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Friday 19 December  
Unrest in Sri Lanka
Johan van Slooten's picture
Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Dambulla, Sri Lanka

Religious tensions flare in Sri Lanka

Published on : 7 May 2012 - 10:14pm | By Johan van Slooten (Photo: Screenshot from news video)
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Sri Lanka has been hit by fresh religious unrest between Buddhists and Muslims. In a recent incident in Dambulla, a group of Buddhists – including several orange-clad monks – stormed into a mosque claiming that the building was illegal. Fears are now mounting over a possible escalation of religious violence in the region.

Two weeks ago, a mob of around 2,000 people, led by a group of Buddhist monks, stormed into the mosque in central Dambulla. The previous night, petrol bombs had been hurled at the building which is close to the world famous Buddhist Rangiri Temple in Dambulla.

The riots that ensued made it impossible for the Muslims to attend Friday prayer.

Representatives from the Buddhist local clergy told media afterwards that the reason for the protest was the apparent illegal state of the Dambulla mosque. They have filed a protest with local authorities against the mosque, saying it was built on sacred Buddhist ground and urging its closure.

Long time coming
Sanjana Hattotuwa, a journalist from Sri Lanka, told RNW that the unrest was a long time coming: “According to the monks in Dambulla, it was the frustration of several years boiling over,” he says. “Many believe the violence was orchestrated and riding on a wave of what is seemingly a growing hate campaign against Muslims in Sri Lanka.”

Mr Hattotuwa points out that there are several Sri Lankan anti-Muslim groups active on Facebook, which attract several thousand followers.

While Buddhism remains Sri Lanka’s largest religion – with approximately 70 percent of the population calling themselves Buddhist – other religions are free to operate in the country, including Islam, which around 8 percent of the population adhere to.

Tensions between various religious groups in Sri Lanka are not new – there have been occasional outbreaks of violence against Christians since 2004 – but these tensions rarely ever erupt into large-scale violence or hatemongering. Attacks on mosques, like in Dambulla, are also rare.

Holy land
Buddhist claims that the mosque has been built on sacred ground that is part of the Rangiri Temple compound have angered Muslims in Sri Lanka, including cabinet members and MPs.

Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs A.L.M. Hizbullah, a Muslim, has said that the mosque is fifty years old. “I prayed at this mosque as early as 1985 and there have been no issues in the past. Only recently have there been problems when the number of people coming into the mosque on Fridays for Jummah prayers increased,” he said.

Muslim MP Hasen Ali says the instigators of the violence are extremists. “The government can’t come out with any stale explanation,” he told local media. “These incidents will further polarize the ethnic population in this country.”

The government’s official response to the violent protests has been muted so far. A press release from the Government Information Department said it was a “minor misunderstanding”, stressing that Sri Lanka is a “multi-religious, multi-ethnic society” and that Sri Lankans have a “long standing tradition of being respectful to each other”.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s President Rajapakse has promised to look into the matter and to “resolve it amicably”.

Sanjana Hattotuwa has started a blog, Not in Our Name, where people can sign an online petition against this violence. “This behaviour is not remotely associated with the philosophy of the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha,” he says. “We renounce a fringe lunacy and we resist extremism. We oppose mob violence and bigotry as ways to resolve disputes.”


Turner 8 December 2014 - 1:30pm

Well, I actually do not expect this from the Buddhist monks. Isn’t that totally against the teachings that they follow? One thing that I am sure about the issue is that, it should be suppressed at the soonest or it will cost a lot.

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Anonymous 3 March 2013 - 12:01pm / Bahrain

Dear Mr. Ballantine,

I am sorry to say you have absolutely no clue what's going on.


Hugh Ballantine 16 February 2013 - 11:51am

It is not difficult to understand the Buddhists.
When you look around the world, islam has been a tragedy for so many people in so many countries.
Their core belief is total domination and submission to their faith, which truly belongs in hell.
And violence is no problem for the "religion of pís".
It is by far the most pushy belief system in the world today, and wherever it rears its ugly head, misery is sure to follow. For muslims and people alike.

Anonymous 18 February 2013 - 10:26am / lunar

Don't utter stupidly without studying Islam and muslims properly. It's you christian countries who make coalition and want to dominance in the world by grabbing and occupying others lands for oils and other resources. When some people trying to defend that they are called "Terrorist" Islam meaning "PEACE".

Hugh Ballantine 19 February 2013 - 11:26am

Islam does not mean peace.
It means submission.
And if you don't submit it means war.
Salaam means peace.

Islam means misery wherever it is imposed on people.
There is no humour in islam.
And no joy for those who are being forced to obey the stonage brutalism that characterizes it.
There is no free will, just rules and punishment, censorship, corruption, lies, propaganda, violence, and more of the same.
It's the devil in disguise.
I could have a certain high regard for Saladdin, who had some admirable ethical standards, but mumammed; -what good did he ever do? Rape, plunder, kill, rob, torture and he was a lout who didn't even follow his own laws.

Anonymous 9 May 2012 - 2:58am / switzerland

Srilankan buddists must learn to respect people who follow other faiths.The monks who have to preach love,peace and tolerance are preaching hatredness instead.The goverment is allowing the racists to errect Budda statues all over north and east whereas the temples, churches, mosques which were damaged during the war is not rebuilt.If this trend goes on,even a peace loving person will start supporting extremist.

Hugh Ballantine 19 February 2013 - 11:30am

Whilst islamists bullies go out of their way to destroy thousands of years old statues, and even old arabic scripts.
Islam is for those who are too dumb to think for themselves.

Hugh Ballantine 17 February 2013 - 10:13pm

Nobody needs to learn respect for other faiths more than muslims.
Islam is by its own definition a threat to everyone's freedom, peace, and wellbeing.

AnwarM 8 May 2012 - 6:06pm

The Chief Incumbent of Dambulla said 'Sri Lankan Prime Minister and the Minister for Buddhism have approved the removal of mosque from site. Who else do I need to listen to"

He also made a inflammatory comment, referring local resident to 'crows'as “Hell, crows are not just flying over our heads; they are trying to build nests”

As the Tamil insurgency is crushed, the wrath is now on other communities which has been the violent past of the country.

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