COLOMBO - Recent comments by Sri Lanka defense minister blaming religious tensions in the mainly Buddhist country on Muslims have sparked angry reactions from Muslim leaders, denouncing them as antagonizing Muslims worldwide.
We are extremely disturbed by the specific reference to the Muslim community of Sri Lanka as possible breeding grounds of extremism within the country, Rauf Hakeem, Sri Lanka Justice Minister, said in a statement cited by Agence France Presse (AFP) on Friday, September 6.
I would like to publicly contradict the assertion of the Secretary of Defense, Hakeem, the leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), added.
The unusual public outburst followed comments by Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, in which he blamed religious tensions in the mainly Buddhist nation on Islamic fundamentalism.
In comments given at a seminar hosted by the military last Tuesday, Rajapakse, one of the country's most powerful figures who is credited with crushing Tamil Tiger separatists in a military offensive in 2009, denied supporting hardline Sinhalese-Buddhist groups.
Yet, he blamed the recent tensions on the Muslim minority.
One of the consequences of the increasing insularity amongst minority ethnic groups is the emergence of hardline groups within the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community.
It is a known fact that Muslim fundamentalism is spreading all over the world and in this region, Rajapakse said.
The possibility that such extremist elements may try to promote Muslim extremism in Sri Lanka is a cause for concern.
Rejecting his comments, Hakeem warned Rajapakse not to interfere with religion and culture and leave it in the hands of the respective people as in the case of all enlightened democracies.
He added that these comments might antagonize Islamic nations by making generalized statements about Muslim fundamentalism.
The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), an umbrella organization of Muslim groups, said Sally's release could help defuse religious tensions.
Sri Lankan Muslims, known as Moors, are the third largest ethnic group in the country after the Sinhalese, who make up 70 percent of the populace, and Tamils, who account for 12.5 percent.
Analysts say successive governments have been under pressure to give in to the Buddhist majority whenever there is an ethnic clash.
Sri Lanka has been thrown into tension following a string of serious incidents involving extremist Buddhist provocations against Muslims.
In June, some 200 demonstrators led by several dozen Buddhist monks converged on a small Islamic center in Colombo's suburb of Dehiwala.
Throwing stones and rotten meat over the mosque gate, protestors shouted slogans demanding the closure of the Muslim worship place.
Last April, a number of Buddhist monks disrupted Muslim prayer services in the village of Dambulla. The attackers claimed that the mosque, built in 1962, was illegal.
Weeks later, monks drafted a threatening letter aimed at Muslims in the nearby town of Kurunegala, demanding Islamic prayer services there be halted.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net