Muslims gathered in mosques in unusual numbers across the country for special Friday prayers to prevent the shifting of a mosque in Dambulla. The Eastern province, which has a significant number of Muslims, virtually shut down, for the second day, protesting the desecration of the mosque in Dambulla, a town about 150 km north-east of Colombo.
Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne had ordered relocation of the mosque from Dambulla, as mobs and some people in the robes of Buddhist monks had launched a sudden protest against the mosque on April 20. They wanted the mosque demolished, because it was built in a place considered sacred by Buddhists.
“The prayers today were longer than usual,” said Asif, a company executive, who had come to the 150-year-old Shaikh Usman Waliyyullah Shrine and Masjid at Cinnamon Gardens. “There was a special dua [prayer] which basically implored the almighty to protect us, and the country from evil influences,” he added.
Soon after the prayer, those gathered displayed placards. One wanted both Sinhalas and Tamil Muslims to be treated equally; another read: “Gift for Muslims in Dambulla, who helped in Geneva.” The background is that many Muslim religious leaders had talked to their counterparts in West Asia and in Muslim majority countries in a bid to influence these countries to reject the United Nations Human Rights Council's March 22 resolution against Sri Lanka.
Asked about the protests in the Eastern province, Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan said there were no untoward incidents. Asked if the region was tense, he said these were mere rumours. “Shops were closed. There is no tension here,” he said over phone from the eastern headquarter town of Batticaloa.