Dambulla, a beautiful town. Photo by Photosightfaces
In the face of protests, a 50 year old mosque in Dambulla is set to be moved (Ceylon Today). This follows negotiations with Muslim leaders, but it still leaves a bad taste. I disagree with this move as much as I disagree with all sectarianism. Buddhist spaces almost always include a Hindu shrine. In Sri Lanka, we need to make room for Islam and Christianity as well. I think the faith and nation are that big.
There have been a lot of comments on my first post about this subject, with some intelligent ones. There are also some that are rather petty. Yes the practice of Islam has its problems. I’m not a fan of Wahhabism (Saudi style) and its growth in Sri Lanka makes me uneasy. I still respect my fellow Sri Lankans enough to make those choices and live as they choose.
Most Muslims I know are amazing people and close friends. I find it impossible to address any issue of communal relations without thinking about my relations, who are from all communities. As a Buddhist I think this also makes sense. When I’ve gone on retreat I’ve seen people of all faiths meditating. When I was trying to practice in Canada I found much in common with Jews, Christians and volunteered at a multi-faith chaplaincy. In Sri Lanka I’ve gotten closer to Muslim people, rested in mosques and enjoyed plates of Savan over Hajj.
Muslims are a vital part of Sri Lanka, as awesome and as flawed as the rest of us. That is the sacred space I believe in, as a Sri Lankan and a Buddhist, one where we all can live peaceably, worship as we choose, and generally chill. Muslims can get kavum on Avurudu, we can get wattalapan at Ramadan. I think it actually works out in the Sinhalese favor.
The most disquieting thing here is that the government is so quick to bend to nationalist/communalist protest. For example, some hooligans attacked the Sirasa station to protest singer Akon coming to Sri Lanka. In response, rather than arresting the hooligans, the government denied Akon’s visa. Now people have protested and prevented Muslims from worshiping, and the response is to move the mosque. There’s a saying (repeated in Air Force One) that if you give a mouse a cookie, pretty soon it’s going to want a glass of milk. This doesn’t end, and it isn’t ever satisfying, because – to use Buddhist terms – it is just attachment to physical spaces and transient identity. None of these lead out of suffering, they just lead in.
Sooner rather than later the government needs to stand on principle, on the principle of an inclusive Sri Lanka, and – with Buddhism as a protected faith – one secure enough in its faith to coexist with others. I don’t think the mosque should have been moved, and I don’t think we should keep budging on the principle of inclusiveness whenever a mob assembles. This budging has no end. It’s not Buddhist, and it’s not Sri Lankan. This is a small island. We need to live together in peace. Salaam.