One World One Ummah

Muslim shrine demolished, and even Defence Secretary is angry!

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It could have been Sri Lanka’s shameful episode of Ayodya (Babri Masjid), unleashed in the sacred Buddhist land of Anuradhapura. (In 1992, in India, over 2,000 people died in ensuing religious violence after an ancient mosque built in a disputed site in Ayodya was destroyed by Hindu mobs)

Early this month, a rampaging mob led by a Buddhist monk demolished a Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura. The attackers alleged that the shrine was erected within the Buddhist religious area of Atamastanaya, contravening a law which bans new constructions on the site.

Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, nurtured by this very government could well be evolving into an ugly phase. In the absence of a clear demarcation between the state and the religion, the government has used Buddhism as a tool of regime legitimization. The religiosity of the state has been highlighted using every available means. This exercise has even transcended the territorial borders of the country and the foreign ministry recently distributed Buddha statues to all Sri Lankan diplomatic missions abroad.

Whims and fancies of politicians

There are other measures taken by local politicians, at their whims and fancies, to ‘reinforce’ the religiosity of the people. Beef stalls in the Gampaha district have been ordered to close down, ostensibly under the orders of Minister Mervyn Silva. Slaughter houses are exclusively run by Muslims, who feel discriminated against the ban on beef.

In a country where laws have gradually been replaced by dictates of political leadership, no authorities have questioned the legitimacy of Mervyn Silva’s orders.

Vigilante justice has apparently replaced the rule of law. Last week, speaking at a public meeting in Kelaniya, Mervyn Silva warned that anyone who slaughters animals would have his or her hands chopped off.

It seems humans command lesser sympathy than cattle in Kelaniya, nowadays.
The demolition of the shrine, however, caused ripples within the Muslim community.
A delegation of Muslim leaders met Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and complained about the act of sacrilege. The defence secretary has reportedly promised to restore the shrine and prevent the recurrence of any future incidents.

Western Province Governor Alavi Moulana says he has taken up the issue with the president, who has assured that the government did not condone the destruction of the shrine. Moulana cautioned that a minority of religious ‘extremists’ were trying to cause disunity among religious communities.

“These extremists are tarnishing the image of Buddhism and are trying to create another war,” he said. “We have demanded that the shrine be restored. I am ready to fight till the last drop of blood to protect the rights of the Muslims — just like I would do to protect the rights of any other community,” he said.

“We can go to international forums and tell them that religious rights of the Muslims have been violated, but we don’t do that because we don’t want to destabilize this country,” he said.

But, he warned: “I would go to any international forum if our concerns are not addressed.” He warned Mervyn Silva that the rampaging government minister would be courting trouble if he interferes with the slaughter of animal during the Haj festival.

Meanwhile, Minister Mervyn Silva who attended a meeting at Devatagaha Grand Mosque has disowned a previous order to close beef stalls in the Gampaha District. He has said interested parties have used his name to enforce an end to the slaughter of cows. Earlier in the week, he threatened to amputate anyone who kills animals, however.

Least apologetic

In the sacred city of Anuradhapura, some monks are least apologetic about the demolition of the Muslim shrine.

Ven. Professor Pathegama Gneshwara Thera, who lectures at the Anuradapura Bikkhu University says that there is an international conspiracy to deprive ancient Buddhist places of their identity, by implanting religious symbols of other cultures in those Buddhist sites.

“Some have the erroneous belief that all religions are the same. No, they are not,” he said. “Buddhism has its unique set of symbols, places and traditions which should be preserved. We are not going to put up Buddha statues in Calvary Mountain. Likewise, Anuradhapura should remain as a site of Buddhist heritage,” he added.

Referring to the demolition of the shrine, he said that there was an illegal structure erected within the sacred Atamastana area, where a number of ancient Buddhist places of worship were located.

“There had been an order by authorities to remove the illegal construction, but it continued to exist. This prompted the local Buddhists to remove the structure by force,” he said. He stressed that the notion of ahinsa (non-violence) in Buddhist philosophy should not be exploited by the followers of other faiths.

He referred to an episode in the era of Panadurawadaya in the late 19th Century when Buddhists were locked in a theological debate with the then invasive Christian priests. When the native Buddhists went on religious processions, displaying their religious zeal, they used kithul poles as the handle of a decoration they carried in processions. Kithul poles were meant to be used to defend Buddhist devotees in case a clash erupted with other communities.

Rev. Gneshwara Thera hastened to add that he did not mean to encourage violence. He rebuffed the reports that the demolished shrine was of archeological importance.

“Archeological excavations conducted in this country have found Stupas and not Crosses,” he said. This is a shrine which was put up recently, he added.

Extremism should be tackled

However, Tazin Moulavi, the assistant general secretary of Jamayathul Ulama (JU) says the trustees of the demolished shrine (see main story) have informed JU that they were in procession of documentary evidence to prove that the shrine was three centuries old.
He said those documents were also shared with the defence secretary.

“We do not condone any damage inflicted on a place of worship of any religion,” he said.
“There is only one nation in this country; that is the Sri Lankan nation. Religious or ethnic differences should not be a cause for division,” he added. He said Jamayathul Ulama expected that the president would take action to prevent the recurrence of religious violence and would restore the shrine.

Ven. Dr. Pallekande Rathanapala Thera, who strives for inter-religious harmony shares in the same spirit. He stresses that the Buddhists cannot condone attacks on a place of worship of any faith.

Riyaz Zally, a Muslim community leader says extremism of all forms should be tackled. “Extremism is extremism, be it Muslim, Tamil, Sinhala or Buddhist. The government should tackle it and take action against those who promote extremism,” he added.

-Lakbima News

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September 29, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Posted in News

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