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

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KATTANKUDY: A bright golden dome on an octagonal blue archway looks like the Dome of the Rock, but in the background is a modern tropical district of a coastal city in Sri Lanka.

The building is a mosque modeled after the 7th-century shrine on the grounds of Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem – the third holiest site in Islam after the Great Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

The three-story replica was built in Kattankudy, a township near the city of Batticaloa in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, and inaugurated in December 2022.

About 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million inhabitants, who are predominantly Buddhist, are Muslims. However, in Kattankudy and the surrounding areas, they are in the majority.

“During Friday prayers, about 2,000 to 3,000 people pray here on the three floors and also outside. … During Ramadan, the crowd is also large,” Mahamood Lebbe Alim Mohamed Hizbullah, the mosque’s caretaker and former governor of the Eastern Province, told Arab News.

But the biggest crowds flock to the coastal town on weekends, he said, as the mosque has given a boost to local businesses offering halal food and accommodation.

The project, funded by donations, is becoming one of the region’s most important tourist attractions for Muslims, most of whom may never have the opportunity to visit the original site in Palestine.

“After the Easter attacks, it is really difficult for the Muslim community to travel,” Hezbollah said, referring to the deadly bombings of churches in Colombo in 2019.

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

There are no such restrictions in Kattankudy, where most businesses and properties are run by Muslims.

“This has become a tourist destination in the Eastern Province… (When you pray here) you feel so comfortable and like you are in another place,” said Abdul Rahman Mansoor, former deputy mayor of the nearby town of Kalmunai.

“People like me will not go to Palestine and will not get a chance there, but coming here … gives us confidence and hope.”

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