By Latheef Farook
Muslim community’s overall response to vandalism at the Dambulla mosque by a mob led by Ven Inamaluwa Sumangala Thero on Friday 20 April 2012 has been “calm and dignified”.
In one voice their message to the mainstream peace loving Sinhalese was “restore communal harmony”. This was the spontaneous response of the community long before what people described as “so called politicians and so called religious scholars” came to the scene.
As a mark of protest, Muslims closed their shops throughout the east, Puttalam and other places on 26 Thursday and 27 Friday April 2012.They demonstrated after Friday Juma prayers not to resort to violence, instead to insist on communal harmony. The entire community prayed individually at homes and collectively at masjids while men and women throughout the island observed fasting.
Muslim organizations issued statements emphasizing the need to save the country from elements hell bent on causing disharmony between Sinhalese and Muslims for political gains. Muslims did not even respond to denigration of their community by the mob leaderas they knewthat this vandalism was not the work of Dambulla Sinhalese or the mainstream Sinhalese community, as proved later, but by people willingly or unwillingly, brought from outside to rouse communal discord.
Throughout the country no Muslim ever spoke a word hurting the feelings of anyone, nor did they criticize the Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratne for rewarding hooliganism when he ordered within 24 hours, on 21 April 2012, to demolish the mosque .Of course Muslims were deeply shocked and hurt at the false statement by the Prime Minister’s office stating that the decision to demolish the mosque was taken at a meeting the prime minister had with Muslim ministers.
However, as expected, some sections of the community demanded the prime minister’s resignation.
Muslims also informed their friends and others abroad that this is not a Sinhala –Muslim problem but an issue precipitated by some racist elements that were carrying out a vicious campaign against the island’s Muslim community ever since the government’s military victory overthe LTTE.
Though deeply frustrated, Muslims did not turn to anyone to form alliance. However the authorities, all Sinhalese, decided the fate of the mosque at a meeting without the presence of a single Muslim.
Under such circumstances, what better message that the country emerging from its almost three decades of ethnic carnage could expect from the island’s Muslim community than this? What better sincere contribution the aggrieved and beleaguered Muslims could make to the island’s future?
Isn’t it time that the government and the large majority of responsible elements in the mainstream Sinhalese community respond to this peaceful overtures especially at a time when the communities remain divided and rescue this country from religious extremism and chauvinism.
In this respect the Muslim community appreciates with gratitude the unbiased attitude of Lands Minister Janaka Bandara Tennekoon as a sign of hope.
Muslims from all walks of life held peaceful demonstrations defying a call by All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (Council of Muslim Theologians) not to do so, to highlight their resentment at this extremely dangerous provocation. Main demonstrations were held opposite Devatagaha Mosque near Town Hall. There were other such demonstrations outside the capital including Puttalam.
Justifying their decision to hold peaceful demonstrations many asked “how come the Jamiyyathul Ulema which called Muslims island wide in their sermons to participate in demonstration to condemn the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva only a month ago now ask us not to demonstrate to protest against vandalism at Dambulla Mosque.
Some also pointed out that Jamiyyathula Ulama should have consulted the community before issuing statement on Dambulla mosque issue. Here in this case Jamiyyathul Ulama arrogated itself the power and issued statement without consulting the community.
The irony is that Dambulla mosque vandalism has split the Jamiyyathul Ulama at a time when Muslims need to be united to face challenge. A splinter group which was of the opinion that Jamiyyathul Ulama should not have sent a team to Geneva and got involved in politics formed a splinter group causing considerable concern within the helpless community abandoned by all alike.
The Jamiyyathul Ulema was also accused by some of doing the sordid bidding of the government. Meanwhile several leading non Muslims too participated in the demonstrations near Dewatagaha last Friday. Prominent among them were Peratugami Samajawadhi party M P Ajith Kumara, Western Democratic Party Mano Ganeshan and leader of Samjawadhi Peramuna, Wickremabahu Karunaratne.
They not only attended but also accused racist elements within the government of creating communal disharmony and defended religious rights of all communities.
However what is more prominent, to the shock of the entire Muslim community, was the complete boycott of these peaceful demonstrations by Muslim parliamentarians.
No Muslim politician except Western provincial council member Mujibur Rahman participated in the demonstration.
However, Muslims were not surprised over the absence of their politicians. One participant said” I expected all Muslim parliamentarians to resign the moment I saw the mosque being vandalized under the watchful eyes of police and the army. It has not happened. Perhaps their positions, power and perks are more important to Muslim parliamentarians than defending the mosque or religious freedom of the Muslim community. These are the self seeking politician we have in the Muslim community”.
The Dambulla mosque issue cropped up at a time when the Muslim politicians’ popularity was at its lowest ebb in view of their failure to attend to burning issues of people. In fact the Muslim community has lost all confidence and respect for their parliamentarians who have become liabilities than assets.
Muslim politicians individually and collectively negotiated deals and joined the government have failed to raise these issues fearing they would antagonize the rulers. In the east, for example, Muslims have been passing through a very difficult time since the defeat of LTTE in May 2009 due to acquisition of lands which they claim belong to them, colonization of Sinhalese brought from outside and landsgrabbed by the LTTE still being occupied by Tamils besides many other such issues.
However, the mood of the community following the attack on the Dambulla mosque dragged Muslim politicians together.
Repeated statements by Sri Lanka Muslim Congress General Secretary Hassan Ali rejecting the move to shift the mosque lifted the morale of the community. This was further reiterated by senior Sri Lankan Freedom Party politician Alavi Moulana threatening to resign as governor of Western Province if the mosque is shifted or demolished highlighted the gravity of the situation.
However the community was enraged at the Deputy Minister Hezbollah who, perhaps to please the government and ensure his job, said the Dambulla mosque, though damaged and vandalized, was not damaged.
Adding insult to injury his clownish appearance in the presence of the mob leader was described as absolute disgrace to the community.
The unfortunate message from Dambulla vandalism is that chauvinists who turned the country into a killing field never learnt any lesson.