Now reached Matara Issadeen Town?
| by Latheef Farook
( October 2, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It appears that Islamophobia, devastating the island for the past three years and tearing apart communities, has reached the Matara Issadeen Town where Sinhalese and Muslims once lived like one family. The controversy began with some Sinhalese demanding the closure of a mosque without any valid reason.
The relationship between the two communities was so cordial once that late Rev Diviyagaha Gunananda Thero who was the chief prelate at the Buddhist Temple at Issadeen Town often advised monks and Sinhalese in the area to” always respect Muslims and never hurt or harm them”. He had given this advice even in his death bed.
After his death this advice was followed by the present monk who later came under pressure from some Sinhala racist elements who wanted to get the Masjid Thaqwa Mosque at Issadeen Town closed.
In fact when the controversy was created, perhaps as part of the ongoing hate Muslim campaign, Issadeen family members met the new chief monk of the Issadeen Town Ashokarama Temple Rev. Dr Kanathakoda Satharathna Thero to discuss the matter. The monk not only reiterated what the dead priest had told them about living in harmony with Muslims, but also stated that as long as the mosque does not disturb the people, there was no problem.
However these advices were thrown into thin air when some Sinhalese in the vicinity began pressurizing the priest to get the mosque closed down stating that had the mosque remained there more Muslims may settle there and this will become a problem.
It appears Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs yielded to this unreasonable demand which threatens the very religious rights of the Muslims began taking measures to cancel the registration of the Masjid Al-Taqwa and close it down.
According to reports the Secretary of the Buddha Sasana Ministry, in a letter dated 30 Nov 2013, informed the Waqf Board to cancel the registration of the mosque.The reason he cited was that the chief monk of the Issadeen Town Ashokarama Temple Rev. Dr Kanathakoda Satharathna Tero, registrar of the Matara Sasana, and the chief inspector of Matara, claim that the mosque is a threat to local peace.
He did not explain how a mosque used for prayer could pose any threat to anyone.
However it was pointed out that the Buddsasana Ministry has no authority to make such an order and its action is Ultra Vires as the Registration of Mosques lies with the Waqf Board.
Issadeen family women with some men. Most of them are dead .The photo was taken in 1947 at No 80 Meera Road, Issadeen Town. This old building in the background remains the same without any change to date
The case was taken up with the Waqfs Tribunal which was established by parliament by virtue of act no 51 of 1956 and members of Waqfs Tribunal are appointed by the Judicial Services Commission. The Waqfs Tribunal has equal powers of District Court and it adopts the provisions of civil procedure code as per the section 9G of said Muslim Charitable and Trust Act no 51 0f 1956.
The mosque was registered with the Waqf board in July 2012. Thus there is no provision to cancel such Waqf Board registration. Therefore in terms of the provisions of the Waqfs Act, the Secretary, Ministry Buddasasana and Religious Affairs have no right or power to request the cancellation of the registration of a mosque, after its due registration.” A copy of this order was conveyed to Buddasasana Ministry.
Despite highlighting these facts, on Wednesday 3rd September, 2014, a meeting was held with the Secretary, Ministry of Buddasasana, attended by about 20 Buddhist priests, a representative of the Matara Police and a representative from the Matara Divisional Secretariat at the Ministry Auditorium.
There was no official information or notification to any member of the Masjid Thaqwa Trustee Board regarding this meeting although it was claimed that the trustees were informed. It was not clear on what basis this meeting was summoned as Secretary of Buddasasana has no jurisdiction to call a meeting on the said issue since the Waqfs Tribunal has already given an order on this issue on 25.01.2014.
Now, this matter can be reviewed only by the Court of Appeal. Further this property belongs to the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs.
The topic of this meeting was the ‘Closure of Masjid Thaqwa Mosque.’ Furthermore taking law into their own hands, it was concluded with a threat from the Buddhist Priests that if the mosque was not closed within 14 days they would hold a protest rally (Udgoshanaya) on 17th September, 2014.
On Wednesday 19 September 2014 the matter was once again taken up by the Buddha Sasana Ministry and called for a meeting between the two parties. Accordingly a meeting was held at Matara District Secretariat office. The meeting was chaired by the Secretary, Ministry of Buddha Sasana Mr. P B Dissanayake and the Director, Wakf Board Mr. Zameel and attended by the Mosque Trustees, Lawyers, Muslim Social workers and around 60 members of the Buddhist Clergy.
The large number of Buddhist Clergy who were present vehemently demanded that the Masjid be closed down. In a sheer display of lawlessness some members of the Sangha became abusive during the meeting and called Muslims with derogatory words such as ‘Thambiyas’ .They threatened to apply the ‘law of the jungle’ and mobilize youths to shut down the Masjid and boycott all Muslims businesses if the mosque was not closed down stating that there are only 13 Muslims families and there is no need for a mosque. In fact there are 25 Muslim families there.
They also threatened to evict the Muslim families there claiming that would lead to the automatic closure of the mosque. One member of the Buddhist Clergy became extremely abusive stating that “Thambis have no power here”.
Sick and tired of threats and street language used by monks the lawyers who represented the Mosque trustees left the meeting in protest .The meeting was adjourned without reaching a solution.
However it was decided that the case should be taken up before an appropriate Judicial Tribunal. Further the Mosque Trustees have written to the IGP regarding the threats made and requesting him to provide adequate security to maintain peace in the area.
Issadeen town, called Issadeen Thottam in Tamil and Issadeen Watta in Sinhala, was an 85 acre mainly coconut estate purchased in 1804 by meera kandu Shroff and later owned by his family members.
It was such a popular place that it was visited by three prime ministers-D.S.Senanayake in 1950, Dudley Senanayake in 1953 and Sir John Kotelawala in 1955.
In 1950 the family members formed a company called “Issadeen and Company” to set up a housing scheme and provided all required infrastructure facilities ,including modern road networks, hailed by authorities as some of the finest of such facility then. The Issadeen and Company also built shops at the junction and turned the area into a bazaar.
It was then divided the land into 20 perch plot each and sold, without any discrimination whatsoever, for paltry sum like Rs 300 or Rs 400 per perch. In doing so the family allocated two separate plots, free of charge, for constructing a Buddhist Temple and a mosque. Temple was built but the construction of the mosque was delayed.
Issadeen family members named the newly built roads within the housing complex and given both Muslim and Sinhala names in their drive to ensure communal harmony. However on Thursday 25 September 2014 a sign board renaming Yehiya Road into Parakrama Road was seen and the Muslims informed the police about it.
In the midst in the 1960s, during then Prime Minister Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike’s government, Housing Minister Mahanama Samaraweera, father of Mr.Mangala Samaraweera, who was the Matara Member of Parliament, acquired the entire property belonging to Issadeen and Company and brought it under housing department.Muslims accused that Minister Mahanama Samaraweera acquired their lands for political reason as they supported United National Party.
Explaining this some pointed out that in the March 1960 general elections Mr. Mahanama Samaraweera was defeated and his supporters attributed this defeat to S.Y .Issadeen who was not only senior member of Issadeen family but was also deputy chairmen of the Matara Urban Council.
Thus on being elected to parliament in the July 1960 elections Mahanama Samawaeera became the housing minister and one f the first things he did was to acquire the entire Issadeen and company housing scheme complex turning overnight the Issadeen family into paupers.
In the process the government also acquired the land allotted for the mosque and thus the inability of the frustrated Muslims in building the mosque. There was also a road called mosque road and some of the senior members of the Issadeen family were buried around the area allocated for the mosque.
However there was a need for a mosque as the nearest mosque is around two and half kilometers away. Thus on 8 May1998 Muslims who live there bought a thirty perch land with a house and a small building. This was divided into three plots and two plots were sold while the third was kept for the mosque. Prayers were conducted in the small building from the year 2000. In 2008 a small mosque was built and registered it with Waqf Board in 2012.
This mosque is also used to conduct religious classes for about 30 students and thus also serves as a “ madarasa”. The mosque is not used for Friday Juma prayer and they also do not use loud hailers in their call to prayer.