Muslims being ejected from Jaffna in the early 1990s. During the conflict, the Sinhalese Buddhist majority courted the island’s Muslims, and many Muslims rose to prominent bureaucratic positions, while a handful even served in the Sri Lankan armed forces.

A Muslim bureaucrat in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believes that the status of Muslims has changed since the end of the war in 2009. “The government view of Muslims has changed since they defeated the ‘Tigers’. We are no longer seen as a loyal asset,” the official says. “Now we’re seen as a liability. I know Muslims who have inexplicably lost positions in the customs office and regional agencies in the past year.”

Muslims interviewed for The Diplomat said that discrimination in the provision of government services was second only to inflation as a challenge for the island’s Muslim community.

The vast majority of the island’s Muslims are the descendants of Persian and Arab traders who settled on the island. Official estimates put the Muslim population of the country at around 7 percent, although Muslims believe their share of the population is much higher, perhaps as much as 17 percent of the total population. In Sri Lanka, such numbers are important because funding from the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs is spent proportionally on each religion.

The Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs agreed to speak off the record about religious issues on the island, and dismissed the incident at Dambulla as “unimportant,” maintaining the mosque in question was an illegal structure.

“Any religious structure must be approved by the ministry, the local government and the appropriate divisional secretary,” an official says. “Anyone who hasn’t followed these procedures is building an illegal structure and it becomes a police matter.”

According to the ministry official, the three-step approval process for new religious structures was implemented in 2010. Speaking in their office, the official noted that religious freedom was ingrained in the Sri Lankan Constitution. “We are a democracy. That is what separates us from Saudi Arabia or the Maldives. People are free to practice their beliefs in Sri Lanka as long as they respect the laws.”

But the same official also sidestepped the question of the source for Sri Lanka’s rising religious tensions, pointing only to “interested parties” being behind individual incidents. Officials at the ministry also stated the policy of the ministry was to address complaints of discrimination from all sides. Such an ambivalent attitude toward sectarian issues is reflected at higher levels of government as well. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had, at the time of writing, yet to issue a statement about Dambulla or Dehiwala, despite the fact that Sri Lankan diplomatic delegations often tout the island’s Muslim heritage to attract foreign investment.

As a result, Sri Lanka’s Muslims have largely taken a self-reliant approach to resolving the challenge. On the night of June 11, assailants again threw stones at the Dehiwala mosque. Following this latest incident, the mosque and others in the area moved to improve security.  Using money raised from within the local community, Sheikh Ramsy has decided to install protective metal screens to protect the mosque from future attacks.

However, the island’s Muslim leaders are aware that building barriers isn’t a long term solution. As a result, Sri Lanka’s All Ceylon Muslim Congress, the most popular political party for the island’s Muslims, has tried to build bridges within affected communities to avoid future violence. Risad Badhiutheen, one of the party’s leaders, has visited Buddhist temples and met with monks in the Dehiwala area in order to ease tensions.

Muhammad Omar, a trishaw driver attending prayer services at the mosque, notes that “Everywhere, people have problems. These [religious tensions] are the problems of Sri Lanka. We can’t rely on the government. The community must come together.”

Persian traders to Sri Lanka named the island “Serendib,” from which comes the English word “Serendipity.” But, for the moment at least, the island’s religious minorities are hoping for happier times ahead.

Joseph Hammond is a freelance writer and former correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Courtesy The Diplomat 

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Latest comments

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    After war victory 5% of Buddhist under a imaginary feeling of an extra backbone has grown into their body, forgetting the well planned intelligence supplied by Muslims in the security process to confront the LTTE.

    This is the way they pay back the Muslims in gratitude.

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    Joseph Hammond has much more to do in studying the history of the Muslim presence here. “Muslims are descendants of Persian and Arab traders” will not hold well with the fact almost all of them are of South Indian origin. …”They believe they are 17% of the population” is not consistent with realities on the ground although their numbers have increased substantially in the past few decades.

    It is, however, true they live in increasing fear now – something which the Govt has done very little to cause relief in. This is hardly the face of a united multi-racial/religious society the Govt insists in different fora in the world to accept Sri Lanka is.

    Senguttuvan

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      It is not the Muslims in increasing Fear.

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      Even the Persians (Zoroastrians) driven away by the Arabic Islamic onslaught took refuge in Gujarat and it was the Guajarati’s who took Islam to far off places like Indonesia. Even the Zoroastrian’s like the Choksy’s all came to Ceylon via India and still maintain their links with both pakistan and india. As much as bandit Vijaya from India spread Buddhism in Ceylon the present day Islamist also came from India due to the mogul conquest of north India. The traders from the Arab world never stayed in Ceylon because their business was with the Europeans whom they were ruling for 800 years. The Arabs gave ghost stories to the Europeans (the Europeans were mainly pagans at that time) when it came to saying where the pepper corn came from.

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      Even the male progenitors from the Middle-East of some of the Muslims, married Local Tamil women. The Indian component is shared by the Sinhalese and Tamils. Further, the word used before by Sinhalese to refer to Muslims – Marakkala- derived from the word ‘ marakkalam’ meaning wooden sea-craft. This implies they arrived by boat.

      This why the Sinhalese , Tamils an Muslims share a large proportion of genes.

      What we have a fratricidal disagreements of the Able and Cain type.

      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    In which corner of the galaxy is our friend Seyed Rizan from?
    Minister Rishard Badurdeen (?) pleads with the President to appoint a
    Committee of Ministers to “look into the fears of the Muslim community island-wide in the wake of attacks on Mosques (he names them) and
    to prevent further attacks” ?????

    Senguttuvan

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    we are the very peacful commitee in sri lanka……..
    we have all the rights in the country,,,because arab traders married with sinhalese women,,,we were born to sinhalese women and to arab father….why should we scared …we are ready to defend anything

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      This belongs to Sinhala people. not to [Edited out]

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    A new civil war in the making. For the next 30 years, we are going to see the Buddhists and the Muslims fight. This time, the victory will be for the Muslims, as they will receive aid from all the Muslim nations to win the war. The Buddhists will see their “home land” fall to the Muslims. In a hundred years, the Singhalese Buddhists will learn to know and understand what it feels like to be discriminated. Their ancient buddhists temples and historical relics will be destroyed in the name of Allah, just as the Taliban did to the ancient buddhists temple in Afganistan.
    This is the just karma awaiting Sri-Lankan buddhists.

    • 0
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      And then you’ll wake up from your intense wet dream and realise the mythical “Demezh Eeezham” is still nowhere to be found.

  • 0
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    In a multi-ethnic, multi-racial multicultural society, the dominant majority has the responsibility to protect and support the minorities and ensure they receive equal opportunities and are treated equally in law.

    Accordingly, the ethnic Tamils and Muslims (most of whom are of South Indian descent and speak Tamil)should be able to rely on the government for reassurance and succour.

    Sri Lankan politics should never adopt sectarian policies nor be divided along religious or ethnic lines.

    Therefore, “Sihala”, “Muslim”, “Tamil” descriptors of political parties should be dropped, and their “missions” should discontinue to seek objectives that highlight their ethnicity or religious dogmas.

    Governments have a responsibility to ensure that all communities regardless of their ethnicity or religious persuasion have equal rights and access to all aspects of social welfare and facilities.

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    Muslims always big problem.. they need land of sinhala buddhist people in sri lanka. Muslims who live in esat part of sri lanka, hey distroed lots ancient buddhist temples…
    so Muslims must stop that.. This is our country.. not belongs to the muslims and to the allah… if muslims can not live here please go.. we did not welcome muslims.. Muslim are brutel muders….
    Go out from sri lanka

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      Hey….mind ur stpd useless words sister!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!what..muslims are a big problem 4 u????we are the community who s livng harmony with u ol..sinhales..k??????we don’t want ur lands..do you know sis..some of your temples are built in muslims’ lands..we gave our much lands 4 ur people who are living in muslim area without a temple to worship..look!!!this land is not yours,ours or tamils…it’s like a mother ..and we are children of it..we muslims feel like this and practice what we say..hey,,stupid lady!!!!!not only SriLanka,this whole UNIVERSE AND U AND ME & ALL THE PEOPLE are belong to the one and only Allah..if u can’t understand what muslims are saying ..definately you will feel it one day..that time you are helpless…..how can you say to go out from this country?????NO ONE HAVE THE RIGHT TO WELCOME US,AND AS WELL AS TO SAY GO FROM THIS COUNTRY..don’t do that the shameless selfish thing that some kind of you did for Tamils..the time is not look always same sister…we know who is murders and who is human..k???? we dont want your useless definitions…you know why Srilanka is still in under the devoloping countries and facing lots of inner & outer problems???the answer is because of the people who are selfish and out of mind like you and their dirty thots & behaviour..If u feel & treat muslims must go and they haven’t a right to live here..your dream will not come true except the wish of our ALLAH…THE ONE AND ONLY GOD…if you treat us badly..no problem we will not treat you like in a selfish way..we will feel u as 1 of our sister..that is the quality, uniqness,character and the big difference between you and us..THE GREAT MUSLIMS…

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        but mary smith telling another story…a story that most muslim brothers of mine dreaming to do…

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      Nilanthi Kumari you make me laugh….. you have copied some sentences off another website…. at least try to be original next time…..i read this same words a few days ago …. it was claimed that these words were spoken by the Australian PM… but even this is supposed to be misquoted.. ans are you asking 7% of our population of a 20 million people to leave the country ……can you calculate and see how much that amounts to…. they did not get a visa and come visit the counrty on a holiday to leave like that…. they have been living here from the 8th century… and this is the 21 st century can you calculate how long that has been…..
      … but you are rigt this is OUR counrty and it belongs to all its people… the sinhaleese, tamils and muslims….. just because the sinhaleese is a majority it doesn’t only belong to the sinhaleese….. your kind of thinking will bring our country down and destroy the peace we all crave for….. the kind of peace that is necessary for our country to develop and rise against poverty

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    Dear mrs.nilanthi

    be calm…….you have no need to welcome,,us….ok..we have born in sri lankan,this our mother land,ok,our grand mothers were sinhalase woman,because ,only men arabs came here for trading,ok,before doing a comment,study about your country and history first,
    you said that you dont welcome us,,,then ask this question to your blood root,ancestors,why they got married with muslim arab men?
    you dont welcome muslims,,,,but you will welcome,if a muslim countries gives you free oil,many aids,to srilanka,then you will welcome,,,
    wash your brain twice with good detergent,,

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      Muslim:Quote”you said that you dont welcome us,,,then ask this question to your blood root,ancestors,why they got married with muslim arab men?”Unquote
      You can have 4 wives just marry her and cover her in burka ;)match over.
      The present day North Africans are known as Arab trash because they were driven away by the Spanish Queen Isabel in the late 15th centenary. You don’t have the real Arab hair because you came from India and the north of India was ruled by the Moguls for centenaries. If the Sinhalese throw you out who would run their abattoirs because the yellow robed want badepu mus at any dhana. In the Arab world Oil would finish in 35 years and the west is determined not to have anything to do with it. Han Chinese government does not give any respect to the Muslims like it does to the Buddhist philosophies but interestingly the Gas at the pump in China is less than in the US. There is no Muslim in this the Saudi king is just the puppet and the rich relatives travel chauffer driven in their Rolls Royce’s with their feet on the dashboard as if riding a camel the reason is it’s the west that found the Oil and the latest technology is also theirs.

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      the Muslim world do accept us as clean muslims because of this. one day they will kill us telling that we are not good muslims as they done in Bangladesh in 1970s…

  • 0
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    we are the one who start this problems. sihalies let us to live in sri lanka for long time without any problem but we want more. now they are fighting back….

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