As the Islamic call to prayer echoed through the subdued streets of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, crowds of Muslims were greeted with an unusual sight: their golden dome mosque flanked by soldiers armed with rifles of assault, soldiers with rifles guard Mosques.
Security has been ballooning in the seaside capital since a series of coordinated hotel and church suicide attacks on Easter Sunday killed 253 people and sent shockwaves through an island state enjoying a decade of relative peace.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers have been deploy across the state of the Indian Ocean Island to conduct searches and provide religious centers with security.
Fears of retaliatory sectarian violence have already caused Muslim communities to flee their homes amid bomb scares, lockdowns and security sweeps.
Soldiers With Rifles Guard Mosques
But at the Kollupitiya Jumma Masjid mosque, tucked between sleepy side streets, hundreds of people defied government calls to stay at home, attending a service they say focused on calling people of all religions to help bring peace back to Sri Lanka.
“It’s a very sad situation,” said salesman Raees Ulhaq, 28, as soldiers hurried across pot-holed lanes to dawdling worshippers and sniffer dogs.
“We are working with Hindus, Buddhists, Christians. It was a threat to us all because of what these few people did to this beautiful country. “Sunday’s bombings shattered the relative calm that existed in Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority since a civil war against mostly Hindu ethnic Tamil separatists ended ten years ago.
The 22 million people in Sri Lanka are Christians, Muslims and Hindus minorities. Muslims and Christians have largely lived side-by-side peacefully, immune from much of the tension that exists in many parts of the world between religious groups. Most Sri Lankans pray that the church will not open irreversible rifts five days ago.
“Not all Muslims are terrorists,” says 43-year-old engineer Abdul Waheed Mohamed after leaving prayers on Friday.
“We pray to God every day since this carnage happened, please bring us peace.”