Sri Lanka to ban burqas, close over 1K Islamic schools

Colombo: Sri Lanka on Saturday announced plans to ban the wearing of burqas and said it would close more than 1,000 Islamic schools known as madrassas, citing national security.

Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara said he signed a paper on Friday seeking the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers to ban burqas outer garments that cover the body and face worn by some Muslim women.

The burqa has a direct impact on national security, Weerasekara told a ceremony at a Buddhist temple on Saturday, without elaborating.

In our early days, we had a lot of Muslim friends, but Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa," Weerasekara said, according to video footage sent by his ministry.

It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We will definitely ban it. The wearing of burqas was temporarily banned in 2019 after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 260 people.

Two local Muslim groups that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group have been blamed for the attacks at six locations two Roman Catholic churches, one Protestant church and three top hotels.

Weerasekara also said the government will ban more than 1,000 Madrassas, saying they are not registered with the authorities and do not follow the national education policy.

The decision to ban burqas and madrassas is the latest move affecting the Indian Ocean island nation's minority


Muslims make up about 9 per cent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists account for more than 70 per cent of the population. Ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 15 per cent of the population.

Meanwhile, A 60-year-old former leader of Islamic organisation Jamaat-e-Islami has been arrested in Sri Lanka for allegedly promoting extremism in the country, police announced on Saturday.

Rasheed Hajjul Akbar, who headed the Jamaat-e-Islami organisation for 24 years until last September 2019, was arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) from Dematagoda area on Friday, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said.

He was publishing articles in a magazine published by the Jamaat-e-Islami organisation to promote Wahhabism and Jihadist ideology in Sri Lanka, the police spokesman said.

The arrest came as an investigation panel on the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings had called for banning Wahaabism in the island nation as it inspires Muslim religious extremism.

On April 21, 2019, nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, killing 270 people, including 11 Indians, and injuring over 500 on the Easter Sunday.

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