Masjidul Khairah, a case of religious injustice and racism exercised with government approval – Kabir Hashim
By Dinidu de Alwis
Senior Muslim Government Ministers yesterday denied claims by Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, who said that an order to demolish a mosque in Dambulla was given with the consent of several powerful political figures.
Jayaratne ordered the demolition of the Masjidul Khaira in Dambulla, his office said in a statement, adding that the decision was made with the consent of Senior Minister A.H.M. Fowzy, Deputy Minister M.L.A.M. Hizbullah, Western Province Governor Alavi Mowlana, , and parliamentarian A. R. M. Abdul Cader at a meeting held yesterday in Gampola.
“There was no such meeting, and I was in Batticoloa the whole day,” Hizbullah said, adding that “any decision about the mosque should be taken by the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) – the four of us are not empowered to take such a decision.”
Fowzie told the BBC he had not been to such a gathering, adding that it would be acceptable to request such relocation, but not to order it.
Mowlana and Fowzie also vehemently denied the meeting ever taking place to key members of the Muslim community in Colombo yesterday.
A united delegation of all cross-party parliamentarians are scheduled to meet the Prime Minister today to discuss the order, government sources said.
Jayaratne however, has assured that the 65-year-old mosque, along with all facilities, would be rebuilt in a ‘suitable’ area.
Heavy pressure mounted last Friday as nearly a thousand protestors gathered near the mosque asking for it to be closed down, and in an unprecedented move, the police were forced to close the mosque before Jummah prayers and seal it off to the public.
Police Spokesperson SP Ajith Rohana said that no special police units have been deployed in the area, but ‘all necessary steps’ are being taken to safeguard peace and public order.
Buddhist clergy gathered at the location on Friday gave a ‘deadline’ till Monday (23) to completely remove the mosque, stating that they will otherwise demolish it by Tuesday (24).
Earlier last year, a shrine was demolished under similar circumstances in Anuradhapura, in the presence of police personnel and the Assistant Divisional Secretary along with other high-ranking local officials.
Yesterday’s move by the Premier was heavily criticized by Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) – a constituent party of the government, the main opposition United National Party (UNP), and some politicians in the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), including Colombo Municipal Councillor Azath Salley.
“Seeing the way the monks behaved and the statements made, saying that Muslims will not be able to urinate in Dambulla – they must not forget that Muslims stood with the Sinhalese in getting independence for this country.
“President Rajapaksa said that there are no more ethnic minorities in the country, and this is the line that we repeated at election rallies,” Salley said.
“What are we facing now? Do not Tamils and Muslims have a right to live in this country now?” he questioned, during a media briefing held in Colombo yesterday.
Political sources said that several diplomatic missions from Islamic countries have expressed ‘deep concern’ over the government’s proposed move.
The plan for demolition comes less than a month after several Islamic governments helped Colombo cushion a resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
“After the war has been won, they must not think the Sinhalese are enough to protect this country. The President should have attended to this issue before he left the country without allowing this to happen,” Salley said.
Salley also alleged that Inamaluwe Sumangala Thera, who runs the Rangiri Sri Lanka Radio, is preaching hate through the regional radio network.
The official website of the radio station showed a video where the Thera says “Muslims are trying to bulldoze the rights and the heritage of Buddhists, and this cannot be allowed,” followed by footage of Friday’s protest.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is currently visiting South Korea, and is expected to subsequently visit several Middle Eastern Countries who showed support during the critical UNHRC vote.
“No one can say they were not aware of this. The President was informed of this long before it became an issue,” Salley added.
SLMC General Secretary and parliamentarian Hasen Ali echoed similar sentiments, saying ‘relocation is not a solution.’
“You are intentionally hurting the sentiment of the Muslim community. It has equal status to any other place of worship, be it a kovil or a temple or a church,” Hasen Ali added.
“There will be a huge outcry from the Muslim community. The media has given wide publicity to the violent behaviour of the monks. We are scared. We do not know what may happen in the future,” he said.
UNP parliamentarian Kabir Hashim said there is a rule of law in this country that should be maintained.
“An illegal armed group marched into the mosque in the presence of the police and the army causing damage to the mosque. They then proceeded to chase out the Muslims in attendance without allowing them to perform their obligatory prayers, thus inhibiting religious freedom,” he said.
Hashim stated that this is a case of religious injustice and racism exercised with government approval.
“We are perturbed and shocked as a community that has always stood for the unity of this country, even going to the extent of sending Muslim clergy to Geneva to protect the government,” he said.
Fringe group Sinhala Ravaya – who claimed responsibility for the earlier Anuradhapura shrine demolition – issued a statement on their website on Saturday claiming responsibility for organising last week’s protests against the mosque.