Wahhabism confronted: Sri Lanka curbs Saudi influence after bombings
Posted on July 5th, 2019

KATTANKUDY, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Sri Lanka is moving to curtail Saudi Arabian influence, after some politicians and Buddhist monks blamed the spread of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam for planting the seeds of militancy that culminated in deadly Easter bomb attacks.

On April 21, nine Sri Lankans blew themselves up in churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 250 people and shocking the country a decade after its civil war ended.

Sri Lanka has since arrested a Wahhabi scholar and is poised to take over a Saudi-funded school. The government also says it will monitor previously unchecked money flows from donors including prominent Saudi families to mosques on the Indian Ocean island.

Nobody will be able to just make donations now,” said Muslim cabinet minister Kabir Hashim, who has urged Muslim communities to look at how radical ideas could have spread. He said the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs would oversee donations.

The outcry in Sri Lanka is the latest sign that Wahhabism, which critics deem a root cause of the jihadist threat, is under pressure internationally.

Jihadist organizations, including Islamic State – which claimed responsibility for the Easter bombings – follow an extreme interpretation of Islam’s Salafi branch, of which Wahhabism was the original strain.

Saudi Arabia rejects the idea that Wahhabism is problematic and defends its record by pointing to the detention of thousands of suspected militants. Riyadh in June sent back five Sri Lankans allegedly linked to the Easter attacks.

Saudi diplomats in Colombo have expressed displeasure” over being targeted during a recent meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena, a Sri Lankan official told Reuters.

Sirisena’s office, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Colombo embassy and the kingdom’s communications office in Riyadh, did not respond to requests for comment on the backlash against Saudi influence.

MONKS’ INFLUENCE

That backlash has focused on one man in particular – Muhammad Hizbullah, a businessman and politician who was the governor of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province until he resigned in June following protests by hardline Buddhist monks.

    The monks, who are influential on the island where 70 percent of the population are Buddhists, and some members of parliament say Hizbullah’s links to Riyadh contributed to the spread of militancy in his native Kattankudy, a Muslim-majority town.

Hizbullah’s family helped build Saudi-financed mosques and a Saudi-funded higher education institute, Batticaloa Campus, which has not opened yet, in the Eastern Province.

The mosque and school projects were led by the Hira Foundation, a non-profit owned by Hizbullah and his son Hiras.

Its financial statements show income of some $31,000 between 2014 and 2018, though Hizbullah told parliament Hira had received $2 million from foreign donors. He did not respond to a request from Reuters for further financial details.

In an interview with Reuters at his home in the capital, Colombo, Hizbullah, 56, said most funds come from the Juffalis, a leading Saudi merchant family. Reuters also found two wires from other Saudis but was not able to trace them. Hizbullah said they were pooled contributions from smaller donors.

The Sheikh Ali Abdullah Al Juffali Foundation Charity wired some $24.5 million to Batticaloa Campus between 2016 and 2017, bank statements and loan agreements seen by Reuters show.

Hizbullah warned the experience of the Juffalis, who he said have received hate mail, was spooking Saudi investors. He did not identify any investors.

Ongoing investigations have not shown that any Saudi money flowed to the plotters. And critics attribute moves against Saudi influence to burgeoning Islamophobia, including mob attacks on Muslim properties in May.

Not a single Saudi institution, charity or individual gave even one rupee to terrorists,” Hizbullah said.

The charity did not respond to calls or messages seeking comment, and Reuters was unable to find alternative contact details for the Juffalis. The charity’s website lists the founders as Ali al-Juffali, a businessman and former member of the kingdom’s consultative assembly who died in 2015, and his four sons. The charity says its objectives include supporting orphans and activities that promote religious tolerance.

The Juffalis, who promised a total of $100 million to Batticaloa Campus, have halted loans over the school’s uncertain future, Hizbullah said. Construction of the sprawling campus, designed in Islamic architectural style, has been paused, he added.

Hira also connects mosques with donors.

The modest Siharam Mosque, for example, was rebuilt in 2015 thanks to some $56,000 from the Juffalis, according to a mosque plaque and its ex-president M.Y. Adam, who said Hira received a 10% commission. Hizbullah did not respond to questions about mosque funding.

SCAPEGOAT?

In the Reuters interview, Hizbullah also denied allegations made by some monks that he had links to the attacks, and no evidence has surfaced to support that claim.

His critics, however, point to a 2015 photograph that shows Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, who authorities say led the April suicide bombings and blew himself up at a Colombo hotel, grinning under his beard as he shakes Hizbullah’s hand.

Hizbullah said he was seeking support from Zahran, also a Kattankudy native, for a parliamentary election. Back then, Hizbullah stressed, Zahran was just a charismatic preacher who could deliver some 2,000 votes in the devout town of roughly 50,000.

His supporters – and even some opponents – say Hizbullah is a scapegoat. Ameer Ali Shihabdeen, an Eastern Province member of parliament from a rival party, said Hizbullah was being targeted despite a lack of evidence linking him to the attacks.

Wahhabism spread to Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province three decades ago, when the area was convulsed by conflict between mostly Hindu Tamil separatists and the Buddhist-dominated government, according to local religious leaders and politicians.

Muslim scholars received scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia, while impoverished farmers escaped clashes by becoming drivers or maids in the Middle East – often returning home with stricter Islamic practices, the sources said.Slideshow (10 Images)

Saudi-funded mosques mushroomed. Women ditched their saris for all-enveloping black abayas. Some Sri Lankan Sufis, who follow a mystical form of Islam that Wahhabis consider heretical, said they began to be persecuted.

Hizbullah’s political career, which included stints in parliament, blossomed during this time. In Kattankudy, his name adorns schools, a public hall and roads.

Batticaloa Campus, the college funded by the Juffalis, initially planned to teach sharia, which some critics say limits women’s rights. Hizbullah said sharia only meant the academic subject of Islamic Studies, and that the discipline had been dropped from curriculum plans.

Students would pay half standard tuition fees, which Hizbullah said was partly why this long-neglected area welcomes Arab donors’ deep pockets.

A parliamentary committee last month called for authorities to take over Batticaloa Campus and compensate investors, citing incomplete documentation, possible violations of foreign exchange rules, and national security concerns.

No decision has been announced yet, but a presidential spokesman told Reuters that Sirisena, a Hizbullah ally who is on the back foot ahead of presidential elections this year, also favours a takeover.

WAHHABI SCHOLAR BEHIND BARS

Some Kattankudy Sufis link the advent of Wahhabism to the 1990 opening of the Saudi-financed Center for Islamic Guidance, which boasts a mosque, school, and library. Reuters was unable to trace Saudi donors, who had names common in the Middle East, thanked on a plaque at the centre.

The centre brainwashed” youth and distributed flyers denouncing Sufism, according to H. M. Ameer, a community spokesman who said his house was destroyed during anti-Sufi unrest in 2004. Persecution intensified with the rise of Zahran, the suspected Easter bombings ringleader, whose followers attacked Sufis with swords in 2017, Ameer added.

Representatives of the centre did not respond to requests for comment about the Sufis’ allegations. They previously told Reuters the centre practiced moderate Islam”.

The centre’s Riyadh-educated founder, Mohamed Aliyar, was arrested in May for allegedly funding Zahran.

The charge sheet, reviewed by Reuters, details his bank accounts but does not provide evidence of wrongdoing. A police spokesman did not respond to requests for details.

Aliyar’s lawyer Abdul Uwais said he was a victim of paranoia over Wahhabism.

Two sources from Kattankudy’s Muslim leadership said Zahran voraciously read Wahhabi texts from Aliyar’s centre, but that the men were not known to be close.

2 Responses to “Wahhabism confronted: Sri Lanka curbs Saudi influence after bombings”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    At last something has been done to curtail Saudi influence but will the next regime reverse it?

    This is what generally happens in Sri Lanka.

  2. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Traitor chief die hard catholic token Buddhist mega thief mega thakkadiya walking crime bomb (against Sinhalese
    Buddhists, Sri Lanka and Buddhism only) Batalande wa(n)dakaya Pol Pot r@ni_leech wickrama Sinhala killer
    won’t do anything to upset mussies. Why? Mussies, including tamils are block votes for the traitor UNPatriotic_
    rats party and as long the traitor chief pleasing them, the UNPatriotic_rats aka United National Ponnayingparty
    can hang on to power. The traitors know there are much more mussies than the last census show. Every town in
    Sri Lanka is mussie dominated, and towns have 3 or 4 times more people than villages, then only 9% mussies?
    Doesn’t make any sense at all. While Sinhalese and tamils killed each other for 30 years mussies multiplied and quadrupled their numbers. But the traitor Sinhalese hid the real numbers to win elections.

    Mussies turned old Buddhist iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, bangladesh, malaysia and indonesia within a few
    hundred years of their arrivals in those countries with their baby machine wives (Google to see those countries
    old Buddhist heritage). That’s what the mussies trying in Sri Lanka. They have multiplied enough to murder the
    natives and that’s what started in Sri Lanka. Mussies tried the dirty, disgusting, subhuman trick of multiply,
    multiply and murder the natives in Buddhist Myanmar recently. Unfortunately for the mussies, Myanmar had
    a patriotic leader and got rid of the menace in no time and they fled across the border with 100s of 1000s
    children coming out of their ears.

    These wasa bee (means drink poison in Sinhalese) should learn Buddhism’s Five Precepts.
    1 refrain from killing
    2 refrain from stealing
    3 refrain from sexual misconduct
    4 refrain from lying
    5 refrain from drug/alcohol abuse
    The above five is the basis for penal codes in every country. Killing tops the list and gives the maximum
    punishment for culprits. 72 virgins? Of course, if you are brain dead/brainless. Just looking at your teeth and
    comparing them to a cat’s/dog’s/lion’s (in a picture of course to avoid being part of it for a few days) will
    tell you what sort of diet two legged creatures should be eating.

    People used to worship trees, rivers, mountains, gods in the olden days in the absence of science. Today, religions
    have to pass the science test to be accepted as true. That test includes Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, NASA’s
    missions showing the size of the universe (earth’s size is a grain of sand etc. etc). All honest people on the
    ‘grain of sand’ which passes the science test with flying colours.

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