Women asked to avoid burqas, kids skip playtime: Sri Lankan Muslims fear for safety

The entire Muslim community in Sri Lanka is treading very carefully since they fear becoming easy targets for those who seek revenge.

Security officers keep in central Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo: Reuters

Security officers keep in central Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo: Reuters

There already have been a few incidents that have been reported of Muslims being targeted by mobs. That is the fear most Muslims in Sri Lanka are living with after one of the worst terrorist attack that the country witnessed on Easter Sunday.

Razia has not sent her children out to play out of fear that they might fall victim to people who are seeing all Muslims through the prism of violent extremism. Her husband, an upstanding citizen, has been taken into custody for questioning. Their fault, they are the immediate neighbours of the two main bombers, the Ibrahim brothers.

Men from that entire neighbourhood of Dematagoda have been picked up for questioning and those who haven’t have left the colony to stay with their relatives for fear of being taken in.

The fear has spread far and wide. In a country that didn’t have a history of religious violence but more so ethnic war, this new development has changed the dynamics of the island nation.

Sleepless nights and fear to venture out. Will they face retribution for the deeds of these terrorists who waged war and have managed to create strife between two communities that have not known hatred at all?

An angry Christian father, Endeke Fernandes, who has lost his daughter, spoke in a rage and referred to the other community as “those Muslims”. Once they lived in peace, today they look at every person in a Burqa or a man sporting a beard, with suspicion.

There have already been instances where women have been asked to take off their burqas. Sri Lanka never saw an extremist or extremely orthodox form of Islam. Mostly a liberal community, practising their religion in peace, the attack has been a huge jolt to the entire community.

The Muslim dominated areas are facing reprisals. Living amid massive security and holding the Friday prayers after seeking permission is new to Sri Lanka. This is the only country where Muslim bodies have put out notices asking their women to cooperate with the government for the sake of national security and either refrain from wearing burqas or at least ensure their faces are visible for identification purposes.

A country where Muslims form just about 10 per cent of the population, any wrong move can be disastrous. Therefore, the entire community is treading very carefully since they fear becoming easy targets to those who seek revenge. For those who think avenging the death of their people can only be done by taking the life of the other.

The Mawalagatta Jama Masjid has sent out a strong message to avoid retaliation. They held prayers and put out hoardings saying “There is no place in Islam for extremism”.