Sri Lankan students pledge to stop religious hatred

Religious tension remains high across Sri Lanka in the wake of the Easter Sunday terrorist bombings in churches and hotels, but Muslim and Christian university students across the country are coming together.

The Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS) and the All University Muslim Student Association (AUMSA) in Sri Lanka have made a declaration and pledge to work together to alleviate tensions.

“We declare that the people of Sri Lanka belong to different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, speaking different languages and adhering to different religious traditions,” the declaration reads.

“Christians and Muslims have a long history of engagement with each other globally and nationally. We reject the idea that this engagement can be reduced to a clash of civilisations or as inherently antagonistic towards one another.”

The groups said they acknowledged that Muslims and Christians “have often viewed each other with suspicion and disparaged the lifestyles and religious practices of the other.”

“We reject the idea that this engagement can be reduced to a clash of civilisations.” – Joint declaration by Muslim and Christian students

The statement goes on to say the two groups have pledged to “seek and offer forgiveness to each other for the times when that engagement has been violent or disrespectful of the other.” It said the groups will also work “to the best of our ability to prevent the spread of ideologies that advocate hatred and harm towards other communities.”

In the past week, parts of Sri Lanka have experienced anti-Muslim riots, leading to a nationwide curfew for several nights and temporary blockage of social networks including Facebook amid fears of the platforms inciting further violence.

The BBC reported one Muslim man was stabbed to death while rioters set fire to Muslim-owned shops and vandalised mosques. Riots have broken out in several Sri Lankan towns including the Catholic-majority town of Chilaw and north-western town of Kiniyama, where hundreds of people reportedly stormed a mosque and burned Korans.

“We pray that this will be a new chapter of honest and robust engagement.” – Yohan Abeynaike

While the riots are a response to the Easter Sunday bombings, Sri Lankan authorities have said that Buddhist groups are likely to be behind the violence. Religious tensions in Sri Lanka, particularly between the Sinhalese Buddhists majority and religious minorities including the Hindu Tamils and Muslims, have simmered for more than a century.

“We pledge to respect the right of each person in our country to their own belief and extend our hand of friendship to all people, especially to those who do not share our worldview,” say the FOCUS and AUMSA students.

Yohan Abeynaike, general secretary of FOCUS in Sri Lanka, said on Facebook, “we pray that this will be a new chapter of honest and robust engagement with each other.”