Advising OIC to re-brand and repackage the image of Islam

Advising OIC to re-brand and repackage the image of Islam

 

_ by Dr Zafar Shah (One of my Pseudonyms)

 

Dear OIC leaders,                           

Please may you kindly allow me to advise the Organization of the Islamic Conference to try to change the present image of Islam by the non-Muslim world. Because of the extremists’ action of violence especially on-unarmed civilians, nowadays quite a lot of non-Muslims are looking with the suspected eyes on all the Muslims.  

I am not here to argue anything about Jihad. However, we all must acknowledge that some people against Islam had successfully re-branded all of us after the end of cold war. As there is no more evil group against them, weapon producers need to create a new enemy. So they re-package us, Muslims as a new enemy and successfully re-branded as Terrorists. With peace after cold war, they are going to lose every thing. With the creating of a new enemy, re-branded, Terrorist Islam, they could keep on getting profits by selling weapons to both sides.  

Dear brothers, I am here to think out of the box to win back the hearts and minds of the whole word, especially non-Muslims and even including our enemies. 

Former US president Bill Clinton called for the US to increase the foreign aid, suggesting it was important in fighting terrorists and “cheaper than going to war”. He said, “Spending this money to be in a world with more partners and fewer terrorists and more possibility for growth and more prosperity for Americans is a very inexpensive thing to do.” 

Yes, Mr Clinton is absolutely right. Why should not we do the same thing to get what we want? 

It is very difficult to change other people, or the whole world’s perception on all the Muslims. It is a lot easier to change our selves. We need to re-brand and repackage the image of Islam by changing ourselves. 

Christian Missionaries had shown us the example for centuries. Their charity work of building schools, hospitals for the poor, regardless of race and religion around the world is the good example to follow. Oil rich OIC countries should lead and other countries, Muslim organizations, NGOs and individuals should chip in. Muslims should lead all the Humanitarian aids and helps around the world. 

We hope and pray that all of the Muslims would be able to realize that the greatness of a person or an organization does not lie in the power it wields, or in the armory, ammunitions, or wealth it displays but in the greatness of its heart and its good deeds. What we have is not important, not only the whole world but Almighty Allah would definitely care and record what we do with our possessions or wealth on poor and needy. We would get the rewards not only in the hereafter but in the present world, depending on our deeds but not according to our possession in the present world.

We would be most remembered not for material achievements but for the generosity, kindheartedness, donations, helping hands extended to the needs, poor etc along our life span. Someone once said, “a man never stands as tall as when he stoops to help a little child.”

There is greatness in giving and we could see the shame in grabbing with greed. The never-ending grabbing person is in some kind of bondage to greediness, wanting, longing for everything, and he could not let go of anything he saw means that actually he is a virtual slave to this material world and was bankrupt spiritually.  

Dear Muslim brothers, let us forgive and forget all the wrong doings of others on us. We all should stop any kind of revenge. We need to have peace with the whole world including Israel. Allah had given a lot of land and wealth to all of us. Instead of fighting we should made peace and help to resettle our Palestinians friends in our own countries. We have to accept peace with Israel even if we could not get back all we want. Once we show our good will, generosity, kindheartedness others will definitely change. 

We cannot win over our enemies with revenge, hatred or terrorism. We could, Insya Allah easily win over their hearts and minds with forgiveness, generosity and loving kindness. We could easily re-brand Islam by re-packing it in our charity works. 

So let us start charity work of building schools, hospitals for the poor, regardless of race and religion around the world. Muslims should lead all the Humanitarian aids and helps around the world. Let us all re-brand and re-pack Islam in a kindlier gentler and noble form.

Roots of Burmese Muslims

Roots of Burmese Muslims 

There is definitely direct spread of Islam to this part of the world and Burma/Myanmar directly from Arabia and Africa continent. But I hereby wish to stress on the one root or SEED OF ISLAM that came to Burma from India.

Islam began in Asia in the 7th century during the life of Muhammad. The greatest number of adherents of Islam has lived in Asia since the beginning of Islamic history.

Islam was started on the Arabian Peninsula by Muhammad in the 7th century. Since then it began spreading rapidly. Till his death (in 632), Muhammad managed to unite the whole of the Arabian peninsular into one country with Islam as the official religion.  

Today most Muslims live in Asia. The majority of notable Muslim religious leaders are based in Asia. Asian countries with high Muslim population include: Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, India, Turkey, Russia, Yemen, Oman, and Qatar. One of the important 20th century figures that developed Islam was Muhammad Iqbal – a philosopher. Another important Asian Muslim was Abdullah Yusuf Ali, an Indian Muslim from Mumbai who translated the Qur’an to English. 

It is necessary for academic purpose because most of the Muslims in Myanmar are Sunni Muslims from the Hannafi sect. From the Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Turkey, Central Asia (break away countries from Russia), Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh most of the Muslims are from this same sect.  

Muslims from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei are from the Shafi sect of Sunni. Shafi sect is known to be spread by the sea route.  

In contrast to this, Hannafi sect is known to be spread by the land route. Arabs propagate Islam directly to the Central Asia and Turky.

The Mongols, e.g. Gin Ghist Khan, although they are Buddhists employed the Muslim Turks and Central Asians and cause the spread of Islam to this part of the world. In this case, the saying, ‘conquerors are conquered’ need to be explained thoroughly.

The conqueror U Tar Tars took over Turkey, Iran and Iraq, and they killed the millions of men and children and married those Muslim women left behind. Their new wives strangely converted them into Islam and they accepted the Islamic cultures. So this is the living proof of the saying, ‘conquerors are conquered’.

And those Tar Tar/Turk descendents’ armies invaded Afghanistan, India subcontinent (future India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.) and established the Moghol Islamic Empire. So the Central Asia Muslims, Chinese Muslims, Yunan Chinese Muslims and Burma’s Chinese Muslims or Panthays and many of the Burmese Muslims are also their descendents. Even the Muslims in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia got Islam from those Chinese Muslims.

islam-by-country-smooth.png  Distribution of Islam per country.

Green represents a Sunni majority

and blue represents a Shia majority.  

 Today, Islam in Mongolia is mainly practiced by the Kazakhs of Bayan-Ölgii aimag in western Mongolia. The U.S. Department of State estimates that Muslims form 6% of the population, or roughly 150,000 people. 

When the Mongol Empire broke up into four khanates, three of the four khanates became Muslim. These were the Golden Horde, Hulagu’s Ulus and Chagatai’s Ulus. The Yuan Empire also embraced Muslim peoples such as the Uyghurs. Although the court of the Yuan Empire adopted Tibetan Buddhism as the official religion, the majority of the ordinary Mongols, especially those who continued living in Mongolia proper, remained Shamanists.  

In 1257, Hulagu Khan amassed an unusually large army, a significant portion of the Mongol Empire’s forces, for the purpose of conquering Baghdad. When they arrived at the Islamic capital, Hulagu demanded surrender but the caliph refused. This angered Hulagu, and, consistent with Mongol strategy of discouraging resistance, Baghdad was decimated. Estimates of the number of dead range from 200,000 to a million. 

The Mongols destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate and The Grand Library of Baghdad, which contained countless, precious, historical documents. The city would never regain its status as major center of culture and influence. 

In 1401, warlord of Turco-Mongol descent Tamerlane (Timur Lenk) invaded Iraq. After the capture of Bagdad, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur. 

Timeline of Mongol invasions            

  1. 1205–1209 invasion of Western China            
  2. 1211–1234 invasion of Northern China            
  3. 1218–1220 invasion of Central Asia (North eastern of Persia)            
  4. 1220-1223, 1235-1330 invasions of Georgia and the Caucasus (North and north western of Persia)            
  5. 1220–1224 of the Cumans            
  6. 1223–1236 invasion of Volga Bulgaria            
  7. 1231–1259 invasion of Korea  
  8. Mongol invasion of Europe            
  9. 1237–1242 invasion of Rus            
  10. 1241 invasion of Poland, Lithuania and Bohemia            
  11. 1241 invasion of Hungary            
  12. 1241 invasion of Austria and Northeast Italy            
  13. 1242 invasion of Serbia and Bulgaria            
  14. 1241-1244 invasion of Anatolia            
  15. 1251-1259 invasion of Persia, Syria and Mesopotamia            
  16. 1252-1472 Mongol military campaigns in Russia            
  17. 1257, 1284, 1287 invasions of Vietnam            
  18. 1258 invasion of Baghdad            
  19. 1258-1259 invasion of Galych-Volhynia            
  20. 1259 raid against Lithuania and Poland            
  21. 1264-1265 raid against Bulgaria and Thrace            
  22. 1274, 1281 invasions of Japan            
  23. 1274 raid against Bulgaria            
  24. 1275, 1277 raids against Lithuania            
  25. 1277 invasion of Myanmar            
  26. 1279 invasions of Southern China            
  27. 1281 invasion of Syria            
  28. 1285 invasion of Hungary            
  29. 1285 raid against Bulgaria            
  30. 1287 invasion of Myanmar            
  31. 1287 raid against Poland            
  32. 1293 invasion of Java            
  33. 1297, 1299 invasions of India            
  34. 1299 invasion of Syria            
  35. Mongol invasions of India(1222, 1241, 1257, 1292, 1298, 1306 and 1327)            
  36. Mongol invasion of Myanmar (1300)            
  37. 1303 Mongol invasion of Syria            
  38. 312 Mongol invasion of Syria  

Mongols were highly tolerant of most religions, and typically sponsored several at the same time. At the time of Genghis Khan, virtually every religion had found converts, from Buddhism to Christianity and Manichaeanism to Islam.

To avoid strife, Genghis Khan set up an institution that ensured complete religious freedom, though he himself was a shamanist. Under his administration, all religious leaders were exempt from taxation, and from public service. Initially there were few formal places of worship, because of the nomadic lifestyle. However, under Ögedei, several building projects were undertaken in Karakorum. Along with palaces, Ogodei built houses of worship for the Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Taoist followers. The dominant religion at that time was Shamanism and Buddhism, although Ogodei’s wife was a Christian. 

Turkic-Mongol military bands in Iran, after some years of chaos were united under the Saffavid tribe, under whom the modern Iranian nation took shape under the Shiite faith.

Meanwhile Mongol princes in Central Asia were content with Sunni orthodoxy with decentralized princedoms of the Chagatay, Timurid and Uzbek houses. 

In addition to the Khanates and other descendants, the Mughal royal family of South Asia are also descended from Genghis Khan: Babur’s mother was a descendant — whereas his father was directly descended from Timur (Tamerlane).

At the time of Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, the empire was divided among his four sons, with his third son as the supreme Khan, and by the 1350s, the khanates were in a state of fracture and had lost the order brought to them by Genghis Khan.

Eventually the separate khanates drifted away from each other, becoming the Il-Khans Dynasty based in Iran, the Chagatai Khanate in Central Asia, the Yuan Dynasty in China, and what would become the Golden Horde in present day Russia. 

The Mughal Empire was an important imperial power in the Indian subcontinent from the early 16th to the mid-19th centuries.

At the height of its power, around 1700, it controlled most of the subcontinent and parts of what is now Afghanistan. Its population at that time has been estimated as between 110 and 130 million, over a territory of over a billion acres (4 million km2) 

The classic period of the Empire starts with the accession of Akbar the Great in 1556 and ends with the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, although the Empire continued for another 150 years. During this period, the Empire was marked by a highly centralized administration connecting the different regions of India. All the significant monuments of the Mughals, their most visible legacy, date to this period. 

Mughal is the Persian word for Mongol and was generally used to refer to the Central Asians who claimed descent from the Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan. The foundation for Mughal empire was established around 1504 by the Timurid prince Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and Timur, when he took control of Kabul and eastern regions of Khorasan controlling the fertile Sindh region and the lower valley of the Indus River. 

Babur’s son Humayun succeeded him in 1530 but suffered major reversals at the hands of the Pashtun Sher Shah Suri and effectively lost most of the fledgling empire. When the Afghans fell into disarray with the death of Sher Shah Suri, Humayun returned with a mixed army, raised more troops and managed to reconquer Delhi in 1555. Humayun conquered the central plateau around Delhi, he was killed in an accident and succeded by the son Akbar.

Akbar (1556 to 1605) succeeded his father on 14 February 1556, while in the midst of a war against Sikandar Shah Suri for the reclamation of the Mughal throne. Thus, he was thrust onto the throne and soon recorded his first victory at the age of 13 or 14. Jahangir, the son of Mughal Emperor Akbar and Rajput princess Mariam-uz-Zamani, ruled the empire from 1605–1627.

In October 1627, Shah Jahan, the son of Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Rajput princess Manmati, succeeded to the throne, where he inherited a vast and rich empire in India; and at mid-century this was perhaps the greatest empire in the world. Shah Jahan commissioned the famous Taj Mahal (1630–1653) in Agra as a tomb for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. By 1700 the empire reached its peak with major parts of present day India, 

After the invasion of Persia by the Mongol Empire, a regional Turko-Persio-Mongol dynasty formed. Just as eastern Mongol dynasties inter-married with locals and adopted the local religion of Buddhism and the Chinese culture, this group adopted the local religion of Islam and the Persian culture.

The first Mughal King, Babur, established the Mughal dynasty in regions spanning parts of present-day Pakistan and India. Upon invading this region, the Mughals inter-married with local royalty once again, creating a dynasty of combined Turko-Persian, and Mongol background. King Babur did this to create peace among the different religions in the region.

Despite preaching Islamic values himself, Babur focused on setting a good example for the Mughal Dynasty by emphasizing religious tolerance. The language of the court was Persian. The language spoken was Urdūn, which today has advanced into Urdu. Urdūn originated from Persio-Arabic formation, and took on various characteristics of Persian, Chagatai, and Arabic. Today, Urdu is the National Language of Pakistan and is spoken by most Indian Muslims. Religious orthodoxy would only play an important role during the reign of Aurangzeb Ālamgīr, a devout Muslim.

This last of the Great Mughals retracted some of the tolerant policies of his forbears. Under his reign the empire reached its greatest extent in terms of territorial gain and economic strength. I

slam first came into India in the province of Kerala during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammed himself. Prophet Mohammed is said to have sent messengers to the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Heraclius, the Sassanian (Persian) Emperors Chosroes (Khushrau Parvez) and Yazdgard, and to the Kings of China and Kerala (in South India).

The Kings of China and Kerala are said to have received the messengers with great courtesy. King Cheraman of Chera dynasty of Kerala Voluntarily Converts to Islam in the 7th Century.  Tamerlane, a corruption of the name in Persian, Timur-i-Leng, meaning “Timur the Lame.”

The word Timur is Turkic for “iron”. He became the ruler of an empire that stretched from Delhi to Anatolia.  Timur was born in Kesh, fifty miles south of Samarkand) in 1336. His capture of Delhi in 1398 and became the Emperor of Hindustan. Samarkand, Timur’s royal city, celebrated its 2500th anniversary in 1970. It is an ancient site, located on the Zarafshan River, in modern-day Uzbekistan. 

BABUR, THE FIRST OF THE GREAT MOGHULS,was born on February 14, 1483 in Ferghana east of Samarkand. The name “Moghul” is a Persian variant of “Mongol”.  Emperor Babur (1483-1530), the founder of the great Mughal dynasty, was descended from both Genghis Khan and Timur. In 1504, Babur captured the Kabul, Afghan and India in 1524. Two years later, he defeated the Sultan of Delhi . Akbar (1542-1605) was the third and most famous Mughal emperor.  Babar established the Mughal dynasty which ruled from Delhi (and later from Agra) Between 1527 C.E. and 1690 C.E., the Mughals gradually expanded their hold over almost the whole of India. They ruled from 1527 up to 1857. The Mughal (and Muslim) rule was formally abolished by the British.  

The last Muslim Moghul Emperor of India, Abu Za’far Saraj al-Din Bahadur Shah and his family members and some followers were exiled to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). The Mongols themselves were assimilated into local populations after the fall of the empire, and many of these descendants adopted local religions — for example, the eastern Khanates largely adopted Buddhism, and the western Khanates adopted Islam, largely under Sufi influence. The last Khan who was the ruler of South Asia, Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed by the British after the collapse of the 1857 uprising and exiled to Rangoon where he lies buried. His sons were killed by the British in Humayun’s tomb, the burial place of their ancestor in Delhi. He died there and was buried in Yangon (Rangoon) on 7.11.1862. Now his burial site became a minor diplomatic clash between India and Pakistan. Both of them want to control the site now famous as a shrine and even some of the Burmese Buddhists used to go and pray there because Za’far Shar, as they known, was regarded as a saint.  

The first Mughal emperor Babur wrote in the Bāburnāma:            

“Hindustan is a place of little charm. There is no beauty in its people, no graceful social intercourse, no poetic talent or understanding, no etiquette, nobility or manliness. The arts and crafts have no harmony or symmetry. There are no good horses, meat, grapes, melons or other fruit. There is no ice, cold water, good food or bread in the markets. There are no baths and no madrasas. There are no candles, torches or candlesticks”. 

The Mughal period would see a more fruitful blending of Indian, Iranian and Central Asian artistic, intellectual and literary traditions than any other in Indian history. The Mughals had a taste for the fine things in life — for beautifully designed artifacts and the enjoyment and appreciation of cultural activities. The Mughals borrowed as much as they gave; both the Hindu and Muslim traditions of India were huge influences on their interpretation of culture and court style.  Nevertheless, they introduced many notable changes to Indian society and culture, including:

  1. Centralised government which brought together many smaller kingdoms
  2. Persian art and culture amalgamated with native Indian art and culture
  3. Started new trade routes to Arab and Turk lands, Islam was at its very high
  4. Mughlai cuisine
  5. Urdu and spoken Hindi languages were formed for common Muslims and Hindus respectively
  6. A new style of architecture
  7. Landscape gardening

300px-tajmahalbyamalmongia.jpg

A major Mughal contribution to south Asia was their unique architecture. Many monuments were built during the Mughal era including the Taj Mahal.

Acknowledgement 

Some data and photos from Wikipedia.

Some Myanmar’s Muslim organisations, Liberated Area

Some Myanmar’s Muslim organisations

LA (Liberated Area)

 

There are two Muslim organisations which were established in the early eighties and have worked with the KNU 01:

  1. All Burma Muslim Union (ABMU)

  2. and Muslim Liberation Organisation of Burma (MLOB)

Both the ABMU and MLOB are active members of the DAB (Democratic Alliance of Burma), an umbrella organisation formed in 1988 to unite Burmese ethnic fronts and other pro-democracy opposition groups who are fighting against the SLORC/SPDC using military and political means. 

They are also both members of the National Coalition of the Union of Burma (NCUB), an alliance formed between DAB members and elected Members of Parliament who fled Burma due to repression following the 1990 elections.  All Burma Muslim Union (ABMU)

 The All Burma Muslim Union (ABMU) maintains its own battalion of troops and has been fighting together with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the KNU’s military wing, against the SLORC/SPDC since 1983.

After an outbreak of anti-Muslim riots in Martaban, Moulmein and other towns in lower Burma in the early eighties, a number of internally displaced Muslims joined the ABMU.  On March 6, 1997, the ABMU issued a statement declaring that they would like the international community, and especially Muslim countries in ASEAN, to be more aware of the human rights abuses currently being perpetrated, particularly, against Muslims by the Myanmar military.   Muslim Liberation Organisation of Burma (MLOB) 

 The second organisation, the Muslim Liberation Organisation of Burma (MLOB) is comprised of Muslims from different areas in Myanmar. In their letter to the Muslim countries of ASEAN of 25 March 1997, they declared that:

“the people are afraid that a SLORC led Burma would become a member of the ASEAN grouping, which would give legality and legitimacy to the SLORC to brutalise the people for longer.”  

 The MLOB maintains that the military authorities cannot resolve Burma’s long-running political problems by means of military might. It states the only way to retain a civilized solution is to enter into a dialogue with the opposition “that represents almost the entire population of Burma”. 02

  Rohingya groups  

Two Rohingya armed resistance movements have been set up in response to Burmese oppression.

The Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) was formed in the early 1980s in reaction to the new discriminations affecting the Rohingyas and to the 1978 expulsions. It switched from political activism to armed struggle soon after the 1991–92 persecutions. The RSO essentially acts by infiltration and attacks in Northern Arakan from Bangladesh.

The other, less important, armed group is the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), created in 1987.

Its activity seems to have ceased over the past few years. Generally speaking, the armed Rohingya resistance is not very active and constitutes above all a pretext for the militarization of the region as well as a way for the Burmese junta to keep a close watch on the population. 01:  Karen National Union (KNU) is Myanmar’s largest armed ethnic group

02: MLOB statement on the prevailing serious situation in Burma,

29 July 1998;

http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/reg.burma/archives/199807/msg00729.html 

The Muslim Liberation Organisation of Burma (MLOB) has regularly written letters to the supreme authorities of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries, inter alia on 28 April 1997 including the statement

“Muslim organisations from Burma are demanding to know why […] predominantly Muslim countries in ASEAN continue to support the junta”

 Caught between non-recognition as victims of religious hatred and violence by those countries who have brought sanction against Myanmar, and ignored by supposed co-religionist governments who have gone so far as to support the junta, even with arms, the Muslims of Myanmar hold the unenviable position of being oppressed even in some cases by the oppressed.    

Thailand treated the Burmese Muslims refugees better than all the other Muslim governments

A Seat at the Table

By Edward Blair and Aung Zaw

Mae Sot, Thailand
January 17, 2006

In addition to greater international attention on their plight in exile, Thailand’s growing community of Burmese Muslims wants a voice in the political future of their country.

In October 2005 report documenting the Burmese junta’s steady assault on its Muslim minority, titled

“Myanmar’s [Burma’s] Muslims: Oppressed of the Oppressed,”

draws the following conclusion:

  1. “Caught between non-recognition as victims of religious hatred

  2. and violence by those countries who have brought sanction against Myanmar,

  3. and ignored by supposed co-religionist governments who have gone so far as to support the junta, even with arms,

  4. the Muslims of Myanmar hold the unenviable position of being oppressed even in some cases by the oppressed.”

Released by the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, the report focuses primarily on the Muslim Rohingyas of Arakan State, who have fled oppression in the hundreds of thousands across the country’s western border with Bangladesh.

Junta aggression in Karen and Mon states, however, has also produced significant Muslim refugee populations, as whole communities have fled across the Thai-Burma border to Mae Sot.

Rahima bi, a 69-year-old mother of 11, was among them. Originally from Kyeikmayaw Township in Burma’s Mon State, Rahimabi fled Burma with her children in 1984, after the Burmese army attacked the Karen National Union-controlled village of Wandakian. Led by local Muslim leader Haji Yusof, Rahimabi and the rest of the village’s Muslim community resettled in Mae Sot.

Saw Hla, 96, fled Burma after the 1988 democracy uprising, in which two of her sons were arrested on charges of robbery and arson. The eldest later died in a prison labor camp. Saw Hla came of age in the waning years of British colonial rule in Burma and recalled that life at that time for Burmese Muslims was good.

She witnessed the long succession of regimes in Burma: the Japanese occupation during World War II, the fledgling independence government of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, Gen Ne Win’s regime, and finally the country’s current crop of military despots.

“This government is the worst,” said Saw Hla. “We were abandoned and betrayed.” She now lives in an area of Mae Sot known as the Bangladeshi Barracks, one of several predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. Her remaining sons work as city garbage collectors.

The Bangladeshi Barracks, a warren of narrow alleyways lined by dilapidated house fronts, circumnavigates the Bangalawalay Mosque, one of three mosques in Mae Sot. The Barracks derives its name from a wealthy Bangladeshi businessman, who bequeathed the land to the mosque to provide housing for Burmese Muslim immigrants.

Life in the Barracks and its environs revolves around the activities of the mosque. The men attend to their daily prayers-women are forbidden to enter the mosques and must make their devotions at home-and children study at the mosque school, a poorly funded affair that survives principally on rent collected from residents of the Barracks.

According to Adisak Asmimana, a local Thai Muslim and a former election commissioner for Tak Province,

  • some 30,000 Burmese Muslims live in border refugee camps.

  • About 8,000 live in Mae La camp just outside Mae Sot.

  • Restrictions on mobility and employment, among other things, make the refugee camps an unwelcome option for many in Mae Sot’s Muslim community.

Hasan, a 24-year-old migrant worker, lives in a crowded apartment complex adjacent to the Bangladeshi Barracks with his wife and newborn daughter. “I did not want to live in the camp,” he said. “I have many friends there, but I would rather work so I can support my family.”

He carries a UNHCR refugee registration card and has waited for nearly 3 years to be resettled in a third country. He visits the local office every month to check the status of his application. “I hope to go to the United States.”

That hope is common enough among Burmese Muslims, particularly with young people, some of whom have lived most or all of their lives on Thai soil. Though they speak Burmese, they have no memory of life in Burma.

Thailand has struggled for years-with varying degrees of success-to accommodate the steady stream of Burmese refugees across its western border. As with other ethnic minorities, Burmese Muslims have received a mixed reception.

Ekachai Nitibhumikun, a Thai Muslim lawyer in Mae Sot and an Executive Committee member of Masjit noor-ul-Islam mosque, suggested that Thai Muslims are of two minds about their Burmese co-religionists.

  • “There are two groups of Thai Muslims,” he said.

  • “One sees the Burmese as a burden.

  • The other views them as Muslim brothers who need protection and assistance.”

  • Thai Muslims have made_

  • substantial contributions to the Burmese community.

  • They built the school at Bangalawalay Mosque.

  • According to Adisak, Thai education department officials have also consulted with Burmese Muslim schools about curricula.

Ekachai added that_

  • the Thai government has provided some funding to Burmese mosques for vocational training.

  • In general, however, Burmese Muslims must rely on their own meager resources, or non-governmental support.

Thein Htun, 64, was a sergeant-major in the Burmese army’s Light Infantry Division 28, before fleeing Hlaing Bwe in Karen State for Mae Sot in 1992-he was accused of friendly connections with Karen rebel forces. Seven years later,

  • he opened a small school for the children of migrant workers.

  • Of the 98 students there, 87 are Muslims.

According to Thein Htun,

  • Thai education officials often visit the school to examine the curriculum,

  • but it receives no assistance from the Thai government

  • or from local Thai Muslims.

  • It survives principally on support from a local Catholic missionary.

“The school charges no tuition and costs 12,000 baht (US $300) per month to operate,” said Thein Htun. “When funds are available, teachers receive a small salary.”

The curriculum blends traditional subjects with

  • religious education.

  • Students receive religious instruction in morning and afternoon sessions,

  • including Arabic

  • and moral lessons drawn from the life of the prophet Mohammad.

  • In between, they study English, Thai, Burmese, math, science and geography.

“We do what we can for the students, but few will have the opportunity to study beyond what they receive here,” said Thein Htun.

Prospects for the children of Burmese Muslims

  • fortunate enough to hold “pink” ID cards,

  • issued more than a decade ago by the Thai government, are better.

  • They enjoy the full benefits of Thai citizenship,

  • including access to Thai schools.

For the majority of Mae Sot’s Burmese Muslims, however-living, as most of them do, outside the refugee camp system and forced to fend for themselves as migrant workers, short-term laborers and in some cases small business owners-support from the Thai government, as well as the city’s numerous non-governmental organizations, does not exist. Mosques are the principal source of aid and serve as cultural, as much as religious, hubs of the community.

They also provide a point of contact to resolve disputes that arise between Thai and Burmese communities. According to Thai lawyer Ekachai, few serious problems arise. Some instances of revenge beatings for personal offences have occurred within the two communities, but such cases are few.

A principal concern for both communities is the lure of the drug trade. The lack of employment and educational opportunities for Muslim youth make them easy targets for drug gangs, according to Adisak.

Haji Abdool Wadoose, a Burmese Imam, said that mosques in Mae Sot have initiated a weekly program to teach young Burmese Muslims how to better integrate into Thai society, with an emphasis on avoiding any participation, as users or dealers, in the town’s drug trade. “There have been problems in the past with drugs among our young people,” he said. “We have succeeded in resolving these issues, but we are always concerned about protecting our youth.”

The ambiguous position of Burmese Muslims in Thailand has been further complicated in recent years by the government’s delicate relationship with its own Muslim communities. As the IHRC report notes: “Thailand…has a long history of persecuting its Muslim minorities and 2004 saw the massacre in police detention of 84 in Southern Thailand.” That event helped to revive a deadly insurgency movement in which nearly 2,000 people have been killed since January 2004.

The ongoing unrest in southern Thailand has affected the Muslim community in Mae Sot.

The city’s rapidly growing Muslim population (Thai and Burmese) has drawn the attention of government authorities concerned that the insurgency could spread. According to several local clerics,

  • Thai military intelligence agents make frequent visits

  • to monitor activity in the mosques

  • and interview local Muslims

  • about possible connections to militant groups operating elsewhere in the country.

By all accounts, Burmese Muslims in Mae Sot have no connection to militant Muslim factions in Thailand or elsewhere. By virtue of their refugee status in Thailand, they are even cut off from their religious peers in other Muslim countries-something that the All Burma Muslim Union hopes to change.

Based in Mae Sot, the ABMU has attempted since its creation in 1980 to provide_

  • political leadership for Burmese Muslims in exile.

  • A member of the Democratic Alliance of Burma

  • and the National Council of the Union of Burma,

  • the ABMU also maintains a company of troops that has served with soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army in Karen State’s Brigade 4 district since 1983.

“The ABMU is fighting for a_

  • democratic Burma

  • and a federal union, like other national races,” said Hamid, secretary-general of the group.

  • “We have a duty to be involved in the affairs of Burma, and the first duty is to bring down the military dictatorship.”

The organization’s influence to date, however, has been slight. Its soldiers in Karen State number only about 100 and they have seen little military action beyond light skirmishes since 1995.

“Recruitment is hard,” said Chartade, a former captain in the ABMU’s KNU Muslim contingent and a resident of the Bangladeshi Barracks. “Our young people are more interested in finding work in the larger cities like Bangkok instead of fighting in the jungle.”

In concert with its armed opposition to Burma’s military regime, the ABMU has also made efforts to bring the plight of Burmese Muslims to the attention of the international community.

The group issued a joint statement with the All Burma Young Monks’ Union in May 1997, urging Asean to reconsider their decision to admit Burma that year. “To accept SLORC [Burma’s then ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council] into your association will further frustrate the efforts of the Burmese people to build a free and prosperous country,” the statement concluded.

According to the secretary-general, the ABMU’s goals are much the same as other ethnic opposition groups.

“We want to play a role in a future federal union in Burma to represent the interests of Burmese Muslims,” said Hamid. “We are not extremists. We simply want equal protection under the law.”

The desire for_

  • equal protection-at home

  • and in exile-seems to be the order of the day for Mae Sot’s Burmese Muslim community.

  • Like the majority of refugees, they wait for the opportunity to return to a free Burma.

  • Meanwhile, they do what they can to provide for their families,

  • practice their religion without constraints

  • and hope that greater attention is given to what the IHRC calls “the oppressed of the oppressed.”