Opinion | Columnists

Sri Lanka's road to peaceful co-existence

The intent to demolish Dambulla mosque tears at wounds of ethnic violence which are in the process of healing

  • By Tariq A. Al Maeena, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 April 29, 2012
  • Gulf News

Sri Lanka’s road to peaceful co-existence
  • Image Credit: Illustration: ©Gulf News

Following a protracted and violent civil war that lasted for more than 26 years costing thousands of lives and destruction of property, it would have been natural to assume that Sri Lanka would set itself on the path of healing through national reconciliation with all its peoples; Buddhists, Tamils and Muslims.

Yet, within many Tamils there exists a widespread belief that the Sri Lankan government is trying to wipe out their Tamil culture and religious identity by constructing Buddhist temples in Tamil areas. Now many of another ethnic minority feel recent moves have taken another dimension.

In a dangerous precedent reminiscent of another time and place, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister D.M. Dayaratne ordered the demolition of a 65-year-old mosque in Dambulla stating that the area was sacred to Buddhists. He tried to appease local sentiments by saying that the mosque would be relocated to another area. This public statement followed events recently when Buddhist agitators stormed the mosque and vandalised it, threatening its destruction.

The incident undoubtedly angered the island's Muslim community who have seen enough suffering and were severely victimised during the civil war for which they had paid a heavy price. During the civil war, caught in the crossfire between the government and the Tamils, they were attacked and slaughtered in village after village, even while offering prayers in the sanctity of their mosques. Their paddy lands were looted, businesses closed and had their very means of survival taken away. The entire Jaffna Muslim population was booted out of their homes and their belongings and property were stolen from them.

They are shocked and hurt that the demolition order strikes at the very core of religious freedom in a country attempting to heal itself. Muslim Congress Secretary and parliamentarian Hassan Ali said the "community will not accept a mosque in another place even if it was built of gold".

He also added that "If the places of religious worship of the minorities are being attacked while the police and army are idly watching, it implies that they are supporting the marauders and providing security to them, instead of the law abiding people". Faced with the initial opposition, the prime minister claimed that this decision was taken after consultations with Muslim politicians. However, it was immediately debunked as a ‘blatant manufactured lie' and strongly rejected by leading Muslim politicians: Senior Minister A.H.M. Fawzie, Deputy Minister M.L.A.M. Hizbulla, Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana and Parliamentarian Abdul Khader, all of whom categorically reject the prime minister's claims. They assert that the mosque was built on land legally bought in 1964 and simply dismiss the allegations of militant Buddhists who claimed this area was sacred just two years ago.

Misleading people

Asad Sally, chairman of the Islamic Solidarity Front (ISF) and former deputy mayor of Colombo, stated that "it is misleading to say that the mosque was in existence for two years as it has been there for more than 65 years. We have all the documents to prove that it is a legally constructed mosque under the Waqf Act. Therefore the statement by the prime minister claiming that the unauthorised construction of the mosque has been stopped is totally false. The land on which the mosque was located was bought by a Muslim lady in Jaffna from Englishmen. This mosque has existed since then.

"Later the adjacent land too had been bought by mosque authorities in 1995. This statement by the prime minister is misleading the Buddhists in the country. The prime minister should not make such irresponsible statements as the Waqf Board comes under him and he is contradicting his own statement. Besides statements like Muslims will not have a place to urinate are not only irresponsible but very dangerous too."

Though the leader of the United National Party Ranil Wickremasinghe is yet to make a public statement on the tense situation, his deputy Sajith Premadasa described the prime minister's order as "law of the jungle and nothing to do with Buddhism". Sajith wondered "how could we develop the country when the prime minister's office issues such false statements?"

Some public figures deplored the political pandering of the prime minister to a few Buddhist thugs, stating that in any civilised society one would expect unruly elements who vandalise places of worship to be arrested and brought to justice. Instead they have been rewarded in violation of all principles of human decency.

Following Sri Lanka's recent and turbulent past, Tamils, Muslims and others had been looking forward to a period of peace and harmony. However the intent to demolish the Dambulla mosque tears at the wounds of ethnic violence still in the process of healing, and only serves to prove that reconciliation, peace and progress are nothing but distant dreams. The historical co-existence of Tamils and Muslims among the Buddhist Sinhalese people for more than 1,000 years is under threat.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Comments (10)

  1. Added 16:12 April 29, 2012

    This is the Issue. A Few from either side just want to create a rift so that it gets worse but i believe this strategy has failed and people have recognised this. but the government is in full approval of relocating the mosque and all the muslim ministers approve of that as they are not worried about the public but worried about their position!

    Mahmood Ashraf, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 16:05 April 29, 2012

    Its very sad to hear this. Even the govt. is supporting a religion how can be the country peaceful, how could the other people stay there. This is the problem of social world. Some global justice movements should discuss this. Every religion deserves their right to live peacefully.

    Shahid, AbuDhabi, India

  3. Added 13:26 April 29, 2012

    As a sinhalese, i am very dissapointed by this situation. We all should be as one in this Island nation. I hope the authorities will take this serious and STOP all ethnic and religeous issues with each other and look forward for a brighter future. Sri Lanka - Now is the time for a change for a better future,...should we not realise it now and act together as one nation, Sri Lanka will not survive for another decade. God Bless our nation and lets move forward.

    Vishan Fernando, New York, United States

  4. Added 13:24 April 29, 2012

    Sri Lanka is a lovely country with good people. Of late, the political culture has developed a state of mind among the ruling elites, that minorities are to be kept in their place and under their custody. The Sri Lankan citizenry has nothing to do with this crisis. All Muslims need to remember that Abraha was defeated in his efforts to demolish the Ka'bah. Quran is a witness to this act in history. So let us be patient and watch the outcome, Insha Allah. NEITHER THE MINISTERS NOR THE JAMIYATHUL ULEMA CAN DO ANYTHING IN THIS MATTER. PATIENCE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION.

    Azmi, Dubai, Switzerland

  5. Added 10:42 April 29, 2012

    It's all easier said than done! To say that 'this is only a minority group' and ' the majority does not support these elements' etc. But where is the word of those who claim to control ruling authority of the country, who is responsible to all its citizen's - cast, creed, community aside? We all sing this line in our anthem. Why the silence? Are we going to allow the 'minority' extremists to take matters to their hands and vent their political anger against an unarmed and harmless group of people?

    Drake, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 09:19 April 29, 2012

    I have to agree with Isfar. On top of that, the reactions of a few do not equate the feelings and wants of the whole. Muslims have been our brothers and sisters for a long time and will be for a long time to come. The actions of these monks was absolutely wrong and the way they spoke was even worse. These monks are not real monks. No person (regardless of their race) causing ethnic or religious tension in Sri Lanka should be allowed to go unpunished, at least a warning should be given and in the worst cases some form of public ridiculing by way of public debate should be implemented. I fear sending extremists to jail will make them martyrs.

    Sinhalese, London, United Kingdom

  7. Added 00:38 April 29, 2012

    I agree with you one hundred percent. Only thing these extremist achieved by this violent act is to prove to the world what the Tamils were telling was right all this time. i.e. Sinhalese are an intolerant & violent lot. The Sri Lankan Muslims paid a high price for supporting the Sinhalese Buddhist government. They also wholeheartedly canvassed the support of all the GCC & OIC countries to vote against the resolution in UNHRC in supporting the very government who is sponsoring this vulgar vandalism. Is this how they reward them (Muslims) back? Don't they understand a simple concept of gratitude?

    Mohammad, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

  8. Added 00:13 April 29, 2012

    This is an excellent piece by Mr. Tariq Al Maeena. The religious tolerance and animosity towards the minorities have been there in Sri Lanka since the Independence from the British in 1948. From the 'Sinhala Only' in the '50s to todays 'No Minority in Sri Lanka' are the culmination of consecutive Sri Lankan governments always elected by the majority population nurtured by communal polity. The current administration has not shown any tiny step for reconciliation towards different communities. If burning of libraries were called the most heinous acts in the '80s, beheading statues, attacks and destruction of mosques in areas under complete control of Sri Lankan military is a dangerous trend in the 21st century when people are yearning for freedom from brutal regimes all around the world. It is becoming increasingly evident that some regimes budge an inch when demanded by foreign countries and peace activists.

    Sandra, Toronto, Canada

  9. Added 23:51 April 28, 2012

    All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama is handling this issue and Insha Allah it'll be a good result. This is not a political issue and sad to say our politicans cooking as political issue. In the meantime many Buddists didn't welcome this kind of act and I request not to hurt anyone including the monk by comments.

    Mohammad Rizvi Uvais, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 20:32 April 28, 2012

    We have built our country in the world number one and it will take time. So, please dont make any problems between cast, religion, ethics. We are Sri Lankan, one nation, one people. Dont forget and try to save our blood life, try to stay happy and make happy in the country.

    Isfar, Kandy, Sri Lanka

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