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The Second Battle

The Second Battle

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Aug 14, 2013
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 August 15, 2013
Stillgrappling with the Weliweriya controversy, the Government was forced to open a battleon another front, this time in Grandpass, Colombo, where agitations and attacks bymobs led by hard-line groups against the Muslim community almost created anopening for outright communal clashes.The old Molawatte mosque, where countless Muslims from the Grandpass area haveanswered the call to prayer since childhood, is a tiny structure sheltered by the leafyboughs of an ancient Bo tree on Swarna Chaitya Road. Long time residents in thesuburb of Grandpass say the narrow lane has always been scattered with Buddhisttemples and Muslim masjids or prayer centres.Swarna Chaitya Road is named for the golden stupa about halfway down the lane, yet,the old green and silver mosque a few metres away is an equally iconic landmark. Thelane also houses a dhamma school and a few yards away from the mosque, theSamadhi Viharaya.Chief Incumbent of the Samadhi temple, Bopelasse Anuruddha Thero, holdsconsiderable sway over Sinhalese residents in area. It is from his temple that residentsclaim they heard the bells peal three times, while a masjid in the area was attacked by
 
violent mobs while devotees engaged in sunset prayers last Saturday.The old mosque, situated on a paltry 1.2 perches of land, had been acquired by theUrban Development Authority. In any event, the Molawatte mosque was too small tohold some 400 Muslim families that are now registered to pray at the premises. Thenew three-storey building at 158, Swarna Chaitya Road served as a relocation site for the old mosque, especially since hard-line groups like the Ravana Balaya were nowagitating for the execution of the UDA order.The building was constructed in 2010, according to Government Ministers, but it wasonly about one month ago that prayers commenced at the new premises, after theMinistry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs authorised its use as a masjid. Theauthorisation further incensed the Ravana Balaya which exerted pressure on theGovernment, causing the Ministry to rescind its original order.But the strong Muslim lobby within the Government led by Minister Rishad Bathiudeenand Deputy Minister Faiszer Musthapha, pushed hard for the prayer centre to beallowed to function, resulting in another Ministry order on 8 August officiallyrecognising the relocation of the Molawatte mosque from number 166, SwarnaChaitya Road to number 158. The two buildings are literally a stone’s throw apart.Deadlines Agitated hard-line groups have been demanding the closure of the new prayer centresince July. Frantic negotiations to prevent an escalation of tensions in the arearesulted inthe RavanaBalayaallowing a‘grace period’of 30 days –or until theconclusion of the Ramazanseason of fasting for the masjid tobe shutdown.The Ministryorder 
 
however, officially recognising the Molawatte mosque relocation, came on 8 August,two days before the Ravana Balaya deadline elapsed. On 9 August, Muslims all over the country celebrated the festival of Eid to mark the end of the fasting season. On 10 August, for evening prayer, the masjid at 158, Swarna Chaitya Road held fewdevotees residents claim, because many Muslims had travelled to their villages out of the capital for the holiday festivities. According to residents living beside the masjid,evening prayers had just begun when the attack commenced.In the end, Ravana Balaya did not need to be directly involved in Saturday’s attack.The surrounding temples managed to rally Buddhist residents, many of whom havelived harmoniously in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood for decades, whipped them upinto an emotional frenzy and turned them into a violent mob. The police, having beenstationed at the masjid on the express request of Mustapha and Bathiudeen, showedcustomary apathy during the onslaught on a place of religious worship.Not a ‘masjid’?Nobody in the temples at Swarna Chaitya Road deny the attack on the masjid. Themosque, monks in the area say, has remained untouched. The only damage is to a‘storage facility’ at number 158, they claim. It is a claim echoed by JHU strongmanMinister Champika Ranawaka.But to Buddhistresidents in thearea, Minister Ranawaka is ahero. He was theonly ruling partyMinister to havedared to visit thetense Grandpassarea, flooded withSTF, police and riot police personnel the morning after the masjid attack had led toviolent clashes between Sinhala and Muslim mobs, they said. He was the only one tohave visited Sinhalese homes that had been damaged and looted during the clashes.Retaliation by the Muslims in the area for the attack on their prayer centre was swift. Armed with poles and any crude weapon they had picked up as they rushed toSwarna Chaitya Road, the large mob openly confronted the Sinhalese group. TheSinhalese mob was easily outnumbered in the Muslim populated area of Maligawatteand Grandpass. Suddenly, the police began to act to prevent a full scale outbreak of 

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