For Muslims in Sri Lanka, Life Has Changed Forever

Members of the ICNA Council for Social Justice rally outside White House against islamaphobia after terror attacks in Sri Lanka (Mike Jett via Shutterstock)

by Tasnim Nazeer

The deplorable terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday which claimed the lives of 253 people and left 500 injured, have shaken Sri Lankans and their international brothers and sisters.

The attacks were claimed by Islamic State (IS) and carried out by the National Thowheed Jamath, a relatively little known extremist group who have gone against the very faith they claim to be part of.

As a British Sri Lankan Muslim myself, I stand united in solidarity with the victims of this tragedy and want the perpetrators to be caught and held accountable for the harm they have inflicted on people of many diverse communities.

The actions of these extremists are antithesis of the teachings of Islam – a religion which promotes peace and unity. In fact, Islam calls to protect Christians and their places of worship. Muslims around the world have deeply condemned these attacks, and want to extend their support to the entire Sri Lankan community.

But a week and a half after the attacks, many Sri Lankan Muslims now fear the thought of even stepping outside of their homes, despite wanting to support the community they grieve as one with.

My family in Sri Lanka have not left their houses since last Sunday out of fear of the backlash. Some of my cousins have not gone back to work, not sent children to school and other family members have closed their businesses from fear of being reprimanded for the attacks which they had nothing to do with, and strongly condemn.

Many Sri Lankan Muslims fear reprisals against them since reports surfaced that some Muslim businesses had been torched and vandalised in retaliation. My own uncle, who had opened his shop briefly, was approached by a member of the public spewing anti-Muslim sentiment. Since then it has been closed and he’s been confined to his home.

For the first time in years, the mosques were shut for Friday prayers and Muslims do not feel safe to attend. They have been advised to stay away from the mosque while the terrorists are still at large.

Frustrating for many Sri Lankans is the knowledge that the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (AJCU), the top Islamic body in Sri Lanka, had submitted reports about the NTJ to the government in January 2019, and called for the arrest of the group. Yet their calls were unheeded.

Speaking at the meeting of religious and political leaders in Sri Lanka’s parliament, Mufti Rizwi, President of the ACJU said that he had submitted all the information about potential links to IS terrorists in Sri Lanka, and stated

“I asked them to arrest them. But, they told me that they will take them in for rehabilitation but nothing was done. I was the first person to reveal the presence of IS terrorists in Sri Lanka way back in 2014.”

If this is true, why weren’t the suspects arrested when they were brought to the attention of Sri Lankan intelligence?

Why was nothing done about these groups, if the ACJU had warned authorities several times of this threat? A memo was even sent to police regarding a suspected attack on churches. Muslims who had heard about this group had reported them and stated that they have nothing to do with Islam, and are determined to cause divisions in the community.

Many questions remain unanswered, such as if the authorities had acted on information supplied to them, whether the tragedy could have been averted.

Sri Lanka called for a ban on all face veils this week. The ACJU had issued similar advice to all Muslim women to remove the face veil when necessary for security reasons, but Muslims will undoubtedly will face more scrutiny just for being visibly Muslim, and there are concerns that anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise again. Indeed, a knee-jerk ban on the veil risks stigmatising Muslim women unnecessarily.

Calls for peace and harmony have been issued by faith leaders such as the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims have donated blood, held peace walks and vigils and some Sri Lankan Muslims have invited Christians to pray in their mosques, displaying banners saying “We stand against extremism and terrorism”.

These are the actions our community needs in the wake of such a tragedy. Terrorism has no religion, and we must not allow it to have one. Now is a time to come together in peace and unity, to ensure that we never let the terrorists succeed in causing a divide between the peaceful communities of Sri Lanka.

Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018. Republished, with permission, from The New Arab.

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  1. You worry about mosques being closed on Friday, you worry about Muslim women being stigmatised. Yet not a word about all the swords found from multiple mosques all over the country, about 100s of Muslims who would have been ready to use them, or about all the children who were being brainwashed by Turkish extremists for the last three years. Our politicians maybe stupid and incompetent, but we are not. It is now an absolute necessity to keep the entire Muslim population under a very tight control because you never know who belongs to the above groups.

  2. I live in Canada. Sri Lankan Muslims had more freedom than Canadian.

    I can’t believe they were able make provocative comments and roam around free.

    Muslims are risk to our society. Religion rewards them act against non-Muslims.

    Again and again, I am hearing that these Muslims misunderstood Islam… But it is not one or two events. Wherever there are Muslims, there is security risk…. It affects everyone.

  3. What about muslims in India?? What about muslims of bangladesh?? You kill people in the name of allah and u go to pray allah?? Making joke of killed one’s. Have some shame of being in a community which is 80% radical in nature across the world.

  4. This author claims that Muslims are ordered to protect Christians and churches.

    This is the problem with Islam, it’s filled with these apologist that selectively quote thier text to try and make a violent religon look like a religion of peace. He convinently left out that those verses he qoutes were supposed revelations mohammed got when he was in Medina and was trying to court Jews ans Christians, the later verses after he left Medina are not so “peaceful” and were the ones these people used to justify thier attacks.

    It’s insulting thst apologist Muslims. Are still using this tactic when their book as the below to say. The Muslims this author is criticising are real Muslims unlike him that lie, they unlike him do what the Quran tells them to do.

    Verses such as:

    Quran (5:51) – “O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.”
    Quran (5:80) – “You will see many of them befriending those who disbelieve; certainly evil is that which their souls have sent before for them, that Allah became displeased with them and in chastisement shall they abide.” Befriending unbelievers is one sign that a Muslim is bound for Hell.

    Quran (3:28) – “Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah: except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them…” This last part means that a faithful Muslim is allowed to feign friendship if it is of benefit. Renowned scholar Ibn Kathir states that “believers are allowed to show friendship outwardly, but never inwardly.”

    Quran (3:118) – “O you who believe! do not take for intimate friends from among others than your own people, they do not fall short of inflicting loss upon you; they love what distresses you; vehement hatred has already appeared from out of their mouths, and what their breasts conceal is greater still; indeed, We have made the communications clear to you, if you will understand.” This verse not only warns Muslims not to take non-Muslims as friends, but suggests that that the rest of the world is out to get them and can’t be trusted. 4:101 says that unbelievers are “open enemies” of Muslims.

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