Mohamed Hasan has barely left his home in Colombo since a string of deadly blasts hit Sri Lanka on Sunday, afraid he could be attacked because he is Muslim.
He has a job at a printing press, but the 41-year-old’s family have begged him to stay home.
“They are worried that if I go out, will I be able to come back alive?” he told AFP outside the Jumma mosque in Dematagoda, where he had ventured briefly to pray.
More than 350 people were killed in the carnage unleashed by the Easter attacks against churches and hotels, which have been claimed by the Islamic State group.
The deaths have horrified Sri Lankans and been condemned by Muslim groups, but many in the community have been left feeling vulnerable.
Zareena Begum, 60, said she had barely slept since the weekend.
“I know people are angry at Muslims,” she said in tears outside the mosque. “I never imagined such hatred being there in the hearts of these people (who attacked). Hatred must not sow more hatred.”
Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million is a patchwork of ethnicities and religions, dominated by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. Muslims account for 10 percent of the population and are the second-largest minority after Hindus. Around seven percent of Sri Lankans are Christians.
Ethnic and religious tensions abound in the country, which suffered through a decades-long Tamil insurgency and more recently has seen outbreaks of sectarian violence.
Muslims have been on the receiving end of sporadic violence and hate attacks since the civil war ended in 2009. Hardline Buddhist monks have led campaigns against the community, and in 2013 and 2018, Muslim businesses came under attack.
Rumours were even spread that Sinhalese could become sterile if they wore underwear bought from Muslim shops, and that food sold by Muslims would cause infertility.
In the wake of the attacks, Sri Lankan leaders including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have urged calm and solidarity.
But at the Jumma mosque there was an atmosphere of anxiety. Hilmy Ahamed, vice-president of the influential Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said the community was braced for a backlash, with emotions running high.