By Azra Ameen
The Army, Police and the Special Task Force (STF) was deployed to prevent any untoward incidents in Dambulla when over 1,000 protesters lead by Buddhist monks staged a demonstration calling for the demolition of the Masjidul Khaira mosque in Dambulla today.
Security was beefed up around the mosque located in the Kandalama Junction, just before Friday prayers as the protestors, waving the Buddhist flag and shouting slogans marched towards the mosque.
The protestors were calling for the demolition of the mosque claiming that Dambulla is a holy area exclusive to only Buddhists and that the mosque is situated in a sacred area.
“We have placed tight security around the mosque as tension was high in the area. We had called the STF and the army to assist maintaining security in the area,” a senior officer attached to the Dambulla Police division speaking to Ceylon Today on conditions of anonymity said.
Following the demonstration the District Secretariat decided to seal the mosque till the 23 April. However, the monks vowed to stage a massive protest if the mosque is not demolished by 23 April.
Akmeemana Dayarathna Thero, one of the monks leading the protests claimed that the mosque should be demolished as the Muslims had constructed it illegally. It is a claim many Muslims in the area are disputing.
“We asked them to remove the mosque as Dambulla was declared a holy city with a sacred temple that came up two years ago,” Akmeemana Dayarathna Thera.
He also said that, group of Buddhist monks led by Ven Inamaluwe Shri Sumanagala therea demanded that the mosque should be demolished as no permission has been obtained for the construction.
Trustee of the mosque, M. Rahmathullah said, “We do not agree to their claim. The mosque was in the area for more than 50 years”.
“As usual the Muslim devotees were gathered in the mosque for their Friday congregational prayers. Around 50 of us were in the mosque,” he said.
“Despite the tight security the angry mob had managed to trap the Muslim devotees attending Friday prayers inside the mosque,” he said.
“Then the STF asked us to go further into a little room in the mosque as the protestors were agitated and there was a possibility for them to break into the mosque. As the situation was getting tense the STF asked us to leave the mosque and necessary protection was given while exiting,” Rahmathuallah said.
“As we left the locality, the district secretary had sealed the mosque without leaving room for any trouble to take place,” he said.
The mosque had been in existence since the 1960s and had been a place of worship for the Muslim residents in the area. Expansions and renovations to the mosque began recently.
In the meantime, Police Spokesman SP Ajith Rohana declined to comment on the situation in Dambulla.