COLOMBO Worried that their country could plunge into a new wave of communal violence, Muslims and Buddhists are coming together to condemn attacks against the Muslim community.
"This group is trying to pit Sinhalese people against Muslims, Mohamed Ifthikar, 59, a food company marketing manager, told Khabar South Asia on Friday, February 15."That is not helpful. We want to live with each other as brothers and sisters of the same family."
Living in the Colombo suburb of Kelaniya for more than 30 years along with his wife and two daughters, Ifthikar has never had any problems with his Sinhalese neighbors.
"In fact, when my family went out of Colombo on picnics, it was my Sinhalese friends who looked after my house, he said.
"They always share sweetmeats with my family during their annual festival in April."
Ifthikar was worried about the rise of a controversial group known as Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Force, which has been accused of inciting attacks against Muslims.
The group has been campaigning for a ban on halal meat, a campaign resisted by the Sri Lankan government.
The Buddhist group has denied any role in attacks on Muslims, saying several duplicate groups were pretending to be them.
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.
Earlier in 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.
Trying to trim rising tension, the government appointed a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to study whether religious extremism had infiltrated Sri Lankan society.
"Our country bled at the hands of terrorism. It was the climax of communal violence. Fortunately, it ended on May 19, 2009," said Nimal Siripala de Silva, leader of the House of Parliament.
"Now, we want peace and harmony. We should not let our hard-earned freedom be lost.
"Once this select committee is appointed with the representatives of all the parties, we will deeply study what led to the present situation. Then, there will be recommendations on steps to be taken to correct it, he said.
In addition, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appealed, during a meeting last month, to Buddhist monks to avoid inciting religious hatred and violence in the country.
The president's intervention has been hailed by moderate leaders of the two communities, who see it as timely.
"There are elements trying to disturb communal harmony. They are groups with different agendas. They should not be encouraged, said Ven. Kapugama Gnanasiha, a Buddhist monk, who works as a teacher at a Colombo school.
"We, the Buddhist monks, have an important role to play in reconciling the communities. I always preach to my people that co-existence is all-important. It is better if the government can intervene at this moment to stop religious hatred being spread."
Echoing a similar view, Fazrul Rahman, president of the Kandy City Jamyyathul Ulama, said certain groups are trying to sabotage the country's hard-earned peace.
"As a Muslim priest, I keep close contacts with Buddhist monks. They have always been helpful to me. I respect them, he told Khabar.
Rahman told how a Buddhist monk once gave him a Rs. 1,000 note ($7.91) to cover travel expenses to a function in Colombo, which he kept as a token of friendship.
"That is the kind of relationship we have, he said.I am sad to see some persons trying to stoke religious tension. Buddhists are a peaceful community. Only a handful are involved in extremist activities.