Sri Lankan Prime Minister D.M. Dayaratne’s order to demolish the 65-year-old masjid in Dambulla and build one elsewhere strikes at the very root of religious freedom.
It also shocked and hurt the island’s Muslim community. The masjid was attacked and vandalized by a mob led by extremist Buddhist monks on April 20 in the northeastern town of Dambulla. Responding to the order and expressing the community’s dismay, Muslim Congress Secretary and parliamentarian Hassen Ali said the “community will not accept a mosque in another place even if it was built of gold.”
Hassen Ali stated that if places of worship of religious minorities are being attacked while the police and army stand by and watch, it implies that they are supporting the marauders and providing them security, instead of the law abiding citizens.
The claim by the prime minister that an order was given to demolish the masjid with the consent of Muslim politicians insults his office. This was described as a “blatant manufactured lie” and vehemently rejected by Senior Minister A.H.M. Fawzie, Deputy Minister M.L.A.M. Hizbulla, Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana and Parliamentarian Abdul Cader, all of whom stressed that they never attended such a meeting in Gampola.
Refuting the prime minister’s charge, former deputy mayor of Colombo Azath Salley stated,
…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 Waqf Act. Therefore the Prime Minister’s statement claiming that the unauthorized construction of the mosque has been stopped is totally false. The land on which the mosque was located was bought by a lady in Jaffna from Englishmen. From that time, this mosque has been in existence. Later the adjacent land too had been bought by the mosque authorities in 1995… This statement by the Prime Minister is misleading the Buddhists… The Prime Minister should not make such irresponsible statements as the Waqf Board comes under his office and he is contradicting his own statement. Besides the statement by [the chief Buddhist monk] Ven Inamaluwa Sumangla Thera that he will ensure that Muslims will not have a place to even urinate is not only irresponsible but very dangerous too.
Although the UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe has yet to comment, its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa described the prime minister’s order as the “law of the jungle and nothing to do with Buddhism.” Premadasa asked: “How could we develop the country when the prime minister’s office issues such false statements?”
In any civilized society one would expect unruly elements who vandalize a masjid while worshippers were getting ready for Jumu‘ah Salah to be arrested and brought before a court to be dealt with according to law. Instead they were rewarded in violation of all canons of human decency.
Muslims in the area are of the opinion that Sinhalese in Dambulla were not involved in the hooliganism. Instead hired people, including monks, were brought from outside to vandalize the masjid. What they failed to understand is that we are not living in the medieval era as the entire world is watching, especially at a time when the country is accused of war crimes against one minority community, the Tamils.
The irony is that this happened less than a month after most Muslim countries voted against the US-sponsored and Indian-supported United Nations Human Rights Commission’s resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva and rescued the island’s dignity.
In fact the day the masjid was vandalized, the government started bilateral discussions with Israel, an international pariah, a sworn enemy of Muslims and architect of the US-sponsored global campaign against Muslims under the guise of the war on terror.
Demolition of the masjid means the end of Muslim support for the government. Western Province governor Alavi Moulana has already hinted that “…he would seriously consider vacating his position if the government goes ahead with the plan to demolish the mosque.” The manner in which politicians and the so-called muftis who started hob knobbing in politics were insulted and intimated at a meeting held in Colombo to discuss the Dambulla Masjid, is clear indication of the people’s mood.
To Muslims all over the world, a masjid is Allah’s (swt) house. It is everything to them. They turn to masjid for prayers and to seek solace. Moreover Muslims posed no problem or threat to anyone in Dambulla or anywhere else. Under such circumstances what is the purpose of raising this issue? The question is: do we need to precipitate such an unwanted crisis now? As pointed out by former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, “Muslims in the island have been the most peaceful community.”
Muslims never failed to rise to the occasion to support and protect the country. For example, when a two-thirds majority was needed to secure independence in 1948, the Muslim community wholeheartedly supported the bill that was detrimental to their own interests. It is time that all involved in the masjid demolition read late the Prime Minister Bandaranaike’s passionate and emotional response and assurances to Muslims which were conveniently forgotten later.
Ultra-nationalists who claim and behave as if King Vijaya and Kuveni had given them the title deed of sole ownership to the island and now hand in glove with the Israelis have forgotten the historic role played by Muslims in preserving the territorial integrity of the country. For example from the very beginning, Muslims opposed tooth and nail the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam’s (LTTE) claim for a separate state. Had they joined hands with the LTTE, the country would have been divided decades ago. The country’s armed forces were not equipped then, as they are today, to meet the challenge posed by the LTTE that was openly backed by India.
Muslims paid a heavy price for this. They were slaughtered in village after village even while praying in their masjids. Their paddy lands were forcibly taken over, businesses closed and their very means of survival were snatched. The entire Jaffna Muslim population was kicked out within two hours and their belongings and property were looted.
In return, Muslims expected some relief after the military defeat of the LTTE. Instead they have been simply dismissed and sidelined. Though they remain deeply frustrated, they only expected some peaceful solution to their problems. It was in this atmosphere that the move to destroy the Dambulla Masjid occurred.
The country has ended up in Geneva due to its failure to deal with one community — the Tamils. To provoke Muslims without any reason especially when Zionists and Evangelical Christians together with RSS Hindu extremists have unleashed a global campaign killing Muslims and destroying Muslim countries would appear to be extremely ill-advised. Under such circumstances, who can predict the consequences of the shortsighted move to demolish the Dambulla Masjid?
In the aftermath of the LTTE defeat, all communities in the country — Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others — looked forward to a period of peace and harmony. However, the move to demolish the Dambulla Masjid shows that reconciliation, peace, harmony and progress are nothing but distant dreams.