Lanka mosques row ends but anti-Muslim feeling remains
By P K Balachandran | Published: 13th August 2013 02:09 PM |
A Buddhist-Muslim row over two mosques in the crowded Grandpass area of Colombo, which saw vandalism and violence over the weekend, was defused on Monday, with the signing of an agreement between Muslim and Buddhist leaders in the presence of the Secretary to the Buddha Sasana Ministry.
N.M.Ameen, President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka ,who worked out the agreement, told Express that the Muslims had agreed to give up one of the mosques, which was but an additional prayer hall, temporarily acquired to manage the Ramzan rush. The government, on its part, had agreed not to acquire part of the old mosque for civic development. The government had also agreed to help the Muslims expand the old mosque and provide more facilities to worshippers.
Amin said that space constraints in the old mosque had forced the Muslims of the area to acquire an additional premises. But this triggered tension in the area.
“When the old mosque was built in 1966, there were only 40 Muslim families in that area. But the numbers had swelled to 400-odd families since then. We needed extra space,” he said.
Some radical Sinhalese-Buddhist organizations, alarmed by the multiplication of mosques allegedly built with funds from Saudi Arabian Wahabis, have been seeking a check on the proliferation of mosques in Lanka. Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) have been agitating against mosque proliferation, Halal certification and the wearing of veils. These organizations had objected to the acquisition of the additional prayer room and damaged it by stone pelting on Saturday, leading to a communal clash in which some 12 people were injured.
Alarmed by the attack, Muslims ministers in the government met and condemned the attack. The US embassy issued a statement expressing “concern” which was carried by the Middle East media, embarrassing the Rajapaksa government.
Buddhist-Muslim tension has been on the rise since the end of the war in 2009. In April 2012, the government wanted to demolish a mosque in Dambulla because it was falling with the Dambulla Buddhist Sacred Area Development Project. More recently, some miscreants threw a piece of pig flesh into a mosque in South Lanka.