COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is entering a path of cultural diplomacy with Saudi Arabia, the island nation’s religious affairs minister told Arab News after the Kingdom hosted its inaugural Qur’an memorization competition in the country.
The Saudi Embassy in Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Buddhism, Religious and Cultural Affairs held the first Qur’an memorization competition in Colombo over the weekend, with the winners announced at a closing ceremony on Monday.
The event marked a new chapter of bilateral relations for the two countries, Sri Lankan officials said.
“Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka enjoy strong bilateral relations. We have nurtured economic and political diplomacy with the Kingdom, and we are entering into a path of cultural diplomacy,” Minister of Buddhism, Religious and Cultural Affairs Vidura Wickremanayake told Arab News on the sidelines of Monday’s ceremony.
Hundreds of people took part in the competition, with contestants coming from various Sri Lankan cities and provinces.
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament, said that such competitions are “very important” for Sri Lankan Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of the Buddhist-majority population.
“The understanding of the teachings of the Holy Qur’an will help implant virtuous morals and gentle manners in them,” Abeywardena said during his speech at the event. “Their religiosity will lead to a better social life in our multi-ethnic Sri Lanka.”
Badr Al-Anazi, a representative from the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, also attended the ceremony in Colombo, alongside Saudi Ambassador to Sri Lanka Khalid bin Hamoud Al-Kahtani.
The Kingdom is keen “to strengthen and deepen the ties between the two friendly countries … in various ways, including supporting Qur’anic competitions that seek to spread the approach of moderation that the Kingdom adopts and calls for,” Al-Anazi said, according to a statement issued by the Saudi Embassy.
The Qur’an memorization competition may pave ways for future cooperation in religious affairs between Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia, said Faizal Abdeen, director at the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs.
“This is the beginning, I hope,” Abdeen told Arab News. “It’s a good start; we can cooperate with each other in exploring new areas in religious cooperation.”