The Muslims of Burma (Myanmar) mainly belong to the Arakan state in western Burma. They are known as Rohingya or Burmese Muslims. Some say that the term “Rohingya” has been derived from the Arabic word “Raham” meaning sympathy. Another view is that among the Muslim populations in Myanmar, the term ‘Mrohaung’ (Old Arakanese Kingdom) was corrupted to “Rohang”. And thus inhabitants of the region are called Rohingya. [MA Chowdhury 1995, pp. 7–8] Muslim settlements began being established in the Arakan province of Burma since the arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century CE. Presently about 800,000 Rohingya live in Burma.
The Buddhist kings of old compared themselves to Sultans and fashioned themselves after Mughal rulers. They also continued to employ Muslims in prestigious positions within the royal administration. The Bengali Muslim population increased in the 17th century, as they were employed in a variety of workforces in Arakan. Some of them worked as Bengali, Persian and Arabic scribes in the Arakanese courts, which, despite remaining mostly Buddhist, adopted Islamic fashions from the neighbouring Sultanate of Bengal. The Kamein/Kaman, who are regarded as one of the official ethnic groups of Burma, are descended from these Muslims. So Muslim presence in Burma is not something surprising.
The Rohingya people have been described as “among the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” They have been stripped of their citizenship since a 1982 citizenship law. They are not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land and are required to sign a commitment to have not more than two children.[Jonathan Head (5 February 2009). “What drive the Rohingya to sea?”. BBC. Retrieved 29 July 2012]
Since the creation of NaSaKa in 1992, the authorities in Northern Rakhine State have reportedly introduced a regulation that the Rohingya population in Northern Rakhine State are required to ask for permission to get married. This restriction appears to be only enforced on the Muslim population in this area, and not on the Rakhine Buddhist population.
According to Amnesty International, the Muslim Rohingya people have continued to suffer from human rights violations under the Burmese junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighboring Bangladesh as a result.
The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced labourers on roads and at military camps, although the amount of forced labour in northern Rakhine State has decreased over the last decade.
In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Myanmar army. The King Dragon Operation, or Naga Min Sitsin Yae, was a large scale military operation in Arakan, Burma carried out during the rule of General Ne Win. They claim that the operation focused on rooting out ‘Mujaahid rebels’ in the area who had been fighting for an Islamic state in Northern Rakhine state when in reality the operation was a front for rounding up Rohingya people, nothing less than ethnic cleansing.
Officially ‘Nagamin’ campaign aimed at “scrutinising each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” Instead this military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution.
Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State must routinely apply for permission to leave their village, even if it is just to go to another nearby village. This practice does not apply to the Rakhine population in the Rakhine State. Rohingyas’ freedom of movement, therefore, is considerably more limited than that of other residents of the Rakhine State. This has had serious repercussions on their livelihood and food security, as they are often unable to seek employment outside their village or trade goods and produce unless they have official permission and obtain a pass which they must pay for. Most Rohingyas cannot afford to pay on a regular basis for these permits. As an estimated half of the Rohingyas are poor day labourers, the restrictions on their movement also greatly affect their ability to find work in other villages or towns. This is especially important in the non-cultivating season, when there may not be enough work in their village.
During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labour of Rohingya civilians by the security forces. Majority of Rohingya refugees have remained in Bangladesh, unable to return because of the negative attitude of the ruling regime in Myanmar. Now they are facing problems in Bangladesh as well as the Bangladeshi government turns many refugees away.
Over the years, thousands of Rohingya have fled to Thailand also. There have been charges that groups of them have been shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand, and left there. In February 2009 there was evidence of the Thai army towing a boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea. Images of these oppressed people in boats on the water seeking some place of safety can be seen all over the media.
Where is the humanity of man? It is impossible to look at image after image or read harrowing tales of an oppressed people without a restless heart and a dry eye. This has been happening from the 1970s and yet the world is only noticing the attrocities against the Rohingya people now while nothing much is done in several “great” nations.
Human Rights Watch has strongly condemned the Bangladesh government’s policy of restricting aid to Rohingya refugees, calling it “cruel and inhumane.” In a statement released on Thursday, the New York-based rights group accused Dhaka of “trying to make conditions for Rohingya refugees already living in Bangladesh so awful that people fleeing brutal abuses in neighboring Burma will stay home.” Last month, Bangladesh ordered three international charities—Doctors Without Borders, Action Against Hunger and Muslim Aid UK—to stop giving aid to the Rohingya to discourage a fresh influx. [http://www.irrawaddy.org]
Alhamdulillah it is good to hear that countries such as Turkey, KSA and others have donated money to aid the Rohingya refugees.
The Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TIKA) distributed food aid to 15 thousand Rohingya Muslims. According to a statement released from TIKA, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent an expert group to make research in Bangladesh where Rohingya Muslims live after his visit to Myanmar on August 9.
Expert group headed to Bangladesh in order to examine the everyday lives of Rohingya Muslims and bring solutions to their problems.
In the statement they released that for the long term improvement projects group has been working on site and they said, “Also the humanitarian aid has been distributed. Total of 1880 boxes of food aid were handed out. Rice, salt, flour, lentils, cooking oil, sugar and some other basic foodstuffs were supplied to 15 thousand Rohingya Muslims.” [World Bulletin- News Desk]
Turkish Foreign Minister and PM’s were briefed by Turkish Red Crescent staff about the condition of displaced Rohingyas during the visit. 8,532 people sheltered in 801 tents received food packages by Turkish Red Crescent. Emine Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoğlu visited a Buddhist camp and distributed aid packages among them as well. They expressed the Turkish nation’s hope to see Myanmar Muslims and Buddhists living together in peace. [http://raihaneh.com/news] Iran’s 650,000 Rupees monetary aid was also delivered by it’s consulate in India to the Haidar Abad Camp which hosts 250 of Rohingyas. The sum was invested for buying food packages by two Zayid Ali Khan and Amir Ali Khan NGOs in India that were distributed among the refugees on Thursday. [http://raihaneh.com/news]
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has ordered $50 million in aid be sent to the Rohingya community in Myanmar which a human rights group said has been targeted by the authorities since sectarian riots in June. The Saudi cabinet condemned the violence against Muslims in northwest Myanmar and at a meeting on July 31, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the kingdom’s second city of Jeddah urged members to send Rohingya Muslims aid. [http://tribune.com.pk]
South Africans will also be adding to showing solidarity for the Rohingya Muslims today. A protest and picket organised by the Movement Against Genocide in Burma (MAGIB) is expected to place outside the Myanmar Embassy in South Africa on Friday.
The action is scheduled to take place at around 1.30pm in Leyds Street, Pretoria. Follow tweets on this story at #RememberRohingya.
South Africans have rallied to express their disgust against the inhuman and brutal killing of Rohingya Muslims by the Arakan Buddhists supported by the Burmese government.
Protest organiser, Shabbier Ahmed Saloojee said busses will be used to get people to Pretoria from different areas. “We have a bus leaving the trade Route Mall in Lenasia at 9:30 in the morning. Buses will also leave the Mayfair Jumah Mosque and Marlboro Mosque at 10am with a bus also picking up people between Wits University and the University of Johannesburg.”
The groups will then gather Masjid Abu Bakr in Erasmia where Jumah Salaah will be performed. Accommodation has also been made for ladies.
Saloojee added that it is important for people to join the protest. “We have to create an awareness and show solidarity and support for people suffering in Burma. It makes a statement that if people are suffering faraway, we care.” [Cii News – 31 August 2012]
Let us not forget the sufferings of the oppressed in our activities and our prayers.
O Most Merciful of those who show mercy! Help the Rohingya Muslims and all oppressed nations and people, Muslim or non-Muslim all over the globe – those whom we know and those whom we know not. Unite the hearts of the Muslim first and let us be good examples of humanity and faith to the rest of the world.