Through out the history of Islam in Burma, a country in between Bangladesh, India, China, and Thailand, Muslims have faced constant struggle. Today, the situation is no different, as reports from various sources indicate the oppression and abuse for our lesser-known brothers and sisters continue to come our way.
For those of us unfamiliar with Burma, it is run by military (junta) rule, and is one of the most predominantly Buddhist countries in the world. The Muslims there, for the most part, live in isolated regions in which they have their own culture, customs, languages, and of course, religion.
What the Burmese Muslims are enduring
Muslims, particularly those living in the region Rohingya, have faced much oppression in the past century. According to Amnesty International, “the Rohingya people have continued to suffer human rights violations under the Myanmar junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result.”
Thirty years later, the situation is no different. Voice of America (VOA), the official external radio and television broadcasting service of the United States federal government, recently issued an opinion about the status of oppressed Muslims in the country Burma.
Burma’s Rohingya Muslims continue to suffer at the hands of the military regime. As part of their campaign to “Burmanize” the Rohingyas, the Burmese government restricts the practice of Islam and pressures the Rohingyas to convert to Buddhism. Burmese authorities sometimes prevent publication and distribution of the Koran and make Rohingya participation in the hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca] difficult. Mosques have been closed or even destroyed by the Burmese regime. Authorities frequently force Muslims to build Buddhist shrines and pagodas.[audio:http://www.muslimmatters.org/audio/burmas_oppressed_muslims.mp3]
Listen to full audio.The U.S. State Department human rights report says even more serious abuses, including “reported killings, beatings, torture, forced labor. . .and rape” are committed by Burmese security forces against the Burmese people, including the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.
Why persecute the Rohingyas?
Unfortunately, it seems to be a religious prejudice based persecution towards the Burmese Muslims of Rohingya. The Economist had an article in November of 2007 about the Rohingyas in which they asked locals about their troubles.
“It’s because we’re Muslim,” declares a trishaw driver. He says people give work to Buddhists. There are many poor Buddhists in Sittwe too. But the perception of unfair treatment lingers amongst Muslims, though some made common cause with September’s anti-government protesters.
Refugees flee but find little elsewhere
Rohingya Muslims have been leaving their home country for 30 some years now. They have gone to many different countries, but the biggest choice for them is Bangladesh. There, the Rohingya experience even more difficulty, as the Muslims are severely poor and have little rights given to them as refugees. The Bangladeshi government has never formally given the Burmese refugee status, and have forced many of them out of the country.
A video on Burmese refugees in Bangladesh features women complaining of the problems they face in day-to-day life. Muslims there feel they are being “subjugated” by non-Muslims simply because of their religion. It seems the Buddhist-Muslim problem of Burma that caused them to leave in the first place is hard to flee from where ever they go.
Hope for the Muslims in Burma, and you
There are efforts within Burma for change. People like yourself are begin educated on the situation of Muslims, as well as citizens of Burma dealing with the strict military rule there which is even under the radar of big time groups like the UN and the United States government.
This is where we come in.
Firstly, we can begin by starting to make dua for the Burmese Muslims and all Muslims around the world. While this may sound cliche, it’s not. Never underestimate the power of dua. By promoting awareness of this cause and encouraging others to ask Allah to help them, we can go a long way, inshaAllah.
Secondly, Mercy Mankind has an appeal for the Burmese people. They help them out in different ways and facets of life, such as building schools and supporting families. It’s a UK-based organization, but also takes PayPal through American dollars.
Please, find it in your heart to donate some money, whatever you can, and link this article to others on blogs and Emails to help out these brothers and sisters that need you. Check out this video of how they helped pay for a young girl’s eye surgery just last summer.
Often times we may find ourselves feeling “helpless” in doing anything for those suffering around the world. InshaAllah ta’alah through our dua, reliance on Allah, and action to support these causes, we can lose that feeling and move to help people in ways and places you never dreamed of.
Four Marathons in Three Weeks: One Man is Running to Bring Clean Water to Senegal
When Haroon Mota committed to running his first marathon in 2012, he admits he didn’t give it too much thought.
London was hosting the Summer Olympics that year. British distance runner Mo Farah was reaching the peak of his fame as a local and international sports hero. A lot of people in England were taking up recreational running and, well, it was just a popular thing to do to sign up for the London Marathon.
But by the time Mota began the 26.2-mile race, he had found a focus and a purpose.
In the months leading up to the London Marathon, he raised over £7000 ($8,715 US) in donations for the Teenage Cancer Fund.
Mota had done similar projects in the past, taking on mountain-climbing challenges while raising money for charities such as Islamic Relief’s Orphan Campaign. His athletic background included kickboxing, mixed martial arts and soccer.
But running was a new venture. The marathon was intended to be a one-time experience, but Mota soon made running a lifestyle. Since then, he has run over 20 half-marathons and completed the London Marathon three times, using the events as challenges to raise money for a variety of charitable causes.
Sometimes, Mota runs alone. Other times, he puts together teams of runners. The benefit there is two-fold: Not only to raise money for charities, but also to promote and encourage fitness and exercise to his peers in the Muslim community.
This month, Mota is taking things to another level.
The 31-year-old, who works as the fundraising manager for the non-profit humanitarian organization PennyAppeal, is aiming to run four marathons over the next three weeks: the Manchester Marathon on April 2, the Paris Marathon on April 9, the Boston Marathon on April 17, and concluding with the London Marathon on April 23.
The name of this challenge is #Running4Dad. Mota’s motivation is his father, Hafiz Kasim Mota, who died in a car accident in 2013.
Haroon’s goal is to raise £20,000 ($24,900 US) to build a solar water and power center in Senegal, in memory of his father.
CLICK HERE to donate to #Running4Dad and help bring clean water to Senegal.
Myanmar Matters: Protect The Rohingya, Protect Us All
By Jamila Hanan
The plight of the Rohingya, you must have heard about it by now: one million people living in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, in the state of Arakan (renamed Rakhine) on the coastline bordering Bangladesh. Denied their right to citizenship by a law passed in 1982, the Rohingya are the world’s most persecuted minority. There are at least another one million living in exile, many of whom have shocking stories to tell of how they escaped the persecution, now dreaming of one day returning to their homeland, but they know it’s a far off dream.
I was first introduced to their catastrophe in July 2012. It was just one call from a concerned activist friend travelling in that area that obliged me to look. What I found to be happening was so horrific, and so hidden, that I felt compelled to do something.
In my naivety, I started to frantically call on media and human rights organisations to urgently report and act. I was shocked that such atrocities could be happening, in this day and age, and no one seemed to know about it. I thought that once the media got hold of the story it would be big news, and people would come rushing to help. I thought that the United Nations would be compelled to protect the Rohingya when they had received information about the unfolding genocide. How wrong I was.
Much has happened since then. After the initial attacks where thousands were systematically rounded up by the military and herded into internment camps, there was a second well co-ordinated attack in October 2012 that cleared much Rohingya land overnight. Villages were levelled to the ground, making way for new developments, in the region of Kyauk Phyu, Myanmar’s new economic development zone.
“There’s no oil in Burma, that’s why no-one will act,” I hear repeatedly complained on social media. This is wrong. The entire region in question was up for tender for oil and gas exploration. Hardly a country in the world wasn’t interested in winning contracts for their private sectors. In addition, a new oil gas pipeline was about to start pumping oil and gas from the coast where the Rohingya lived, to take it up to China, thus cutting out the need to carry it all around the Indochina Peninsula. A deep sea port was being built in Rakhine, to take in oil tankers from the Middle East.
This whole area of Rakhine is key to the future development plans of Myanmar, which is key to the development of the entire South East of Asia. What is happening now to the Rohingya must be seen in the context of what is happening in the light of economic developments. It cannot be dismissed as just coincidence that some of the final sanctions were lifted by the US and blacklist scrubbed, less than 2 days before the recent ‘clearance operation’ in the township of Maungdaw began.
Our recently launched campaign, #WeAreAllRohingyaNow, intends to cut through the religious narrative. For certain there are religious and ethnic tensions in Myanmar, but these have been allowed to foster, for military gain. The Rohingya are used as a scapegoat for the country’s problems: an irrational fear of Muslims is being used to rally the rest of the population in support of the military who offer security in the face of a changing world (hmmm.. remind you of anything happening anywhere else in the world maybe?). But ethnic tension is not the cause of the problems. What is driving the military-led persecution at this time, is the desire to redevelop this part of the land, and it is not just the Rohingya who are suffering, but also the local Rakhine people too, as land is grabbed and resources exploited, with little if anything returned to the people who live there. So long as public attention is kept firmly on driving the Rohingya out, exploitation by the military and their investors will go largely unnoticed.
Our campaign is going to be approaching those corporations who are investing in Myanmar, to ask them to face up to the responsibilities that come with the power that they hold. The United Nations will not act without permission from our politicians, yet our politicians are always constrained by economic interests. Multinational corporations hold more power than many of us realise, and they should use their powers for good. If they do not, then we, as consumers, should hold these organisations to account.
One multinational corporation that has intentions to set up its central office for South East Asia is Unilever, the third largest consumer goods company in the world. They have already invested over half a billion dollars in Myanmar. They profess to be forward-thinking in their stance as an ethical company, under the leadership of their CEO Paul Polman, who actually encourages consumers to call on big businesses to do more, and to withhold our spending from them if they do not.
For this reason, #WeAreAllRohingyaNow reached out to Paul Polman, with an open letter, calling on Unilever to take a stand for the rights of the Rohingya. Due to pressure from the campaign, Unilever did take a big step forward, in tweeting their support for the Rohingya and adding their company’s name to a letter regarding the Rohingya that was addressed to the United Nations and signed by Paul Polman in December. However, we are still awaiting their reply to our own letter asking them about their responsibilities in regards to the Rohingya and their investments in Myanmar.
We believe that large corporations should be doing much more to protect the Rohingya. It is simply not an option for these organisations to be investing in Myanmar, in the face of an unfolding genocide, whilst remaining silent. In addition, they should not be passing the buck to the United Nations, who we all know are powerless due to governmental business constraints. It is they themselves who hold the leverage with the Myanmar military to bring about a satisfactory solution for the Rohingya: the restoration of their citizenship.
Our campaign is not asking companies to pull out of Myanmar, but we are asking them to act in the interest of human rights, and to stop this genocide. We have the capability to organise large scale actions, such as boycotts, but we would much rather keep a positive relationship with businesses as much as possible. This is a genuine outreach, to encourage corporations to start living up to their ethical responsibilities, and to do far more than issue statements of concern, but to act.
I encourage everyone reading to please support us in our campaign. By standing for the rights of the Rohingya, we are in fact standing for the rights of Muslims and all persecuted minorities across the world. If we ignore what is happening today and do nothing, tomorrow it is no exaggeration to say that this could actually be you suffering similar persecutions.
Our campaign has a ground breaking strategy that is already reaping results; it is well organised and evolving. We are sending out action alerts to everyone that registers, via email and Twitter direct message, which are simple steps anyone can take in their own time, from anywhere with an internet connection, that will bring added power to this campaign. Please take a moment to register to join us, and be a part of this exciting new movement for change: bit.do/rohingyaregister
One Night In Aleppo… Will Change You
Innovation isn’t something that most Muslim organisations are accused of lately. We tend to be behind the curve on most things, if we’re even on it at all. So when I got an invite to a unique experiential event called “One night in Aleppo”, I was keen to see what it was all about.
Organised by Islamic Relief UK, the event was designed to highlight the suffering of the ordinary Syrian people that has tragically reached the 5th anniversary with no end in sight.
I went expecting to sit in a lecture theatre and hear speakers who would tell us about the dire situation in Aleppo and perhaps see a few file clips from the news. So I finished up quickly at work and sent my Medical students away with homework and proceeded to the event, but my mind was elsewhere.
I was thinking about the piles of marking I had to do, planning my Charity Week meetings for the coming week and what I needed to pick up from the supermarket on the way back home. My mind was everywhere but on the event that I was going to. I certainly wasn’t thinking about Syria.
All that changed the minute I walked through the door of the non-descript building and pushed aside the curtain.
What I saw before me was nightmarish.
The dingy lights.
The broken glass.
The empty shops and homes.
The demolished mosque with no minaret.
The unexplained splatters of blood leaving trails of broken dreams and families in their wake.
The ghostly figures standing in the corners of the ruined buildings making me realise – shockingly – that there were some who still lived there.
Everything that had preoccupied my mind seconds ago had been pushed out. The tragedy of Syria had collided with my brain head-on and what I was left with was a deepening sense of dread.
Islamic Relief had hired a venue used for WW2 simulation war games and converted it into the streets of Aleppo. You know a conflict is bad when a WW2 scene needs to be made more harrowing to reflect it.
They also hired actors to act out scenes of ordinary people and their extraordinary struggle to survive through the chaos. There was a teacher desperate to learn about the fate of her school children. There was a medic struggling to help an injured lady with little equipment in the ruins of the hospital. There were aid workers being overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster. Most hauntingly of all, there was a couple consoling each other about the loss of their little son.
I felt numb, desolate and angry. If this re-enactment of Aleppo could be so moving, how much more desperate must the real city be?
It has been 5 long years.
5 years of tragedy.
5 years of killing.
5 years of fleeing.
5 years of watching a people torn apart, city by city, family by family, person by person.
Today, as I write this, Aleppo is surrounded by the forces of darkness preparing to snuff out any remnant of hope left in that broken, battered city. We have yet to figure out how we are going to stop this and the other conflicts that afflict us. Until we do, we can at least donate to help them in their
hour years of need.
I’m grateful to Islamic Relief for organising an event this innovative and immersive that it managed to shake me out of the rat race. One night in Aleppo was a glimpse into hell, but the fact that we are able to put on events like this to remind us of their suffering gave me hope amidst the darkness.
May Allah protect the people of Aleppo and the oppressed wherever they may be.