UN refugee chief says 114 million have fled homes because nations fail to tackle causes of conflict

KATTANKUDY: The bright gold dome set atop an octagonal blue arcade looks like the Dome of the Rock, but in the background is a modern tropical neighborhood in a coastal Sri Lankan city.

The building is a mosque modeled after the seventh-century shrine in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem – the third holiest site in Islam, after the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

The three-story replica, built in Kattankudy, a district near Batticaloa in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, was inaugurated in December 2022.

Muslims make up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s mostly Buddhist population of 22 million, but they are the majority in Kattankudy and neighboring areas.

“For the Friday prayer, about 2,000 to 3,000 people prayed here, on three floors, as well as outside… In Ramadan, it is also very crowded (there),” Mahamood Lebbe Alim Mohamed Hizbullah, the mosque’s caretaker and former governor of the eastern province, said for Arab News.

But the biggest crowds flock to the coastal city on weekends, he said, as the mosque has boosted local businesses offering halal food and accommodation.

Funded by donations, it is becoming a major tourist attraction for Muslims in the region, most of whom may never be able to visit the original site in Palestine.

“It is really difficult for the Muslim community to travel after the Easter attack,” Hezbollah said, referring to the deadly 2019 Colombo church bombings.

Although Daesh militants claimed responsibility for the attacks, they prompted the Sri Lankan government to increase restrictions on the Muslim community.

There are no such restrictions in Kattankudy, where most establishments and estates are run by Muslims.

“It has become a tourist destination in the eastern province… (Praying here) makes you feel so comfortable and you feel like you are in another place,” said Abdul Rahman Mansoor, a former deputy mayor of the nearby town of Kalmunai.

“People like me don’t go to Palestine, we won’t get a chance, but coming here … gives us confidence and hope.”

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