Don’t paint us all with the same brush, Sri Lankan Muslims plead after terror attack
NEW DELHI: In an unprecedented development, following an attack on April 21 which killed at least 250 Christians on Easter Sunday, several mosques across Sri Lanka did not conduct special prayers on Friday, marking a first for the country where Muslims account for 9.7 percent of the total population of more than 21 million.
Some mosques which did conduct the prayers did so under a heavy security blanket while maintaining a low profile.
On Friday, after appealing for calm, President Maithripala Sirisena reiterated that the entire Muslim community cannot be held responsible for the crime of a few people.
“There is a deep sense of fear among the Muslim community,” Hilmy Ahamed, Vice President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said.
“In the first couple of days, there was a genuine fear of things going out of control and Muslims being at the receiving end of the collective wrath of the society. The situation now has calmed down. But we are worried about the backlash,” Ahamed told Arab News.
For his part, he thanked the Christian Cardinal of Colombo for releasing a strong statement to drive home the point that “Muslims cannot be held responsible for the acts of few terrorists.”
“That really calmed the situation very much,” he added.
Colombo-based Ahamed said that lots of bridges needed to be built to “maintain inter-religious harmony in the country.”
“At the same time, the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka will have to address the issue of fringe extremism in society. We have decided to set up a committee in every mosque in the country to be vigilant about any nefarious activities – be it by an outsider or insider and check the radicalization of youth,” he said.
Sheikh Muiz Bukhary, a renowned Muslim preacher, concurred.
“The perpetrators of the terror attacks had Muslim names. The entire Muslim body does not want to have anything to do with these criminals so much so that we have decided not to accept their corpses in the Muslim burial ground,” he said, adding that despite the measures taken, there continues to be a certain level of “uneasiness in the society.”
“The president’s message was very assuring. We don’t want to be blamed or charged for what a small and the tiny section of the people did,” Bukhary said.
He told Arab News that “we hope that the majority of the country does not act in a xenophobic or Islamophobic way.”
Citing examples of incidents reported in the past few days following the attack, he added that looking at Muslims with suspicion, asking Muslim women to take off their hijabs or abayas at department stores, was “disturbing.” “This is going to make it difficult for us to continue to have a normal daily life,” he said.
Lawyer and civil rights activist Ali Sabry PC said this has become a catalyst for the Muslim community to remain in “a state of shock and disbelief.” “We are appalled at what has happened on Sunday. We also fear what will happen to our country,” he said.
“We fear the consequences which the Muslim community might have to face as a result of this violence. With the undercurrent of tensions already existing between the majority Buddhist community and Muslims, the terror attacks have added further uncertainty to the inter-religious relationship,” Sabry told Arab News.
He added that with messages and speeches to promote solidarity, the Sri Lankan leadership was taking a step in the right direction, but he noted that the initiative was taken a little too late, blaming the government for not acting against Muslim extremist forces despite being warned about them last year.
“We gave a list of Muslim extremists last year who were involved in the attack of a Buddhist temple and warned the government about the danger they posed, but the president did not prioritize the threat,” he said.
Abdul Wahab Mohamed Imthiyaz, a prominent Colombo-based lawyer, added that the issue doesn’t end here, with several from the community now worried about their future.
“Muslims are concerned about our future generation, how are we going to co-exist in this multi-cultural society? A tiny group of extremists, guided and exploited by geo-political interests, have created a mess in Sri Lankan society and we, as Muslims, are facing the consequences now,” Imthiyaz told Arab News, adding that several are thinking of migrating to another country.
“Some of the Muslims are now thinking of migrating. We are going to be questioned, tortured. Already a section of the majority community has started questioning our ways of life, like wearing hijab, going to mosque and all,” he said, adding that “our acceptability in society is being challenged now.”
Political analyst Ahilan Kadirgamar added that it is “a really worrying time for Sri Lanka today.”
“The development might inject some religious tension into our politics. It’s very important that all communities come together and no backlash takes place against any community,” he told Arab News.
“A new dynamic of religious tension has come into play after this attack. My worry is that there might be a mobilization of extreme religious forces in the country...and this may not be confined to only one particular group,” he said.