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Motives behind Dambulla Mosque demolition demands

by Dr Sulaiman Rifai, Naleemi (London)

User Rating: / 11

By Dr Sulaiman Rifai, Naleemi (London)

20/04/2012 is one of the darkest days in Srilankan Muslim history. Muslims have been living in this country for more than 1000 years peacefully with all communities and indeed, they have contributed immensely for the integrity and sovereignty of this Island since ancient time. Yet, in recent time, some extremist Buddhists with collaboration of some politicians have been trying to destabilise the communal harmony between Muslim community and Singhalese community.  Recent attacks on Muslim mosques, increasing racial abuse and discrimination against Muslims people justify such claims. There seems to be some hidden conspiracies to wipe out religious identities of minority communities in Srilanka. Otherwise, how on earth these extremists Buddhists people under the leadership of their chief monk could attack this mosque in a day light while hundreds of army and police officers were looking at them doing nothing to protect this mosque from these mobs. It may be they are under greater political influence and been instructed not to upset the crown for fear of more communal tension. It is pathetic that some extremist elements take laws in their hands as if Srilanka is lawless land.

Partiality and discriminative attitude of these officers are obvious in this incident and they could have dispersed the crowds before they damaged the mosque. There is a widespread belief among Tamil community in Srilanka and abroad that Srilankan Government is trying to wipe of Tamil culture and Hindu religious identity by constructing Buddhist temples in Tamil areas.  Now, Muslim people also feel that they have been targeted by certain elements of Singhalese people. The entire ordeal is now recorded and broadcasted through various press and media. Any sound man without any prejudice or discrimination would abhor watching uncivilised behaviours of some extremist Buddhist people. One wonders whether this peaceful religion of Buddhism teaches such barbarism at all. We all know well that religious teachings of Buddhism are free from all these brutal atrocities. These people do not behave in according to pure teaching of Buddhism rather according to their own selfish agendas and racial hatred and I’m sure that 99% people good Buddhist people in Srilanka would detest such behaviours in the name of their religion. I do not like to depict the tense situation prevailed during the mob’s attack on Dambulla mosque.  One Singhalese writer (though he belongs to their community) is brave enough to   describe the cruel behaviours of these mobs.

Surendra Ajit Rupasinghe depicts attacks on Dambulla mosque in this way in his own words.

“The Chief Incumbent of the Dambulla Raja Maha Viharaya who led the attack threatened a pleading Tamil resident woman of the area that unless the Hindu kovil is demolished, all Tamil residents of the area would be evicted. Far more menacingly, another leading monk standing with the Chief Incumbent read out that hereafter no Moslem would even be allowed to urinate in this area! (Much to the hilarious delight of their devotees chanting Sadu!). That no other religious places of worship would be allowed in any area declared to be Buddhist sacred areas, and that this writ is hereby declared without consent or presence of either the Judiciary or the President , and shall be executed throughout the island. The sheer primitiveness and depth of vulgarity, and the boldness and audacity expressed by the monks, including baring genitals in the face of the mosque, attests to a simmering volcano of religious fanaticism, bigotry and hatred against all others, that had been nurtured by the politics of Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism and supremacy foisted by the Rajapakse Regime”.

Is this Buddhist way of mediating any conflicting issues or religious dispute? Are these mobs above the laws? Do not they have to follow rules of laws like all other citizens?  How could they behave like this on their own discretion?  This callous attack on this mosque has generated many questions and suspension in the minds of Srilankan Muslim people. They see it as a threat for the very existence of Muslim community in this country. They do not see this as an accidental incident rather they see it as a well planned conspiracy to under mind Muslim religious identity and Muslim presence in this country.  More importantly, why do these mobs carry out these attacks now and why is this salient complicity of this government on this issue? It is reported that  the order to demolish this mosque was given by the Prime minster and hence it can be assumed that this protest is well planned with approval of some politicians. While this government is claiming all communities are people of this land and that there is no division between majority and minority community of this country, it seems that some elements of this government act contrary to what they say in public or they indeed seem to have some clandestine   agenda to suppress basic human rights of all minority communities in this country.  We do not know why this double standard when it comes to minority issues.

Of course, these politicians are elected by Singhalese people and they have moral duty to serve and protect interest of their community. This commitment to help to their community should not be done at the expense of basic rights of minorities.   The majority of Singhalese people do not subscribe to this type violent and cruel attack on other people religious places at all. More than 1400 years history testifies that Singhalese people have been accommodating different religious people in the sail of Srilanka. It is paramount important in the greater interest of Srilanka and its people that we all Srilankans (Buddhist, Hindus, Muslim, Christian and others) should single out this extreme trend from the surface of this Island. Violent extremism is a cancer that could destroy the entire fabric of social harmony, peace and co-existence. Whether it is Muslim extremism or Buddhist extremism or Hindu extremism it could destroy the fabric of social unity and hinder progress and development.  Do not we see what happened to many countries around us in our modern times?   I think that Srilankans are clever enough to learn lessons from 30 years of war in Srilanka. We are clever enough to learn lessons from incidents that are happening around us in other countries.

Srilanka is a democratic country and there is a strong legal and judiciary system in place and people of all communities have rights to file a case in the court of law to find justice for their case and we have a large numbers of legal experts and legal professionals who could debate and discuss legal cases in an efficient and professional way to pass on verdicts.   While we have this legal system in place how on earth these mobs took the law in their hands and tried to intimidate and bully innocent people in this mosque in a day light?  Suppose there was no presence of police and special task force at this time of attacks, these mobs would have attacked and even killed these innocent Muslim devotees. It is argued that this mosque and one Hindu temple are situated in the so called sacred land. While we respect Buddhist notion of sacred land they do not rights to say that mosques and Hindu temples that situated in that land are not sacred. Both parties in dispute should go to court and lawyers should be given opportunity to pursue legal pursuit to serve justice on this case.  Otherwise, why do we have legal system and why do we have courts in this country? If politicians and thugs could take laws in their hands why do we need courts at all in this country?  Ironically, the ministry of justice is a Muslim and for his disgrace this happened to his community and he was unable to serve justice for his community in this case.  Justice is unconditional for all and at all circumstance. There is no one type justice for Singhalese and another type of justice for Muslim community.   The injustice done by these mobs would not become just acts simply because it is done by clerics from the majority community.  Whoever does injustice should be punished promptly and equally whether it is Muslims or Buddhists?   All types of Injustice will short live and justice will prevail at last.

Muslim position on this issue:

While we vehemently object and condemn this type of anti-social behaviour and hooliganism of small extreme element of Buddhist clerics and Buddhist extremist, we Muslim should behave islamically as our Holy Quran and Prophetic traditions demand from us under such precarious and heartbreaking situations.  Muslims of Srilanka are shocked and sudden to see unfolding stories of attack on this mosque and It has touched religious sentiment of Muslim people not only in Srilanka but also world wide. It is an Islamic belief that Muslim community wherever they live is one universal community.  These types of attacks on sensitive religious places will definitely damage inter-religious and communal harmony. Looking at YouTube pictures of mobs approaching unarmed innocent Muslim people at the mosque, I feared the worst to happen to these people but thanks to security people that they handled the situation cleverly and sagaciously. But it is understandable  that they could not disperse these mobs in this incident.

The entire Muslim community object these horrific attacks and they see it as a clear cut infringement on their basic religious freedom. Muslim religious leaders, politicians, community leaders and the general Muslim publics unanimously and categorically say that we want this mosque on same place as it was and what is rational of this argument.  The mosque is built in a land legally bought by a Muslim lady from Jaffna from some English people.  Hence Muslims have legal right.  It has been there since 1964 long before this area was declared sacred land. It was reported that an expansion of sacred land was done only a few years ago.  How could now only at this time these extreme Buddhist people want to destroy this mosque without legal justification.  What more is that Muslims fear that this demolition demand may constitute historical precedents and pretext to destroy cultural and religious places of Muslims people in many other places around the country?  Moreover, Muslims feel that this demolition demand under minds and degrades Muslim community into second class citizens of this country and they feel that they do not have equal rights as  Buddhist brothers have in this Island. They feel that they have been racially and religiously discriminated on the basis of their faith and religion. They believe that this is the beginning of marginalization process. This behaviour is indeed, against all international laws and norms.  Hence Muslims feel that they have every right to object this injustice in the name of sacred land.

That is why General Secretary of Srilanka Muslim congress categorically said that we do want to have even a golden mosque in another place.  "Community will not accept a mosque in another place even if it was built of gold". What is more dangerous fear is that Muslim feel that this government may have  a say on this matter and in fact they feel that government openly supports such move to demolish this mosque under influence of some extreme Buddhist extremists. Muslims feel that this may set wrong historical precedent in Srilanka and future generation of Muslim community will have to undergo many more racial discrimination if we do not act swiftly now and stop all these types of attacks. They also reckon that these bad precedents could damage inter communal harmony and peace in the country. SLMC general secretary further contends “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”.

Ironically, Muslims have been supporting Singhalese governments historically before independent and after independent. Muslims stood with Singhalese people in their independent struggle and they even fought with them against the Dutch, Portages and   British colonization. More recently during the thirty years of LTTE war for separate Elam Muslims stood with successive Singhalese governments.   Furthermore, in recent UN human right resolution against Srilankann president the entire Muslim community engaged in lobbying Muslim countries in against this resolution and yet, in return what we get from this government is a punch behind the back. Why is this ungratefulness within this sort period of time and it makes us think that there is a hidden agenda to destroy our cultural identity and even very existence in this Island.

Srilankan council of Muslim theologians has requested the entire Muslim community to maintain patience and tolerance during this difficult time. Even they requested Muslim community to maintain law and order under all circumstances. Instead of resorting to any forms of discomfort and unhappiness all Muslim community have been requested to pray and supplicate to Almighty Allah to relieve them from this difficult situation.   I have copied the letter of its appeal to Muslim community so that our Singhalese people will appreciate our approach to this problem.



An appeal to the Muslims!

A request from the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama

Muslims of this country are 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.

In the meantime, some insist that sturdy actions should be taken to display the denouncement of the Lankan Muslim community for this unholy act. However, we would like to remind them that there is a set of actions that should be followed by the believers during such times of distress.

Islam says supplication is the best weapon for a believer. Therefore, we request that we Muslims should pray to Allah for His assistance while repenting for our sins and seek His help by spiritual proceedings such as fasting. Also, the ACJU believes that justice should be sought by legal means as well.

Other than that, Muslims should refrain from disrupting law and order by holding improper demonstrations causing inconvenience to the public and damaging public property. Moreover, 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. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an not to slander what other people worship beside Allah.

Therefore, the ACJU requests the Muslims of this country to always abide by the teachings of Islam. In the meantime, ACJU does not organize public protests or Harthals as a principle. However, ACJU would like to advise those who consider such actions to conduct them peacefully and within the perimeters of law of the country while specifically mindful of the consequences for defiance.

Also, we call upon Muslims of this country to collectively hold a fast on Thursday, 26 April and on the following day males to gather outside the mosques in their respective areas soon after the Jumma prayer and pray to Allah to show the straight path those responsible for the wrongdoings and also protect those who are in just and upright.

Ash Sheikh M. M. A. Mubarak

General Secretary

All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama.

This is not an apologetic response to this attack rather this is Islamic teaching to deal with difficult situations. Srilankan Muslims always respect religious traditions and rites of Buddhist people and they have always been respecting Buddhist monks and we never and ever speak against Buddhist people or Buddhist religious practices.  The Holy Quran and prophetic traditions do not sanction to do any insult on other people’s faith and practices.   We never demand to demolish or destroy any Buddhist temples in Srilanka. We have never attacked any Buddhist temples.  Instead some Muslim rich people helped Singhalese people to build some Buddhist temples in some places in Srilanka. Simply because the religious freedom is fundamental teaching of Islam and there is no compulsion in religion whatsoever. This is one of the basic teachings of the Holy Quran. While we respect the Buddhist people on their religious freedom we too expect them to respect our religious freedom.  It was reported by some Buddhist monks that Srilankan Muslims did not condemn when Taliban attacked the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. Contrary to this wrong perception a lot of Muslim scholars’ world wide did condemn this barbaric attack on Buddhist statues.

Once again this attack also epitomises our Srilankan failure to have mutual understanding between different religions. It is paramount important in a country like Srilanka that our children have comprehensive understanding of other people’ religions, culture and tradition not to engage in indoctrination or conversion rather to have mutual understanding and tolerance. It will in return help stability and development of Srilankan in a long term. This incident reminds   us of the significance of    debate on inter-faith dialogue and it also signifies the importance of comparative religious education at all levels in Srilanka.  It is my humble postulate to argue that these mobs would not have attack this mosque had they been educated to respect people’s religious sentiments. Had they been taught in comparative religious studies they would not have done this rather they would have appreciated the spiritual development of other people.  The mosque is sacred place for Muslims. Muslims love their mosques than their homes. Devoted Muslims visit mosques five times a day and some of them spend more time in mosques reading the Holy Quran and praying.  Fridays are the holiest day of the week.  Friday prayers are compulsory prayers each and every Muslim man is obliged to go to mosque on that day. I assume that these mobs do not have any clue about the sanctity of mosques and prayers in Islam. Had they known these basic teaching of Islam they would not have dared to harm Muslim mosques.  They would have feared that Almighty’s curse and anger will descend on them.  It is the duty of Muslim people also to learn about Buddhist people’s religious sentiments and religious principles so that we could respect them accordingly. In a multicultural country like Srilanka we all should have basic knowledge of other people’s culture, and traditions. So that we all will learn to treat others well.  This would help us to bridge the gap between communities and create peace and harmony and so that people will know how to get on well in this multicultural society.

Singhalese public’s response to these attacks.

We know well that the majority of innocent Singhalese people neither endorse nor encourage such brutal attacks on mosques and indeed, they have been showing great respect for Muslim mosques and Muslim people in general. Singhalese people are deeply devoted in religious belief and they know well that harming any one will backfire on them one day and that is a natural law of this world.  It is not a habit of Singhalese people to harm any one for that matter even an insect. Historical co-existence of   Tamils and Muslims people among Singhalese people for more than 1000 years is an historical evidence to substantiate this argument of non-violence approach of Singhalese people.  Even during this tense situation Singhalese people in Dambulla village protected innocent Muslim devotees who sought refuge in their homes and served them tea at their home. How could Muslims people drink tea at Singhalese people’s houses if they see them like enemies?  Even the majority of people at this village were very sad seeing this inhuman incident and indeed, they have shown their empathy and sympathy for Muslims after this incident.   For this reason, it would be wrong to assume that the majority of Singhalese support this attack. It is tiny minority of Buddhist monks and extremists who encourage racists’ attacks on Muslims and Tamil communities. These are people who spread hatred among innocent people through propaganda machines sometime through radio and TV programmes.

One could notice several websites have been created attacking minority communities in Srilanka. There are some books written in Singhalese language depicting Islam and Muslim badly. Islamic religion of peace and tolerance has been portrayed as a religion of violence.  This is mainly done by Western press and media for some political and military reasons. Yet, some Singhalese people learn about Islam and Muslims through these western media and some time thorough books written by missionary groups and western scholars. Unfortunately, in Srilanka too some Singhalese people have been brain washed by this anti-Islamic propaganda. What do Singhalese people know about Islam and Muslims?  Some of them even do not have basic knowledge about teachings of Islam. They do not have any clue about fundamentals of Islam.  We have been living among them in water tight compartments in isolation. We have failed to show them  the beautiful teachings of Islam.  Now, what they know all about Islam is a distorted form of Islam. They only have some stereotype ideas of typical Muslims.  They do not have a clue what is going on in our mosques and what types of spiritual trainings Muslims do every day?  Non-Muslim people have lots of misperceptions and misunderstanding about Islam and Muslims. These should be clarified to them by our Muslim scholars and clerics. Unfortunately, a very little has been done on this line in Srilanka.  Because of our failure to do our duty in this regards, these extremists element use this vacuum to brain wash innocent Singhalese people with misconceptions about Islam and Muslims

This anti- Islamic propaganda is done and run by these tiny groups of extremist who want to divide this country in communal line and destabilize its security on basis of this racial attacks and hatred. It is the responsibility of our religious and political leadership to identify these extreme elements and guide them in right directions before they go out of control. We can not duck their responsibilities on this issue.

We rightly acknowledge that Singhalese people more importantly Singhalese kings had been more generous for Muslim community since ancient times and indeed, it was historically recorded that some Singhalese gave lands to build mosques. This was the historical precedent of Singhalese people and Singhalese kings. Because of the bad behaviours of some extreme people we should not generalise to brand every Singhalese as an extremist or every monk supports such barbaric attacks. I’m sure that there are a lot of highly educated monks, intellectuals, and politicians who detest actions of these mobs and even some journalists and politicians from Singhalese community openly blamed the actions of these mobs and demanded that these mobs should be punished in the courts of law for their anti-social behaviours and racial incitement.  I have been watching recently Dormadalawa Program in ITN.  I have seen that some highly educated monks discussing socio-ethical, and religious problems and issues in rational and logical ways without offending sentiments of minority people in Srilanka.  They greatly respect other people’s culture, traditions and way of life. Likewise, it is our duty and responsibility to respect their way of life, traditions and culture. When it comes to some sensitive issues we should deal with them with care and caution.

Of course Singhalese race is one of the compassionate communities in the world. My personal experience with some Singhalese people tells me that they have marvellous and compassionate human qualities. I have had opportunities to get on with multinational and racial communities, with such experience I could tell that Singhalese people some excellent manners and human qualities to adore and admire. And yet, behaviours of these mobs give bad name for the entire Singhalese people and for the teachings of Buddhism. This is similar to the actions of some bad Muslim extremists who give bad name for Islam and Muslims. Today a large numbers of Singhalese people work and live in the Middle Eastern countries and some of them have been living in these countries for many decades. Unlike these mobs those who work in Muslim countries know well about Muslims and Islamic teachings. Indeed, Singhalese and Muslims people interact very closely in Srilanka and have contrived a strong trust and confidence between these two communities for many centuries.    That may be one of the reasons that the majority of Singhalese people respect and appreciate Muslim culture and traditions.

Government’s response to this attack.

It is reported that Prime minster has ordered to demolish Dambulla mosque and agreed to provide an alternative place outside sacred land in the Dambualla areas. Yet, how could prime minister of Srilanka in his capacity as minster for religious affairs order to destroy religious site of minority community. It is generally believed that Srilankan government bows down to the influence of Buddhists extremism.  Moreover, how could government officials have done nothing to stop this injustice? Both ruling and opposition party members keep quiet on this matter. Why is this silence? Is it to please these mobs or is it to protect their vote banks and their seat in the parliament.  So far, it has been a policy of Srilankan government to demolish this mosque in the pretext of it has been built in the sacred land.  It is an irony that the government that supposed to protect minority rights engage in destroying the sacred places of minority people. It is generally believed that government has shown complicity on this matter and directly or indirectly supporting these elements of extremists to protect its vote banks and its popular support after defeating LTTE. It is not new that politicians have been using nationalism and religion as means to protect political interest. Sinhala only police was introduced in 1950s to appeal to Singhalese public and same political token is being used to appeal to Singhalese mass using their religion to draw their support.

It is generally believed that the popularity of these ruling elite is going down day by day these days. Many reasons have been cited to this decline in popularity.  People no longer could tolerate increasing price hike and ordinary people are struggling to live with small amount of money they earn. One observer put it “They are facing elections very soon so they want to divert the attention of the Buddhist community from the economic difficulties the country is facing. The economics of the country are in serious trouble, so they want to divert the attention on issues like religion so they can win the support”   This may be true that though this government got its popularity after defeating LTTE and freeing the country from its grip it has been loosing its popularity gradually and steadily. Of course, Singhalese are so grateful to the president for freeing the country from the grip of LTTE yet people are not happy with wrong policies of this government. First of all, people have not been given opportunities to express freely. University academics have been silenced not allowed to freely expressing their views. In the name of development wrong economics policies are adopted without proper consultation with economic experts in the country. Some provincial council elections have been postponed in recent time because government fears that it may loose election. It has lost popular support from Tamil community in the North and its popularity within large sections of Singhalese community is going down.  It may be playing with religious card to attract support of Singhalese people. Doctor Jehan Perera from Sri Lanka's National Peace Council “believes the government is promoting a Sinhalese nationalist agenda to divert attention away from the country's economic woes”. It would be a political suicide of this government if it continues to go ahead with Buddhist nationalistic agenda in this multicultural and multi linguistic Srilanka.

What can Muslim do under this circumstance?

As our Muslim scholars have been advising Muslim community should maintain patience and tolerance in this hard time. They should turn to Allah for peace. Our supplication is greatest weapon that we have.  We should supplicate to Him to guide these people.   We should also take necessary steps to save this mosque.  We Muslims should express our unhappiness about this demolition plan with one voice.   We should unanimously and categorically say that we do not want have our mosque in an alternative place.  We should tell them in once voice this is an infringement on our fundamental right. We should use all diplomatic and political influence to alert Srilankan government on this issue.  We Muslim should teach this government a good lesson in the coming election in a democratic way so that they will realise their mistakes one day. We should take up this matter with UN Human Right commission and file a case for fundamental human right violation of Muslim minority community in Srilanka.  All peaceful and democratic measures should be exploited to find amicable solution to this problem. We earnestly request the government not duck their responsibility on this matter. It should not bow down and accede to the demands of extremists.  According to one academic. “There is a small group of people who are very fanatical and they are claiming that the country belongs to them and that no other community has a legitimate right to exist in this country, and the government should put its foot down and tell these monks that it's not the way. It's a plural society and every community, every religion, every icon must be respected”.

It is our hope and prayer that this beautiful Island should thrive economically, culturally, socially and educationally and it should become one of the prosperous countries in the world. All community should work hand in hand to achieve such ambitious goal.  We Srilankan communities should have a sense of unity in diversity to achieve such ambition. Hatred and resentment do not bring any good but peace and harmony bring a lot of goodness for humanity.

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