Contrary to certain media reports that the recent meeting prominent Muslim personalities had with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse was a sellout of the community, the truth is otherwise. As a participant I feel I am competent enough to comment on what really took place at the meeting rather than relying on hearsay as some of our media people have done.
The meeting at philanthropist ZAM Refai’s residence was convened by Senior Minister A.H.M Fowzie at the request of Colombo Mayor A.J.M Muzammil. Over 150 Muslim entrepreneurs and professionals attended the meeting held on 25th February which was moderated by Faisz Musthapha, President of Sailan Muslim Foundation
The Defense Secretary who addressed the gathering for over an hour stressed on the cordial relationship His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse enjoyed with the Muslim community both here and overseas. He pointed out that the present chief of intelligence Major General Roycelan Sallay was a Muslim and recalled his school days at Ananda College when the Sinhala debate team was captained by Imtiaz Bakir Markar.
Regarding the housing problems of underprivileged Muslims in Colombo city who face relocation, he pointed out that as part of the government’s plan to turn Colombo into a garden city, the shanties, which are mainly occupied by Tamils and Muslims will be gradually done away with. This should not be viewed as a threat to these communities, but rather as a blessing since in compensation they would be provided with better housing in modern apartments. Under this scheme, the first 500 houses built for Slave Island residents had been allocated on a priority basis, based on certain criteria, such as those who lived there before, those living in hazardous areas closer to Railway tracks etc. The needs of the rest, he assured, would be taken care of at the earliest.
He also queried whether any Mosque in Colombo had been attacked except the Grandpass Mosque though this too he pointed out had been resolved through dialogue. When the recent incident at Kadawatte Mosque in Dehiwela was brought to his notice, he promptly called the DIG Colombo Anura Gunatilake and instructed him that no mosque duly approved by the Waqf Board. This was despite the case against the mosque being filed by the Buddhasasana Ministry. He also instructed Minister Fowzie and M.M Zuhair who had raised the issue to follow up with the DIG to ensure things were back to normalcy. That very evening a police officer had informed the mosque that they could open their doors for prayers.
The Defence Secretary stressed the importance of community leaders working together to resolve any issues and to avoid petty conflicts becoming national issues. He gave the example of a retired Christian army officer taking the lead in resolving a church related conflict. He observed that most of the senior officers in the army were Christians and recalled instances when these officers had even refused to attend government-sponsored religious functions based on their religious beliefs and that such sentiments based on religious conviction were respected and tolerated.