For reconciliation's sake, Myanmar's Muslims need serious soul searching themselves

Having spoke out unequivocally against the popular tide of Islamophobia in Myanmar, I would be the last to endorse attacks and discrimination against Religious and Cultural Other on the basis of difference.

However, in the interest of finding a happy medium, the Burmese of all backgrounds need to make some of the long-standing practices, as well as the emerging ones among the Burmese Muslims, problematic.

Societies in general are ill-equipped to deal with differences. Instead they are set up for conformity in appearances, social practices, etc.

Even the culturally advanced more liberal/tolerant societies which embrace civil and human rights still think and act funny when it comes to outward differences such as dress, body hairs, colour of the hairs, piercing, etc. Examples abound such as the Orthodox Jews with their distinctive dress codes, beards, hats and so on, the "small feeted" Chinese women of the old days, the Amish in the US who refuse to partake in technologically driven modern communities, or the Mormons with their customs of marrying all sisters or keeping a dozen wives in a predominantly serially monogamous American society.

In Myanmar the emerging trends among certain Muslim communities, for instance, growing massive beards as a Muslim religious signifier, choosing to wear clothes that make them stand out and blasting calls to prayers on loud speakers at 4 in the morning in communities where the majority are non-Muslims are going to create more resentment, tensions and frictions, especially among the non-Muslims who have long been prejudiced - very prejudiced - towards the Muslims.

Then there certainly is a serious issue of forced religious conversion of non-Muslims,both men and women, before their marriages with their significant Muslim others, a practice no other faith is known to be engaged in as a matter of textual and spiritual precondition for a marriage.



Leading monks of the recent Buddhist monks meeting calling for the official ban on Muslim-Buddhist marriages on grounds of the Islamic/Quranic practice of conversion as the precondition for marriage.  Source: Kamayut media, 13 June 2013

In the YouTube clip above, various monks explained their logic behind their unsuccessful attempts to lobby Naypydiaw parliament for the legislation of religious conversion (from Buddhism to other religions, most specifically Islam). But I think their argument is going to be met with popular approval.


Here is Rev. Dharmapiya, one of the leaders of this 'Defend Our Race' draft legislation, which would make it illegal for Burmese to marry Muslims if the forced conversion is a precondition, expounding the proposed campaign's logic:

"We are fully aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which include the right to choose one's own faith/religion. We have no problem with Burmese individuals who convert to other (non-)Buddhist faiths. We take issue with the forced conversion, however.

From a nationalist perspective, the Buddhist majority have been bullied by the practice of forced conversion of Burmese upon marriage (with Muslims).

Buddhism is the predominant religion in Myanmar. If anything they should be converting to Buddhism.

Instead they are forcing our Burmese (women) into their religion (which requires conversions of non-Muslims before a marriage can be considered legitimate)".


Much as I unequivocally support the freedom of religion and the right to embrace any faith I must also say, objectively and in all fairness to the Burmese who complain bitterly about this Islamic practice of forced conversion, that certain social practices and marriage-related aspects of Islams are themselves are not innocent.

The forced conversion has been a century-old bone of major contention between the Muslims and the non-Muslims since the colonial time when 60% of Rangoonites were Muslims and other non-Muslim Indians.

For reconciliation's sake and as a matter of necessary strategy, some of the religious and social practices of the Muslims in Myanmar need to be adjusted.

Otherwise, the mainstream resentment towards the Muslims, which has been proven to be potent, violent and murderous, will be stoked further. And the discourses of 969 will get even more popular with the tradition-bound masses.

To belabor the obvious, almost all pious individuals the world over like to think their faith is timeless, better, superior, more rational and above all absolute. Indeed faith is read, grossly incorrectly, as above and beyond social, political and economic contexts.

The pious in Myanmar are no exception.

As long as they feel irreversibly and strongly absolute about the superiority and timelessness of their respective faiths there will never be genuine tolerance, appreciation, respect or peace among the faith-based communities of Myanmar.

I have no power to change the minds of any faithful - or infidel, for that matter, among "Myanmarese" or others.

So, I continue to watch,research, write and speak about the Burmese hell from abroad, with despair.

But the Muslims of Myanmar need to engage in serious soul searching to see if their own social and religious customs are part of the problems, or solutions.

God of all stripes, colours and odors may be absolute in the minds of the believers.

But we must certainly accept a simple verifiable fact: God doesn't run societal institutions.

God, by definition, does not live, engage, work with, fight for the welfare of even His followers, let along the collective humanity at large.

As religiously counter-intuitive as it may sound, one solution for the pious to seek light at the end of this dark and murderous tunnel in Myanmar today is to put God in the backseat and to start thinking reflectively and strategically in dealing with the fast and State-backed rise of Islamophobia. Once fear has been stoked and mutual trust and common bond broken it will take a long time to heal the communal wounds.

We can't simply blame the regime and its sinister motives and moves. Some things flammable are already in Myanmar society, abundantly: mass ignorance, popular anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance.

If there were a God I would certainly not worship or follow him, her or it. 

For He, She or It has not done anything to protect the Muslims of Myanmar from mass violence, to end the Rohingya genocide in the past 40+ years, to stop the menacing civil war against the Kachins, make the ignorant Burmese public to become slightly more open-minded and enlightened, help alleviate the abject poverty of Myanmar public in general, or stop the sex trafficking of young girls and women, punish the murderous, anti-Muslim generals, or bankrupt greedy cronies or hypocritical dissidents all in Myanmar.

Why would I in my searching and right mind want to follow this kind of God and treat His, Her or Its Words as 'absolute' and 'universal'? 

That is, the God that evidently lets the bulk of the Burmese of all faiths suffer immensely while letting the murderers, liars, and rapists in power walk free and even rewarded by the IMF, the Paris Club, the UN, the World Economic Forum and ex-Fascists in Tokyo??

I respect your right to believe in God and be pious.  But I must also point out that your God is not going to get you out of the expanding foxhole in Myamar, but your own critical self-reflection and strategic social adjustment will.

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