Beruwela mosque massacre-Faith and practice collide
Posted on August 5th, 2009

Lakbima on Sunday the 2nd of August 2009

“I tell you not that with me are the Treasures of God, nor do I know what is hidden, nor do I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me.” Say: “Can the blind be held equal to the seeing?” Will ye then consider not” Quran, 006.050

Tension between two religious entities had been brewing in the town of Mahagoda in Beruwala for weeks. Two mosques only separated by a mere 100 meters distance were at loggerheads over the teachings of one faith.
Clashes as that which happened in Beruwala that left two people dead and several others injured are however not new. Massacres at the mosque have been common in Kattankudy, Eravur, Ampara and Thihariya among other places.

The clash

The clash in Beruwala is not a conflict between the Shiite and Sunni’s as largely believed, most by non-Muslims, but disagreements that escalated into violence between two sects of the Sunni’s who practice and preach differently. On Wednesday (22), the 153 Buhari feast (kandoory) an annual celebration was underway at the ancient Buhari mosque (Jamaeth of Buhary Thaikiya). The celebration includes the congregational prayer after which goats are slaughtered for the feast. The age old practice not just takes place at the Beruwala mosque but at large mosques elsewhere that could afford it. The same celebration was said to have taken place last year at the Town Hall mosque in such a fashion.

“The feast is not something we came up with on that day,” said a Muslim scholar who was present at the Buhari mosque on that fateful day. “It’s the 153rd feast, meaning that celebration has gone on for longer than the independence of this country itself.”

The new Rahuman mosque (Sunnath Ansaary Jamaeth) is not far from the vicinity of the Buhari mosque with less than 100 meters in distance at the Dharga Town. A call of prayer from one mosque could easily be heard at the other simultaneously.

Devotees of the Masjidual Rahmaniya follow the stricter rules and are often stereotyped as preaching fundamentalism philosophies. “We deliver sermons to pilgrims who come to OUR mosque and wish to listen to it,” said a sheikh (scholar) of the Tawheed sect. “The Buhari mosque held its celebration in much fanfare, we thought it was only right to preach of it, which we did in our weekly sermon on Friday.”

“To begin with, it’s illegal to have two mosques in such equidistance from each other, it’s against the provisions for mosques in the Muslim act,” said Reyyaz M. Salley, Chairman of the Islamic Solidarity Front of North America. “There is a passage in the Holy Quran, which all Muslims abide by, that says:
009.107 And there are those who put up a mosque by way of mischief and infidelity – to disunite the Believers – and in preparation for one who warred against God and His Apostle Aforetime. They will indeed swear that their intention is nothing but good; But God doth declare that they are certainly liars. “This portion of the holy Quran was reveled to the Prophet (P.B.U.H) while he was returning from Tabuk after Jihad. Before embarking on the journey he had informed a mosque in the area that he would deliver a sermon on his return, however it was revealed to him, that mosque had been dealt with,” he added.

Salley added that the Sunni sect had been in the country since time immemorial and had practiced and preached with no antagonisms. “No one has the right to criticize another group in such a manner, while we have reigned in the country for so long, Tawheed Jammath is something new that was imported here,” he said. “Influences through imams and the setting up of madras’s are funded by countries that enforce fundamentalist view as Saudi Arabia. We on the other hand, Sufism are against terrorism and fundamentalism.”

Sally further said that there were reports claiming that members from the Tawheed sect had asked for the fire brigade not to douse the flames at the Rahuman mosque and allow it to burn down. “This way they would be able to receive much more funding for the activities,” he said.

“First they being by brining in an imam or sheikh, build a home, convert that to a madras and start building a mosque around it. Most of the Tawheed mosques are not registered and without legal permits as to operate so.” He added.

Sheiks on both side of the fence that LAKBIMAnEWS spoke to, understandably gave various version of events that transpired following the Buhari feast. Members from the Rahumaniya mosque claim that those from the Buhari mosque had confronted them and attempted to abduct the imam (clergy of the mosque) in van and had bribed policeman to accompany them. Meanwhile Muslim scholars from the Buhari mosque say they were very disheartened at hearing the Friday sermon which criticized the feast and called the mosque a temple.
“It’s not fair to be of the same religion and criticize another Muslim, its simply not acceptable,” said a sheik of the Buhari mosque who did not want to be identified. “We merely went to them for an explanation.”

Attack

“Our mosque was burnt down, men arrived in buses from Aluthgama and Galle stormed into the mosque with knives and axes and set fire,” said a member of the Tawheed sect. “You don’t kill another Muslim, it’s just not done.”

Y. L.M Navavi, head of the Department for Religious Affairs of Muslims for the Ministry of Religious affairs and ethical development cited that discussion had been held at the ministry with the concerned parties exchanging their concern.

“The situation is under control and discussions are underway as to how we could solve this issue and still coexist peacefully in that area,” he said. According to him, the inflow of funds to build such mosques cannot be regulated, since it’s a form of charity that wealthy businessmen from countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran engage in though NGO’s and charitable organizations.

According to Salley, the issue is much graver than it seems to be. “The Tawheed group, which calls itself the traditional followers of Islam are a new to the country, but since they have stepped foot here they have been creating problems for the rest of the Muslim community. They have tried to take over every mosque where we have shrines, until today the kollupitiya mosque which has a shrine is closed to the public and so is the Meera Makam in Kandy and their unsuccessful attempt at closing the Town Hall mosque recently.”
He added that the Tawheed follow a stricter rules and preach more fundamentalist approach to situations. “For instance, the Tawheed Jammath does not approve of the way we conduct funerals, so they even dug up the body of Piluwan in Kattankudy after we had buried it and burned it.” He also cited that the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation and other national television channels broadcast preaching of Tawheed and telecast live unedited programs. “There have been several instances where young children are being made to turn against their parents, wives asked to divorce their husbands, and elder sons in the family being turned against the rest,” he said.

Salley added that for the most part, decision lies in part with the government and certain Muslim politicians who are not influenced by the Tawheed group itself. “Now some of the Muslim politicians are wreaking havoc after the Beruwala clash, but where were they during other times when Sunni mosques were attacked,” he asked. “Some of the most influential ones are also bribed with funds channeled to these Tawheed activities, which keeps them silent and their election campaigns financed.”

He added that the new group have emerged in several areas of the Muslim concentration and have been able to dissuade Muslims in the north and east. A clash similar to that which took place in Beruwala took place at a mosque in Thihariya in the Gampaha district last year.

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