Secretariat for Muslims was established in 2011 as a civil society institution. It is governed by a Board of eleven Directors representing political and civil society sectors. After extensive discussion, it was decided that SFM would focus on building capacity for Muslim organizations through interventions under these four pillars;
The strategic niche of the organization is as the convener of the diverse Muslim representations, and to support partner organizations through the provision of technical assistance in research and advocacy for policy and legislative reform. The organization works with organizations at the grassroots level, mid-level and policy level, while linking with organizations both vertically and horizontally in the articulation of Muslim aspirations.
Hate campaign against Muslims
Despite Sri Lanka’s ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, the current predicament of growing religious intolerance springs from the rhetoric that this intolerance is necessary to protect the rights, values and the identity of the majority. This mindset has spread due to the efforts of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and other groups resulting in a wave of several alarming incidents across Sri Lanka.
Muslim attire, mosques and the halal label are being vilified. There have been racist posters and handbills in public places, harassment of persons in Muslim dress, death threats directed at Muslim businessmen, desecration of mosques and Muslim businesses, and various public insults towards Muslim beliefs. The Muslim women’s’ dress code also appears to have riled the majority.
This anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka did not spring up overnight.It has been simmering over a few years due to a few factors; global Islamic reform’s effect on the Muslim communities’ dress/social habits and reformists’ emphasis on piety limited Muslims’ everyday relationships with other ethnic groups and contributed to the isolation of Sri Lankan Muslims. Also, there is little information available in the public domain about Muslims in Sri Lanka, minimal reference to Muslims in the media generally and now, it is mostly derogatory.
The Secretariat for Muslims (SFM) has been recording all such incidents perpetrated against Muslims since 2013 and you can read them here.
Reports on flashpoint areas
There is a serious paucity of documentation of the complex local contexts within which hate incidents happen. The SFM carries out research on four existing trouble spots- the Dambulla Mosque, the Jailani/Kuragala mosque community, the emerging conflicts in Mawanella among the business community in the town as well as the communities around the Devanagala Buddhist temple, and Deegawapiya in Ampara where the politicians have been fanning communal tension between Muslims and the Sinhalese. In addition to the incidents that have already occurred, it is essential that events that will occur in the future (the on-going troubles in Devanagala for instance) are investigated and the main flashpoint issues and possible peacemakers within the communities identified in order to minimize the occurrence of further conflicts in these and other areas.
The purpose of these research efforts is to document critical flashpoint sites where the Muslim community’s claims to residency and worship are being fiercely contested, thereby impacting the community’s rights and access to these sites. Such sites may be a source of ethnic tension both for the communities in the locality and at a regional or even national level. These sites may have even witnessed violence or have the potential to serve as sparks for inciting future violence.
Through documenting key issues relating to four such critical sites, the SFM seeks to highlight the need for action. Furthermore, these reports will seek to present the different perspectives relating to the events at the sites and their impact so that policymakers and the general public will be better able to understand the problems and potential solutions. Given the lacuna in information regarding such sites for all actors including those from and working with the Muslim community, these reports will help address a key gap in current documentation, for academic and advocacy practitioners.
Click the following link for the reports