Muslim Youths Rally to Defend their “Abode of Allah”.
A well –planned dastardly attack was launched by armed Buddhist extremists against an Islamic Mosque in the Sri Lankan Capital of Colombo on Saturday August 10th 2013 while “Maghrib”(After Sunset) prayers were in progress
The attack conducted with Police connivance against the Mosque and some Muslim residences in the vicinity came just one day after adherents of the Islamic faith celebrated “Eid Ul Fitr” (feast of the breaking the fast) known generally in Tamil as “Nonbupperunaal”.
The provocative attack caused a large number of Muslim youths to rally in a defiant mood to defend the “house of God”(Allaavin Illam)resulting in the “Ethno religious Fascist”mob dispersing from the scene with the help of the Police.
Preliminary details of the incident as gleaned from residents in Colombo 14 known as Grandpass in English, Paalathurai in Tamil and Thotalanga in Sinhala are as follows.
Due to earlier problems and tensions the Mosque functioning at 166 Swarna chaitiya road in the Molawatte area of Grandpass had been moved on July 4th to a re-constructed three storeyed building at no 158 on the same road . Buddhist extremist elements had objected to that too and conducted demonstrations demanding that the mosque be moved out of the area altogether.As a result of Buddhist protests the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs that had earlier granted permission for the Mosque to function in the new premises revoked the order.
A deadline of one month was imposed on July 10th 2013 for the Mosque to be moved out of the area entirely.The deadline was August 10th 2013.As the Ramadan fasting season was about to commence an agreement came into being where prayers were to be conducted in the premises of the earlier Mosque.
Meanwhile Muslim political and religious leaders interacted with Government authorities including President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime minister DM Jayaratna on the issue. As a result of these efforts the Religious Affairs ministry coming under the purview of the Premier rescinded its earlier cancellation.It was then stated that the Mosque need not be moved out by the August 10th deadline.
Cabinet minister for Industry and Commerce Risad Badhiyutheen and Deputy minister of Investment promotion Faiszer Musthapha spoke about the issue with President Rajapaksa and got his approval to let the Mosque function without being relocated by the Aug 10th deadline. News items to the effect appeared in the Tamil media. Faiszer Musthapha in particular was praised for resolving the issue amicably. The deputy minister had been appointed co- organizer for Colombo central electoral division of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) and was also made president of the SLFP Muslim unit.
Faiszer Musthapha was able to procure official authorisation from the Buddha Sasana and Religious affairs ministry for functioning of the Mosque.He sent a copy of the official letter to Colombo DIG of Police Anura Senanayake and sought Police protection for the Mosque. This was granted.
News reports also appeared in the Tamil media that the Ministry of Religious Affairs had formally cancelled the relocation deadline and authorised the functioning of the Mosque in the new premises on Swarnachaitiya road. It was announced by Mosque authorities that prayers in the new premises would commence from Saturday August 10th 2013 the day of the original deadline for relocation.
The news that President Rajapaksa himself had sanctioned the functioning of the Mosque brought much relief and happiness to Muslims as they felt that their problem was over because the executive president had arrived at a positive decision. With the end of the fast celebrations underway the people were in a festive mood when the unexpected attack took place.
Many thugs and goondas from areas outside Grandpass converged in stages at the Buddhist Vihara premises in the vicinity.Thereafter they moved clandestinely in twos and threes through the area at the back of the Mosque. This area is populated mainly by Sinhala Buddhist families. Thus the assailants were able to have relatively “safe passage” as they moved without alerting Muslims through this “friendly” area towards their target destination
The assailants now converged into a mob numbering around 50 to 60 outside the Mosque. The attack was launched just five minutes after “Maghrib” the after sunset prayers began. The signal for the attack was the ringing of bells at the Pansala.The mob armed with poles and rods also had stones and bottles.They began throwing their missiles at the building.Glass panes on all three storeys were shattered.
A detachment of 40 Policemen under a Police Inspector was stationed at the Mosque premises to afford protection. But this was mysteriously whittled down in the evening to 12 led by one sub-inspector. This “dirty dozen” which apparently knew of the impending attack did nothing to prevent it.It is alleged that the cops encouraged the mob gleefully to “give the works”(vada dhenda).More Police personnel arrived when the attack was in progress. The Police continued to remain passive spectators.
Due to the prevalent “Perunaal” festive mood the attendance at the Mosque for Maghrib evening prayers was very low. More importantly there were very few Muslim youths at the Mosque during that time (around 6.30 pm)
Meanwhile the pealing of bells went on incessantly at the Buddhist Vihara. Another crowd of hooligans claiming to be ardent “Sinhala Buddhists” were already in readiness at the premises. This crowd numbering around 50 to 60 now started out towards the Mosque shouting slogans that this was a Sinhala Buddhist country and that the Muslims and Mosques should be thrown out . There were some Saffron clad Monks leading this mob.There were around 20 women in this group. Apparently this was the second phase of the well planned attack.
The earlier group moving clandestinely had used the element of surprise to launch the attack. The second group was vociferously shouting out slogans. If silence was the tactic by the former noise was the hallmark of the latter.
As the bells continued to ring,more and more Sinhala Buddhists from the neighbourhood gathered at the Vihara.They were addressed by Buddhist priests attached to the temple. The crowd was told that the destruction of the Mosque was in progress. Whipped into a frenzy these elements also started trekking to the Mosque in small groups . They were fired with the notion of replicating “Babri Masjid Demolition at Ayodhya” in Grandpass.This was the third phase of the coordinated attack.
Anticipating a large turn out to destroy the Mosque ,the vanguard attackers now dismantled the gates and threw it into a dirty ditch. What was being plotted was a massive storming of the Mosque after a huge hostile crowd gathered.The removal of the gates was to facilitate the mob running “en masse”to attack.The fourth phase may very well have been the induction of Petrol and Kerosene to burn down the building.Mercifully that did not happen.
As the Buddhist extremist mob expanded to over 150 the Police intervened and regulated it. Instead of dispersing the mob what the Police did was to break it up into two groups. One smaller faction was permitted to be up front in close proximity to the Mosque. The other larger faction was kept away at a distance from the Mosque.They were allowed to watch the attack with Police protection.This action by the Police reduced the size of the mob on the frontline. As a result the numbers necessary for a storming was lacking.
As passions increased the mob got further unruly leading to the attack assuming new directions. One group moved to the earlier Mosque premises close by and started throwing stones. Others started targeting Muslim residences in the neighbourhood and began attacking. Among the residences attacked was the home of the Mosque’s Imam.
When the attack commenced prayers were being conducted by the Priest Mohammed Arshad Moulavi. Since the festive mood was on comparatively very few people were participating in the Maghrib prayers.Altogether the attendees were around 80 to 90.Despite the building being stoned the prayers went on and concluded at 6. 45 pm.Thereafter the people remained indoors not daring to venture out.
About 20 to 25 men then tried to invade the Mosque building. They broke down the locked door and entered. The reconstructed Mosque had been used as a Warehouse earlier.The bottom and second floor were used as a Mosque but the third floor was still used for storage.
When the mob tried to enter Arshad Moulavi and other elders moved all the people from the first and second floors to the top floor.Two youths and three elderly persons on the ground floor got caught to the mob and were severely assaulted.They sustained injuries and were later hospitalised. One person’s condition is reportedly critical.
The mob smashed up the ground floor of the Mosque. They brought in heavy stones and dropped them on the newly installed floor tiles thus cracking them. From the ground floor the mob now tried to go up to the second floor.Arshad Moulavi and some younger males tried to block them. Some including Arshad Moulavi were slightly injured in the scuffles. There were many wooden planks and tin barrels in the storage rooms on the top floor.The Muslim defenders rolled the barrels down on the invaders and also brandished the wooden planks.Seeing the planks in the hands of the resisting Muslims the invaders retreated.Arshad Moulavi was among those involved in these skirmishes where the congregation valiantly resisted the attempt to demolish their place of Worship while Khakied guardians of law and order entrusted with their protection remained approving spectators of the unfolding barbarity.
Grandpass or Colombo 14 is a multi ethnic area where Sinhalese,Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers live in amity. In recent times the Muslim population in the area has increased rapidly.When the Molawatte Mosque was first set up in a wooden structure in 1966 there were only 20 Muslim families praying at the Mosque. Currently 430 Muslim families are registered with the Mosque. There are over 800 Muslim youths in these families.
As news of the attack on the Mosque spread the Muslims in the area got agitated and started rushing to the Mosque.Among these were office bearers of the Islamic organization known as the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath.They were joined by other responsible and respected Muslim elders. Together they started asking the Police to disperse the mob and safeguard the Mosque.
Suddenly the hitherto inert Police sprang into action. More reinforcements arrived on the spot. But the Police did not try to disperse the Sinhala Buddhist mob aiming to demolish the Mosque. Instead the cops were trying to disperse the agitated Muslims gathering to protect their Mosque.However some Policemen were heard asking the mob to go home with wide grins plastered on their faces. It was apparent that the cops were not serious.
Meanwhile Muslim political leaders were informed of the situation. Predictably many contacted the man responsible for the defence of the realm – Gotabhaya Rajapaksa the all powerful secretary of Defence and Urban development. To his credit Gotabhaya Rajapaksa took action immediately Additional Police including the anti-riot task force were sent. The Special Task Force was also called in. Due to the Weliweriya fiasco the Army was not rushed in but kept in readiness for deployment if necessary.
As more and more Police arrived the Muslim leaders kept on demanding that the mobs be dispersed and ring leaders arrested but top Police officials insisted that the Muslims leave the area first.The Muslim leaders particularly the Thowheed Jamath officials flatly refused to leave the place unless the mobsters wanting to destroy the Mosque were arrested or dispersed and the Mosque’s security guaranteed.It was virtually a stand off situation.
And then the tables turned as more and more determined Muslim youths arrived at the spot. Many Muslim youths were ready to retaliate with violence to defend the Mosque which they called the “Allaahvin Illam”(Abode of Allah).As more Muslims gathered the situation started transforming. Infuriated Muslim Youths started taking on the armed mobsters. A number of fights ensued on the periphery.A few swords were allegedly used.
It soon became apparent that despite the strength of numbers and possession of clubs and rods the mob was in reality a bunch of cowards.As Muslim resistance mounted the mob started scattering. Enraged Muslim youths gave chase to the some of the fleeing goondas.
The Police got upset at this reversal of roles where the predator was becoming prey. They started to safeguard the Sinhala Buddhist mob. Attempts were made to restrain the Muslim youths who were now in a pugnacious mood and even ready to confront the partisan Police. Clashes occurred. But the situstion was contained and a serious conflagration averted by Muslim elders and religious leaders who persuaded Muslim youths to desist from counter-violence and leave the area.
Senior Police officials who arrived at the scene got in touch with superiors. Thereafter they began asking the mob to go home.Faced with the prospect of combating resolute Muslim youths fiercely determined to defend their Mosque the mob too began to willingly disperse .Police provided protection to them without arresting any one. Most of them went with the Buddhist monks to the Buddhist Vihare.A strking feature of some of the thugs imported from outside was their shaved heads. Some of these thugs seemed to be familiar with some of the cops.
With the Sinhala Buddhist mob dispersing the high ranking Police officials now turned to the Muslims.After discussions the Police gave the Muslim leaders three assurances.Firstly that the Mosque would be protected from further attack. Secondly that Prayers could be conducted at the Mosque from Sunday Aug 11th. Thirdly that those responsible for attacking the Mosque would be arrested within 24 hours.Upon top Police officials giving these assurances the Muslim leaders and youths at the Mosque also started leaving.
When Thowheed Jamath officials and other Muslim elders left the spot they discovered a huge crowd of muslims numbering more than a thousand gathered at the Grandpass Jak tree junction known as Kosgas Handiya in Sinhala and Palaamarachchandthi in Tamil. These consisted of Muslim men ,women and children of all ages who had rushed to the Mosque upon hearing of the attack. Police however had barricaded and prevented them from proceeding. The Muslim people here too were in an anxious and angry state of mind. The Muslim leaders explained what had happened and managed to make the Muslim families return home.
Many of the enraged Muslim youths were suspicious of the assurances made by the Police. Given the pathetic performance of the Police in situations where Buddhist extremists attack Muslim institutions this suspicion is understandable. Since the Police actually connived with the mob in attacking the Grandpass Mosque the Muslim youths feared a sudden midnight assault on the Mosque again. Fuelling these suspicions was the conduct of Colombo North Senior Supdt of Police RSD Dayananda.It is alleged that Dayananda had threatened Muslim elders saying he would not let the Mosque function at Grandpass.
In this situation hundreds of Muslim youths gathered at Awwal Zaviya road in Grandpass and kept awake. Their plan was to be vigilant and be prepared to react instantly if another attack on the Mosque was launched. But personnel from the STF now deployed in the area commenced friendly talks with the agitated Muslim youths and firmly pledged to prevent any recurrence of violence directed at the Mosque. Muslim elders also requested the youths to go to their homes instead of waiting on guard at Awwal Zaviya road.The Muslim youths obliged telling the STF they were doing so because they trusted them
Although many were injured in the clashes only eight persons including two Policemen were admitted to Hospital.A curfew was declared until 7 am Sunday morning.The situation in Grandpass is now quiet but the future is rather uncertain.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ firstname.lastname@example.org