Remarks delivered by Ambassador Chung during her visit to the Dewatagaha Mosque, Colombo

September 14, 2022

Assalamu Alaikum, Ayubowan, and Vannakam to all of you.  My special thanks to Mr. Reyyaz Salley, the Board of Trustees, Former Governor Azath Salley, Former Minister Fowzie, Mr. Hanif Yusuf and friends for the invitation to visit your beautiful mosque.  And the beautiful music of the young men’s choir just now really touched me as you sang from your hearts.

I’m honored to be invited by Mr. Reyyaz Salley to meet this group.  My introduction to your community has come through meeting impressive members like Mr. Hanif Yusuf, whom I met while he was being honored at last week’s Young Men’s Muslim Association convention.

I have often driven past the Dewatagaha Mosque and admired the beautiful architecture, and also noticed the hundreds of pigeons that appear to make the mosque their home. Even the pigeons feel welcomed here.  I am pleased to have this opportunity to visit today to spend an evening with you, learn about the mosque and shrine. As Ambassador, I am always endeavoring to learn so thank you for teaching me today about your faith and this shrine.

Like the United States, Sri Lanka has a rich diversity of faith communities who contribute much to their neighborhoods, region, and nation.  During my travels around this beautiful country so far, I have seen temples, kovils, mosques and churches, all coexisting side by side.  This rich cultural heritage makes Sri Lanka a fascinating place. It is an amazing opportunity to live where my day starts hearing the Azhan call to prayer from the mosque and ends with the bana from the Buddhist temple in the evening.

Muslims have called Sri Lanka home for over 1,000 years!  Arab traders and subsequent migrants from the Indian sub-continent brought not only their religion, but also their cultural heritage, which has contributed to every facet of this nation’s life.

I also had the privilege of visiting Colombo’s iconic Red Mosque several months ago, and very much appreciated the warm welcome and the congregation sharing their perspectives. I also had the pleasure of meeting members of the Muslim community during my travels around Sri Lanka, including visiting the oldest mosque in Jaffna and in the Muslim business community in Kandy. I look forward to learning more about unique Sri Lankan Muslim traditions during further travels here.

In April, I was honored to host an Ifthar for our Muslim friends, the first such in-person gathering after a break due COVID.  It was a wonderful evening of fellowship with Muslim men and women who have made significant contributions in politics, business and society across Sri Lanka, a testament to the important contributions Muslims have been making to Sri Lankan society. It was also a memorable evening where I could enjoy my favorite dessert of all time, wattalapam.  I know in many Muslim kitchens, the recipes of a good wattalapam are handed down for generations with the best jaggery.

I particularly welcome today’s visit to the Dewatagaha mosque to help me learn more about the Sufi tradition in Sri Lanka.  The focus Sufism places on looking inward and overcoming ego towards spiritual elevation is a much-needed concept in today’s world.  In the United States, Sufism has diverse origins, the earliest believed to be from West African Muslims who were enslaved and forcibly brought to work in plantations.  That many found strength in their faith, the resilience to counter injustice, and the tenacity to pass down their religious traditions, is a testament to its importance and endurance.  We have also seen new, migrant communities bring diverse threads of Sufism to the United States as well, enhancing our diverse threads of spirituality and Islamic beliefs many in our country hold.

As Sri Lanka faces its current economic crisis, it is a time for all citizens to come together in support of your nation’s recovery.  The United States is committed to working with all Sri Lankans to realize this vision and stands ready to support the Muslim community as we have in the past.  I mentioned before that just last week, I was honored to attend the Young Men’s Muslim Association’s 72nd annual conference where the community’s spirit of volunteerism was on prominent display. And here in this shrine as you serve, not only Muslim communities, but for all, you are a shining example to many. It’s so impressive to hear that you offer 3000 meals a day to those in need.

The United States remains a friend and partner to Sri Lanka, especially during this challenging period, in a true spirit of partnership.  Our support includes financial assistance and support for Sri Lankan people achieve their aspirations for a democratic and unified nation, inclusive of minority communities.  We will continue to speak up for democracy, human rights for all, human dignity, rule of law, good governance, and transparency.

Separately, to support Sri Lankan through the financial crisis, the U.S. government has committed nearly $240 million to support Sri Lanka during the crisis period alone.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power visited Sri Lanka over the weekend and announced $60 million in new assistance for farmers to purchase fertilizer and agricultural inputs, and further aid for emergency food and nutrition.  The United States has also provided school lunches for thousands of children, support for impoverished lactating mothers to receive the nutritious food they need, , and enabled hundreds of thousands of crisis-affected people to meet basic needs.

We also know that in the medium- to long-term, the best way to demonstrate our friendship is by enabling Sri Lanka to unlock its own economic potential.  In that vein, we’ve provided financing for small and medium-sized enterprises, especially women-owned businesses.  Our assistance has helped Sri Lankan dairy farmers double their milk production.  And we want to help increase exports to the United States, which is your largest export market.

We are all looking ahead to a bright future for Sri Lanka.  I know the past decade and the past few months have been a challenging time for all, and in particular Muslims here. I am proud the United States stood with the Muslim community, advocating for religious, human rights, and cultural freedoms. I admire how Sri Lankan Muslims have remained committed to dialogue and cooperation, working towards the ideal of a broader Sri Lankan family, inclusive of all the threads that make up its rich tapestry.

The U.S. Embassy, on behalf of our government and the American people, will continue our support to Sri Lanka, including the Muslim community here.  Your resilience, your faith, and your togetherness as a community is truly inspirational. As you gather, and pray, and hope – I know that your efforts to help those around you will resonate with many.  Your values that you have explained here today – of tolerance, love, and compassion – and in the work that each of you do every day show that at the end of the day, we are all simply for humanity.   Thank you again for the invitation to visit the mosque.