Muslim heavy weights in Mahinda Rajapakse’s government – Urban Affairs (Senior) Minister AHM Fowzie and Governor Western Province Alavi Moulana came out strongly against the government’s plan to relocate the Muslim mosque at Kandalama in Dambulla yesterday.
They told the Lanka Standard that under no circumstance will they agree to a proposed plan to relocate the mosque. The ministers stated angrily that this is persecution of Muslims and added that they vehemently oppose the Religious Affairs Ministry decision to relocate the mosque. The Ministry comes under Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratne’s portfolio.
No place for any other religion other than Buddhism
Meanwhile Chief Incumbent Rangiri Dambulu Rajamaha Viharaya Ven. Inamaluwe Sri Sumangala Thero told the Lanka Standard that “there were no provisions for any religion other than Buddhism to have their own place of worship within the Dambulla Buddhist Sacred City and it was based on this premise that the Prime Minister and Religious Affairs Minister D.M. Jayaratne assured the monks he would relocate the mosque within three months”.
“It was in 1982 that Dambulla town and its suburbs was declared a Buddhist Sacred City through an extraordinary gazette notification. In the 1982 sacred city plan there was no Muslim mosque within the sacred city although the Muslim community claim that this makeshift mosque was existing since 1962,” Sumangala Thero told Lanka Standard.
Ven. Sumangala Thero also alleged that it was Land and Land Development Minister Janaka bandara Tennakoon who lit the fires by provoking the Muslim community into a religious conflict when this issue could have been solved amicably without any issue.
“The Buddhists and those of other faiths work amicably in Dambulla. We would have easily solved the matter without any issue had it not been for Minister Tennakoon who instigated the Muslims into demanding that they have a right to hold prayers at this makeshift mosque,” Sumangala Thero said.
According to Sumangala Thero, Minister Tennakoon has obtained money from the rich Muslims traders from Galewela, Matale and Nikawatawala promising to grant approval thruogh his powerful Lands Ministry to build a mosque at Kandalama.
“This land in dispute belonged to a Muslim trader who came to Dambulla from Batticaloa in and around 1972 and started a business at this place. A few years later he died but none of his family members came to Dambulla to claim the ownership of this land. The building where that Muslim trader carried out his business is now dilapidated. It was only recently we came to know that a makeshift tent has been put up behind this dilapidated building and the Muslims are holding their weekly prayers here,” the Thero said.
He further told this website that although there are no more than 30 scattered Muslim families in Dambulla, more than 300 Muslims come to the Kandalama makeshift prayer tent for the Friday prayers.
“Since Minister Tennakoon is backing these Muslims, Muslims from Galewela, Matale and Nikawatawala come to Kandalama on Fridays on a rotation basis to hold prayer meetings. Although there are enough of mosques for them in their respective areas they want to prove to the people in Dambulla that they are a big community and need a prayer room in Kandalama,” added the Chief Incumbent.
Disclaiming that this mosque was existing since 1962, Sumangala Thero challenged the Muslim community to prove that this makeshift prayer room was existing since then.
“That is what Minister Tennakoon has asked the Muslims to say. If so there should be documentary proof. The 1982 sacred city plan does not show any such prayer room in Kandalama nor anywhere else. Many Muslim traders who came to see me after this incident told me hat Minister Tennakoon has obtained money from these rich Muslim traders promising the land right for them to construct a mosque since he is the Minister of Land and Land Development in the Central Government, the Thero alleged.
Born a Buddhist, married a Catholic
Because I revealed this openly, Minister Tennakoon has said that he will take legal action against me. I am gladly waiting to see him in courts as I want to show who this Minister Tennakoon is. Although Tennakoon was born as Buddhist he is now a Catholic after marriage. Even his son was baptized in the catholic church. Hence now his intention is to destroy Buddhism and that was why he once damaged a Buddha statue in Wahakotte and urinated on the statue (See elsewhere for the full story),” alleged the Thero.
The Mahanayaka of the Rangiri Dambulu chapter Inamaluwe Sumangala thero of course is one of the key figures in the on going religious tensions in Dambulla leading protests that have turned violent over the presence of a mosque and kovil near his Temple. However the Thero told the BBC that TV footage showing monks engaged in violence – including one monk disrobing and exposing himself to the mosque– were technically manipulated. He also told the BBC as reported by BBC Sandeshaya that he only led a ‘peaceful and democratic protest against illegal constructions’. He maintained that no violence was used. “Videos that portrayed the protest as violent were technically manipulated,” the Mahanayaka thero who also heads the Rangiri media outlet said. (See groundviews for more on this subject)
Meanwhile Mujeeb Rahaman who was monitoring the developments in Kandalama told Lanka Standard that a mob of over 80 had entered the mosque on Friday April 20 around 12 noon and had damaged it.
“Few lights, fans, windows where the Holy Quran is housed and the Holy Quran have been damaged by the mob. In addition the stage where the prayers are conducted and the water filter too have been broken. We have the transfer deed and all documents to prove that this is not an illegal structure,” Rahaman told Lanka Standard.
According to Rahaman, this was a pre-planned attack as the radio station Rangiri FM on April 19 has announced that there would be a protest the following day and had requested all Muslims to join the protest with the Buddhist monks.Rangiri Radio describes itself as “a radio channel that has been inaugurated with the intention of promoting the Buddhist cultural values and development of personality including aeasthetics values.”
“Since the Muslims knew about the pre-plan protest they have come to the mosque in numbers on the 20th around 10 am. It was then the DIG, ASP and several other police officers had come to the mosque and requested the Muslim devotees to move away from the scene and promised to safeguard the holy place although they could not,” added Rahaman.
Senior Minister Fowzie further told Lanka Standard that since the mosque too is a sacred place there is no issue in having yet another sacred place within the Buddhist Sacred City.
We all pray for the President
“There is nothing wrong to have yet another sacred place within this Buddhist Sacred City. How many prayer meetings have been held at this prayer room blessing the President and the government during the UNHRC meetings in Geneva last month? Kataragama too is a sacred city but all religious worship places are in close proximity. This particular prayer room is located behind some shops and how could the authorities concerned come to demolish the prayer room when there is no space even for a backhoe to come between the two shops. Even during the time when Kandalama Hotel was constructed, there was a similar uproar against it but what happened later? Likewise why cannot they recognize this mosque as a sacred place within the Buddhist Sacred City,” queried Minister Fowzie.
Meanwhile Matale District ruling party parliamentarian Lakshman Vasantha Perera told Lanka Standard that it was unfortunate to learn that a senior minister in the government is dragging the Muslims towards a religious conflict.
“We spoke to all parties including the Matale Mayor who is a Muslim and came to a settlement that the Muslims can hold their weekly prayers at this makeshift prayer room until this is relocated within three months. The government will give them a proper land to relocate this mosque in the days to come. The Buddhists and Muslims have never had any issue in this area and that was why President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa wanted us to settle the matter amicably,” said Perera.
However Perera refuted allegations leveled against the Buddhists for damaging the prayer room. “I visited the place several times but we were not told of any such thing.”
The Lanka Standard made several attempts over four days to contact Minister Tennakoon to no avail. However we will make every effort to contact him and publish his comments in due course.