The latest report from the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation (CPBR), our partner in Sri Lanka, reveals that religious-based conflicts have become both more frequent and more intense during the past few months.
In April, around 2,000 Sinhalese, led by a group of monks, attacked a mosque in Dambulla, Central Province, after Friday prayers; a wave of protests and strikes across the island followed. A similar incident was reported in Colombo, where a mosque in Dehivala, on the west of the island, was attacked by an armed mob.
Such activities make CPBR’s work with different religious communities even more vital, especially as many Sinhala Buddhists have lost their enthusiasm for interfaith work. Some extremist parties condemn interfaith activities as threats to the Buddhist culture, saying that they lead to religious conversions. As a result, many Buddhist monks are taking a less active role in the interfaith process, fearing that their own communities may turn against them.
However, amongst minority groups, the demand for interfaith work has increased, and they are looking for more opportunities to connect with the Sinhala Buddhist community. CPBR continues to build bridges between the different communities. Since the CPBR leadership comes from a Buddhist background (as opposed to a Christian background that is common among many organisations engaged in interfaith work), there is more scope for CPBR to be involved.
CPBR invites religious leaders of all denominations to meet together and consider what the future holds for their constituents. These leaders go on to promote activities that bring people together, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Between May and July, almost 300 members of local communities were involved in workshops and consultations across the country.
A recent report on CPBR activities during the past three months includes an outstanding example of how progress continues to be made.
Firthouse Naleemi, a Muslim priest in Kaththankudy, used contacts he had made through CPBR’s religious programme to prevent a community clash that could otherwise have resulted in a serious outbreak of violence.
The dispute started because a Muslim was buried in a Tamil area. The Tamil villagers insisted that the cemetery was only for Tamil Hindus, and dug up the body. Each community was enraged by the other’s actions, and just as a violent clash was about to break out, the dispute was brought to Naleemi’s attention.
Grasping the urgency of the situation, Naleemi immediately contacted a local bishop and a Hindu priest, whom he had met during a CPBR workshop. The Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious leaders gathered together at the cemetery, and, using techniques which they had learnt at the workshop, were able to solve the dispute there and then. The Tamil community apologised for their earlier behaviour, and the Muslim community was able to rebury the body in the cemetery.
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