December 2023

Tolerance is Needed on Both Sides

Buddhists hear pirith in the early morning. Muslims hear adhan. Pirith means protection. The ceremonial recital of pirith is regarded as warding off all forms of evil and danger. Adhan means calling Muslims to prayer. Both pirith and adhan encourage people to engage in religious activity.

Multi religious communities such as the Welikanda Divisional Secretariat is one example of a region where religious tolerance is the norm. Located in the Polonnaruwa District, the area has a majority of Buddhists, a minority of Muslims and a few Hindus and Christians.

Chanting pirith begins at about 4.30 am. Adhan is prayed five times a day. Because of the frequency of the prayers, Buddhist people have voiced their annoyance.

Participants in a training programme organized under NPC’s Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) project on protecting civic space in Sri Lanka opened up on the issue when asked on what basis they made the allegations against the Muslim people.

“Adhan is continuously disturbing us. We can’t tolerate it any further. A group of Buddhists from our village went to the mosque and complained many times. No action has been taken. Consequently, the police in Welikanda supported the Buddhist people and resolved the conflict,” a participant said. “Most of us Sinhala Buddhists live in this area. It is not acceptable for them to trouble us like this.”

This is the conversation between the facilitator, Sampath Randuna and a participant, Priyanthi.

Sampath: Everybody has rights. No one should be discriminated. Everybody has the right to follow religious activities. They can be remedied if their right is violated in
any instance. Are you Buddhist?
Priyanthi: Yes, I am.

Sampath: Do you hear pirith chanting from a Buddhist temple every morning?
Priyanthi: Yes, we hear it.
Priyanthi: Early morning, 4.30am.

Sampath: Can other people hear the pirith, especially Muslims?
Priyanthi: Yes, there are possibilities.

Sampath: Have those Muslim people ever complained that the pirith is disturbing them?
Priyanthi: No, they have never.

Sampath: If so, can we assume that the sound of pirith has never disturbed them?
Priyanthi: No, I don’t think we can assume that. Sometimes pirith would have disturbed them but I can’t say for sure.

Sampath: Do you know the sound limitations according to the law?
Priyanthi: No, I do not know.

Sampath: Do you get angry when someone criticises your religious activities?
Priyanthi: Yes, of course.

Sampath: Is it fair to get angry if you criticise other religious practices?
Priyanthi: Yes, that should be fair.

Sampath: Is it right to file a complaint at the police station against adhan?
Priyanthi: No. It is wrong. I agree and I’m feeling bad about it.

Sampath: Share your feelings in your village and try make them understand.
Priyanthi: You know, many of the school children get up in the early morning to study. Unfortunately, they are being disturbed by both pirith and adhan. Everybody laughed.