Sri Lanka’s population of about 22 million is a patchwork of ethnicities and religions, dominated by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.Muslims account for 10 percent of the population and are the second-largest minority after Hindus. Around seven percent of Sri Lankans are Christians.Ethnic and religious tensions abound in the country, which suffered through a decades-long Tamil armed rebellion and more recently has seen outbreaks of sectarian violence.
Muslims have been at the receiving end of sporadic violence and hate attacks since the civil war ended in 2009. Hardline Buddhist monks have led campaigns against the community and in 2013 and 2018, Muslim businesses came under attack.
Rumours were even spread that Sinhalese could become sterile if they wore underwear bought from Muslim shops, and that food sold by Muslims would cause infertility.In the wake of the attacks, Sri Lankan leaders including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have urged calm and solidarity.”The vast majority of Muslims condemn this and they are as angry as the Tamils and the Sinhalese about what happened,” he said on Tuesday, calling for unity.But at the Jumma mosque there was an atmosphere of anxiety, and several worshippers said they hoped police would “take care of every citizen in such critical times”.
Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the influential Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said the community was braced for a backlash, with emotions running high. “Hundreds of people are being buried (so) there is going to be an emotional outburst and some of it could be justifiable,” said Ahamed.”We have asked the government… to ensure security is maintained. This (attack) has not been carried out by the Muslim community but by some fringe elements.”