Tuesday, March 27, 2012

143 - Historical Bankruptcy of Northeast Indian and Burmese Muslims

Historical Bankruptcy of Northeast Indian 

and Burmese Muslims

Minority Muslim communities in some countries are just contented with what they are that they are Muslims. To be precise Muslims don't believe in racialism or nationalism like others.

Muslims believe in the unity of mankind that is Islamic Ummah who believe in one Universal God as also taught by the Holy Quran and Islamic tradition. But this simplistic approach of the Muslims, mainly minority Muslim communities in many countries who don't assert their identity from political perspectives thus ignoring the historical perspectives, are probing to be a nemesis for themselves especially in times of ethnic, racial and nationalist manifestation and backlash by other communities following other faiths. The Muslims are nevitably facing an identity crisis for no reason of their own that is accompanied by historical crisis as well. In other words Muslims lack historical sense in specific situations of critical issues because of their simplistic Islamic approach that just satisfies with the history of origin of Islam in Arabia, how they expanded to be a universal faith and how they belong to a united Islamic Ummah. I take up the examples of the Northeast and Burmese Muslims here.

Like the Bosnian Muslims, whom the Serbs claim, are Turkish immigrants;the Rohingya Muslims of Burma (now Myanmar) suffer horrible persecution in the land of their birth. The Bosnians accepted Islam during the Uthmaniyya Empire's spread into the Balkans in Southeast Europe. The Rohingya Muslims of Arakan have a history that goes back even further to the seventh century A.D. But now Burmese nationalists and anti -Muslim rightists are claiming that the Muslims are recent migrants and even dare to dub them as refugees from Bangladesh, like Assamese and Northeast Indian chauvinists dub Assamese Muslims as late migrants from Bangladesh, thus trying to christen almost all the Muslims as foreigners and deny them rights to life, liberty and historic genuine inhabitations itself.
Coming to Myanmar case, the most famous individual to have lived in Arakan was Muhammad Hanifa, one of the sons of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib. Hanifa reached Arabsha Para, north of present day Maungdaw in north Arakan en route to China in 680 A.D. after losing an important battle at Karbala.

Confronted by Khaira Pari (Kayapuri), the queen of the region, a battle broke out that was won by Hanifa. The whole region embraced Islam and Muhammad Hanifa married Khaira Pari. To this day, both are regarded as "saints" in Arakan and their shrines are on the peaks of Mayu range Hills, accessible from Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.

In 1246 A.D. around 47,000 Bengali prisoners were settled in Arakan by the king of Arakan. In 1406 King aremeikhla of Arakan was forced to take refuge at Gaur, the then capital of Muslim Bengal, due to a Burmese invasion. In 1429 sultan Nasiruddin Shah of Gaur sent 20,000 troops under general Wali Khan to drive out the Burmese and Mons, and restore Naremeikhla to the throne.

His restoration occurred the following era after another 30,000 troops were dispatched. Naremeikhla took the title "Suleiman Shah" and established the Mrauk-U dynasty. Meanwhile the 50,000 Muslim troops settled in Arakan turning it into a sultanate where Islam flourished. Persian became the state language and continued until 1845 (21 years after the conquest of Arakan by the British).

Coins and medallions were inscribed with the kalimah; all Arakan kings were graduated in Islamic studies; and in the Quranic verse "Aqimuddin" was the
State emblem. Even the Buddhist women wore hijab.

One of Suleiman Shah's successors,Zabuk Shah (1531-1553), extended the empire upto Tanasarim in the south and the Megna River in the west. Between 1430 and 1530, large numbers of Muslims, especially from Chittagong, migrated and settled in Arakan. In 1660, prince Shah Shuja, the son of the Mughal (Mongol) emperor Shahjahan, sought refuge in the court of Arakan after the war of succession. He brought with him large number of Muslim soldiers, courtiers and intellectuals.

From 1580 to 1666, the whole region, including Chittagong was under Muslim rule. During this period, the Magh Firingi (Portuguese) and slave trade activities reached a peak: whole villages on the banks of the Ganges were destroyed and lower Bengal was virtually depopulated.

Muslim rule in Arakan lasted for more than 350 years, until 1784, when it was invaded and occupied by the Burmese. 200,000 Muslims fled to Bengal and by 1798 two-thirds of the inhabitants had deserted their native land.

The Rohingya (the historical name of Arakan is Rohang) strived to preserve their Islamic culture from the onslaughts of the Buddhists. They developed their own language, derived from Arabic, Sanskrit, Bengali and Urdu.

To claim that the Rohingyas are Bangladeshi citizens, illegally settled in Burma, is ludicrous (see "spread of Islam", 1994, pp. 334 by A. Ezzati, Tehran). Bangladesh was only formed in December 1971. The large presence of Rohingyas in Chittagong (Bangladesh) is the result of successive exoduses, mostly forced, from Burma (beginning in 957 until today). Ever since Buddhists invaded the Muslim territory of Arakan in 1784, the Rohingya Muslims have faced a systematic policy of genocide (Laila Hasib, Crescent International, 1-15 February, 1993). And the Burmese launched a ferocious attack in Manipur occupying Manipur between 1819 and 1826 that drove out many Manipuri Muslim(who started settlement in Manipur in 1606 A.D.) and Meiteis into present Chittagong and Comilla (Bangladesh where there are presently an estimated 3 lakh Manipuris- both Muslims and Meiteis.

Racial Composition and Factor of Trading and Emigration Islam came to Burma more than 1,000 years ago through Muslim-Arab seafarers.

Later there were many economic and political contacts with Muslim India and we read about Mughal soldiers serving the Buddhist kings of Burma.

Pathan and Mughal soldiers from the nearby Bengal (now Bangladesh) acquired political and cultural influence in Arakan where we find Persian becoming a widely used language and some Arakanese kings adopting Muslim names like the Manipuri king Pamheiba took up the Persian name Gharib Niwaz (1709-48).

The British colonists began arriving in 1824 bringing with them Indian soldiers, officials and others. These included many Muslims. Many of these Muslims married Burmese (both Muslim and Buddhist) women. Similarly early Manipuri Muslims married Meitei women.

This produced a new generation of Indo-Burmese Muslims who had Burmese as their mother tongue, like in Manipur where Muslims adopted Meiteilon as mother-tongue, and Urdu as religious language. Thus mixed Muslim communities are found among the various Burmese races-Burman, Karen, Mon, Kachin, Chin, Shan etc. While the Manipuri Muslims are Indo-Mongoloids mixed with Turkic and Afghan ancestry.

There is also a sizable community of Chinese Muslims, Panthays, as well as Pashtus, Burmese, Malays, and in the southern tip of Burma. The present day Muslim community of Burma is thus a multi-racial community which forms a large community. Muslims are to be found in all walks of life and they are the single largest religious community in Burma, with mosques, schools and welfare associations.

The first Chief Minister of post statehood Manipur in 1972 was a Muslim named Muhammad Alimuddin.

The Muslim community has taken part in all various stages of the Burmese country s freedom struggle as well as in the country s reconstruction after independence. (Also see Musa, Arabia, Nov. 1985, pp. 72-73).

Conversion in Eastern Bengal
The larger classes of conversions in East Bengal were mainly voluntary, convictional (mainly to the soft preaching of Sufism) and many of them were from lower levels of Hindu. To this phenomenon must be attributed the mass conversion there that is now Bangladesh, whether we ascribe it to relief on the part of a Buddhist peasantry at deliverance from Brahman oppression or the straight conversion of a virtually animistic countryside.

Such conversions were not confined to eastern Bengal, but all occurred all over the country.In general they were from all the classes; because Islam could offer to these people a hope and status denied to them (lower caste) in the Hindu system. The existence of Muslim Rajputs shows that in the Northwest (India) it occurred mainly in the upper strata of the society. These conversions were not produced by kings or soldiers that indeed introduced a new factor into the building up of the Muslim community. This factor is the Sufi movement (V. A. Smith, The Oxford History of India pp. 266).

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