Do Myanmar people have Islamophobia?

Posted: 08/12/2012 in Culture, Myanmar

[This is a backdated post.]

I grew up with some sense of disliking Muslims just because I thought that is not a delicate religion like Christians. I used to read all Christianity related booklets that were delivered to our houses without our own will so I kind of understood what their main goal was since I was around 12/13 but didn’t have a chance to read similar things of Islam. And the five main principles that every Buddhists try to follow include “not to kill any living things” which is directly contradictory to Muslims’ Eid celebration. Believe me, that is the #1 reason why some foreigners think Myanmar people have intolerance to Islam or as some of you label, Islamophobia?

I will not deny the fact that many Myanmar Buddhists prefer Christians/Hinduism over Islam but that does NOT mean that they are intolerable. We always have Muslim friends in any kind of environment, we would even spend more time to go to halah shops if we were dining together with Muslim friends just for their convenience and we would try not to talk about pork or pig if they were in the group. My first ever best friend is a Muslim girl and my family enjoy having many Muslim neighbours. Though we don’t like killing animals (don’t ask me if it is not contradictory while we are not vegetarians, it takes a genius to answer, I might be able to explain to you if you speak Burmese!), we enjoy the tradition snacks sent by our Muslim friends during Eid. During recent Eid period, even township welfare offices allowed people to submit Guest List (I’ll write about it later) only once per two weeks for the convenience of those who were on feasting. Yet, our parents are used to guide as not to get married with a Muslim just because we have seen many scenarios where girls were forcefully converted to Islam when they had gotten married with a Muslim. Those are the general situations how Buddhists deal with Muslims in Myanmar.

Let’s deal with reality. I’m not quite sure about Buddhists in other countries but very very rare, if at all, Buddhist in Myanmar would entice you to convert to be a Buddhist. On the other hand, Buddhists are easily attracted by other religions as Buddhism has no such culture of Sunday school nor Friday prayer. It is NOT a must to learn religion related stuffs for every Buddhist kids who might grow up with less knowledge on what they think they believe. So, it is very apparent that it is not too difficult to convince a Myanmar Buddhist to believe in other religion if you are a good speaker. That is why parents are worried about their children getting too familiar with other religious stuffs. Freedom of religion? C’mon, you should have freedom to choose which religion you want to follow (or not to give a damn about the religion) when you are old enough but when you are too young, shouldn’t parents be the one to teach about their religions? How about Muslim families in Myanmar? Do they even let their children convert religion peacefully when they become adults? That’s it.

And for above reasons, we have been taught to stay away from “Islam” but not from “Muslims” which we practically cannot . And as Muslims’ fertility rate is higher than that of others (At least, it seems so. No, I did not do a research that cost thousands of dollars so it may or may not be accurate. But if you have some spare time, you can compare the number of children in Muslim families and Buddhists families in Yangon or anywhere else you have been.), Myanmar Buddhists are worried about their growing influence and some like to defend for cultures that are based on Buddhism. And for some people who are not familiar with Myanmar’s culture, they want to generalize it as “Islamophobia”. Such voices become louder and louder since last June when the you-know-what happened. Unfortunately, as a group of people claimed themselves as Rohingyas share their faith with Muslims, headliners are shouting as if there is HUGE degree of Islamophobia in Myanmar. Let me assure you that if Rohingyas were Buddhists and if locals believed that they immigrated from another country (let’s say Buddhists immigrants from Thailand), they would definitely still argue that not all of them should be entitled to citizenship. Yes, Myanmar Buddhists are afraid of “growing population” of Muslims in Myanmar but I do not believe it is fair to label as if they have Islamophobia. They are just scared to lose something they have been cherished.

  1. It might be an idea for a young dreamer to look into the concept of ‘privilege’. Simply replace the word ‘white’ with ‘Bamar’ or ‘Buddhist’. See how the concept fits.

    • mydaydream says:

      Thanks and will watch in when I am on curious mood. But I don’t understand why people commented on my blog/posts elsewhere use the word “dream” as a sarcastic add on. What dreaming got to do with all the topics I’m sharing?

      • Leaders who fight against racism must dream.

        “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

        “And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

  2. Win Hein says:

    Do not forget, however, that “freedom of religion” is different in Myanmar than in the United States, for example. Myanmar has been and still is trying to establish Buddhism as the national religion, although they are becoming more tolerant of the Karen, Chin, and other Christian minorities. Also, for a while in Myanmar, if a church or Mosque had broken down or was destroyed, new ones could not be erected in its place, nor could new church buildings be built inside the city of Yangon. I am not saying all Burmans are intolerant against Christianity or Islam, because that would be a bigoted generalization. However, Christians and Muslims (and really, any other religious group that is not Theravada Buddhism) is not as free in Myanmar as in a Western country.

    • mydaydream says:

      Agree.But I don’t understand the point of comparing Myanmar to US in terms of freedom of religion. Myanmar is at its so called reforming stage and US is role model for democracy country as we all know. (If we compare it with Arab countries or other Islamic countries, you will get my point.) Plus, United States is a country of immigrants (that’s not what I said, my Newyork-er friend told me so.) while Myanmar is different. Yes, everybody migrated to everywhere in the world. But the history does speak. In addition, many cultural activities such as festivals, society values etc. are hugely based on Buddhism. If there would be less number of Buddhists in country in future, the cultural values of society will be greatly varied from now. And I believe that is what average Buddhists in Myanmar most afraid of.

      • Win Hein says:

        You are correct about America being a “country of immigrants”, there’s no need to cover-your-butt when saying that, for it is a true statement! And I will admit one thing, which many Ameircans are shy to, which is that in America, if you did not worship the sort of Christianity that came out of England, you were persecuted (not legally, but socially) for quite a while. Catholics were not tolerated, but not for social or racial reasons — rather because they have a Pope, and the whole idea of America was to not submit to the leaders of the “Old World”. However, God, of course, did not count 😉 In addition to the Buddhist values improving Myanmar over time, Christian values have also given much to Myanmar; such as universities, hospitals, orphanages, asylums, care for the blind, care for the poor, etc.; but it’s still a valid point that Buddhism, of course is the foundation of modern Burmese values.

    • mydaydream says:

      And for building new religious building, I strongly believe we should seek the proportion of Churches and Christians, Monasteries/Pagodas and Buddhists, Mosques/Islamic schools with Muslims, Chinese temples with Chinese born Myanmar and Hindu temples with Hindus. Then, we will have some common ground to understand what is actually happening inside. I have some feeling that the least ratio would be resulted for Hindu which is the religion of my ancestors. I wish I could do this survey one day or govt would do it at soonest.

      • Win Hein says:

        Please translate “seek the proportion” into Burmese, as I have no clue what you’re trying to say in English 😉

        I will speak for Christianity, as that is my religious area of expertise:
        The largest denomination of Christianity in Burma, without question, is the Arminian Baptist movement, which was brought over originally by Judson (although, it wasn’t so Arminian, back then) and then molded by Anglo ministers to Karen and Chin, and then taken over by the ethnic people. However, there are also other denominations of Christianity present, such as Catholicism and Lutheranism (both confessional Lutherans, who migrated from India and *puke* liberal Lutherans who have been influenced by liberal world-wide Lutheran organizations), but they are in smaller proportions than that of the Baptists. There are also, of course, cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons, *also puke*) present in Burma, all in smaller proportion than the Baptists.

        Similarly, with the Buddhists, because there are less Chinese Buddhists than Theravadan Buddhists, there exists less Chinese temples, giving them less places to worship. It is not always as simple as, “oh, well, one church/temple/mosque should be able to house X amount of people, and that should suffice”, because differences in confession and belief may cause a certain group to desire a separate place to worship. It is what I believe, an essential religious freedom; just like the freedom of you being a Buddhist, although your family is Hindu; and me being a Lutheran, although my family is either Baptist or Catholic. 😀


      • mydaydream says:

        My family is not Hindu. My ancestors were Hindus. 🙂 But I can say my family members are not pure Theravada Buddhists while I have no clue to which group of Buddhism I should sort myself into.

        My bad English. I meant to research the ratio of religious buildings with number of people who are following different religions. Although you mentioned it is not appropriate to measure how many religious places could house how many people, we still need that number. What if a very minor religion had no place to worship? Or what if there were 10 mosques in a township with a population of 70% Christians? My thought is not to exactly limit it but to rather look upon if there was freedom of religion or domination of certain religion – be it Buddhists or any other religion. If we could have such number, we could roughly see if Myanmar had freedom of religion at least in terms of sacred places. And when we talk about it, we should list down all other tangible factors – like we do not have discriminating laws like in Malaysia etc. etc.

  3. Mabaydar says:

    What a nice write up about this sis…. and very good explanation in the comment session. Your post always let me inspired to write my blog and feel closer to you. 🙂 keep on sis…

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