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Religious tensions rise in Sri Lanka

17 May 2019

Churches reopen but Christians attack Muslims in riots


Mobs leave smashed windows at the Jumha mosque in Minuwangoda, Sri Lanka, after an attack on Tuesday

Mobs leave smashed windows at the Jumha mosque in Minuwangoda, Sri Lanka, after an attack on Tuesday

ANTI-MUSLIM riots broke out in several Sri Lankan towns this week, as Roman Catholic churches in the country reopened for worship for the first time since the Easter Day bombings.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, had announced the closures amid security fears shortly after Islamic extremists carried out a series of deadly suicide bombings in churches and hotels in the country. More than 250 people were killed and hundreds injured.

Cardinal Ranjith has been conducting a private mass each week, broadcast live on national television. On Sunday, the RC churches that reopened were surrounded by armed guards, and anyone who entered was searched.

Tensions between religious groups have been running high since the attacks. Reports have emerged of mosques, and buildings and businesses owned by Muslims, being vandalised by Christians after perceived threats on social media. A Muslim man was reportedly killed by a gang in one such attack.

Sri Lanka has blocked Whatsapp and other social media for a second time to reduce the tensions and prevent further outbreaks of violence. Police have arrested 23 people, and the country was on curfew for two nights.

The Anglican Bishop of Colombo, the Rt Revd Dhiloraj Canagasabey, called for an end to the demonisation of the Muslim population. He said on Tuesday: “I appeal to the authorities, the politicians, the media, and all our people: for goodness’ sake, please do not demonise the entire Muslim community for the sins of a few warped minds.

PAThe remains of a house damaged during violent clashes in North Western Province, Sri Lanka, on Wednesday

“While the full force of the law must be applied on all those who planned, aided, and carried out this unbelievable act of terror, the Muslim community must be treated with respect and understanding. This is how mature, generous, and hospitable people like ours must react.”

He spoke of his own experience of persecution as a Tamil Christian. “As a Tamil, having gone through the period of war when there was a tendency to look upon every Tamil as a potential terrorist, I empathise with the traumatised Muslim community living with fear and living in shame.”

Bishop Canagasabey urged all religious, civic, and youth leaders “to mobilise the people to rebuild our dear, shattered motherland”. His message came as pictures were praised on social media of the Grand Mufti of Ghana, Sheikh Dr Osman Sharubutu, attending Christ the King RC Church in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, on Easter Day, as part of his 100th-birthday celebrations.

Last week, when asked what the Church of England was offering the Christian community in Sri Lanka, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman MP, said: “These were appalling and despicable attacks, and those affected were in the prayers of millions right around the world on Easter Sunday.

“They were clearly directed at the Christian community in Sri Lanka, not just in their churches but in secular environments such as hotels, where they were having Easter Sunday lunch. The Anglican Church in Sri Lanka is small but active, and it is working closely with the Anglican Communion to build its capacity in the local community and to better protect itself.”

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