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Religious Intolerance Escalates

| by Megara Tegal
Courtesy: The Sunday Leader 

( July 28, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As crimes continue with impunity, attacks against mosques around the country have become more obscene and portentously fatal. The latest attack occurred in Mahiyangana on 18 July, when a mob of masked individuals attacked the Mahiyangana Masjidul Araba mosque while a group of Muslims prayed in the house of worship.

Events of the attack

The incident took place at 11.30 p.m. as the Muslims of Mahiyangana offered special Ramadan Tharaweeh prayers. The main power source was switched off, disrupting mosque activities as those within the building were plunged into darkness. Furious cries of threats were heard by those within the building, which minutes later were followed by a shower of stones hurled at the mosque.

Many of the windows were broken, but the people within the mosque were able to avoid the stones and remain out of harm’s way.

The onslaught lasted up to 20 minutes before the power was restored and the aggressors made scarce. The police were called in; however the perpetrators are yet to be arrested.

Prior to the full-on attack, the mosque Trustee was assaulted. Chili powder was flung at him and his assailants had threatened him against continuing Friday payers in the mosque, warning that worse was yet to come. Disregarding the threats, the mosque conducted the Friday prayers undeterred. The following day raw pork was thrown into the mosque premises.

Pork is avoided by Muslims as it is considered ‘haram’ or not ‘halal’, which means unlawful to be consumed. The incident hurt the Muslim community in Mahiyangana, but faith in the communal harmony that persisted in the area for 40 years since the mosque was built, was restored when the Provincial Council minister, Anura Vidanagamage had assisted the Muslims in cleaning the mosque and told them to continue conducting their prayers, sources say.

However, a few days later, Minister Vidanagamage had called upon the mosque officials and advised them to close the mosque for their own safety.

N. M. Ameen, President of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council said, “The Council was contacted when the first attack occurred, we then contacted the Defense Secretary and he told them to go ahead and conduct prayers, and that they will be given protection. The mosque received protection but the next attack happened a few days later”.

Bodu Bala Sena denies involvement
Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) monks were said to have visited Mahiyangana and roused the Buddhists people in the area against the Muslims. It is speculated that the attacks are a result of their persuasion. Spokesman of the BBS Dilanthe Withanage informed The Sunday Leader that they visit Mahiyangana from time to time but they have not held a meeting in the town. He added however, that they plan to have their first official meeting next month on August 2.

When asked about the attacks on the Mahiyangana mosque, Withanage denied BBS involvement and added that there is no mosque in the area. “Did you know there was a mosque in Mahiyangana?” he questioned. “How can there be a mosque there? Mahiyangana has been declared a scared Buddhist area, how can Muslims build a mosque there?”

He went on to say that the incident has been fabricated to discredit the BBS, while insisting there was no mosque in the area, and he further questioned the credibility of the media in Sri Lanka that published articles on the incident.

With regard to the accusations levelled at the BBS – that BBS monks had stirred the Buddhists in Mahiyangana to perpetrate the attacks – Withanage stated that the BBS was not involved in the attacks and that they are against communal disharmony, and that the BBS has not harmed the Muslims, a minority Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

However, this is contradictory to what top BBS monks have declared at their meetings. Many have condemned the Muslim community in strong language, riling the masses against the Muslims.

Muslims not provoked
In response to Withanage’s claims, Sri Lanka Muslim Council General Secretary, Hassan Ali, questioned why meat, and for that matter – pork, had been lobbed into a building. He reconfirmed that there is in fact a mosque in Mahiyangana and Muslims in the area have been conducting prayers in the building for the past 40 years; up until last Thursday. The Council believes that the attack was meant to provoke the Muslim community as it was done during the Holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims spend a great deal of time in prayer in mosques.

Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Minister Rauff Hakeem has written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa following the incident, requesting a special meeting with him to discuss the repeated attacks on mosques and Muslim owned institutions around the island by extremist groups. They are yet to receive a response.

In the meantime, Shafeek Rajabdeen, National Organiser of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said that the mosque has been and will continue to be closed down as turbulence is expected. “This is the holy month of Ramadan, and the Muslims are hurt by the attacks, but we are advising people to remain calm” he said. He further stated that the law enforcement authorities will have to investigate the attacks and arrest the perpetrators.

However, he added that the SLMC will not tolerate incidents that lead to the closure of mosques. “This has been going on for months now. First the halal label, then the hijab and now mosques being forced to close down. We will not give into the closing of mosques,” he asserted.

Attacks on mosques led by Buddhist monks have occurred in several places across the island; last year a mosque in Dambulla was set ablaze by a mob that was lead by a Buddhist monk, before that a shrine of a Muslim saint was destroyed and the property was burnt.

Recently Muslim owned establishments have been attacked, such as ‘No Limit’—a clothing store, and a butcher’s shop. These incidents have, however, not directly endangered lives. The attack on the Mahiyangana mosque, unlike the previous incidents, may well have caused severe injuries to those who were inside the mosque at the time. Of all the incidents recorded over the years, the Police have not made any arrest to date.

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