COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Muslims, across the political spectrum, are incensed over island nation’s Prime Minister D M Jayaratne’s bid to forcibly shift a mosque from a Buddhist “sacred area” in Dambulla in Central Lanka.
Even Muslim ministers in the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cabinet protested against the PM’s bid to shift the mosque, which has been in existence for the last 60 years. Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem said that legal action may have to taken if the move is not reversed.
On Friday, a group of Buddhist monks, claiming to represent the sacred area in Dambulla, along with hundreds of laymen tried to storm the Masjidul Kaira mosque during prayer time and threatened to demolish it if it was not closed.
The agitators’ plea was that the mosque was an unauthorised construction as no place of worship other than a Buddhist place of worship could be constructed in a place designated as a “sacred area” for Buddhism. Dambulla is a major Buddhist pilgrimage centre and the area was declared “sacred” to Buddhists in 1982.
The Muslims who were in the mosque at that time of protest said that the mosque was perfectly legal as it had been in existence for six decades. As for the construction going on, it was said that only some renovation was being done.
The local police intervened. But instead of asking the crowd led by the Buddhist monks to disperse, they asked the Muslims in the mosque to leave the area. The mosque was closed and the Muslims left under police protection. Subsequently, prominent Muslims from Colombo, including senior minister AHM Fowzie and Deputy Minister MLAM Hisbullah, visited Dambulla and sat on a dharna. The mosque was later opened. On Sunday, the situation worsened when Jayaratne, also the Religious Affairs Minister, held a meeting in Colombo after which he said that the mosque would be shifted.