Looking Back: Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions

May 20, 2015

Looking Back: Anti-Muslim monk stokes Burmese religious tensions

By Jonah Fisher

This week (in August 2013), religious violence has once again flared in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Hundreds of Muslim homes have been burnt to the ground in Sagaing region after being attacked by Buddhist mobs.

In just over a year, more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed and many more displaced as unrest has spread from Rakhine state in the west to towns across the country. Many are blaming a controversial monk and the nationalist organisation he helps lead for the rising tensions.

wirathuMonk Shin Wirathu at work.

This morning, he is lecturing on the importance of avoiding sexual misconduct.”Yes, venerable monk,” the young men chant in unison, as Wirathu softly delivers his advice on the need to avoid temptation.

When the class is over, he shows me outside. On the wall of the monastery courtyard are graphic posters of the Buddhist victims of recent religious and ethnic violence in Rakhine state in western Myanmar.

They are unpleasant viewing. The pictures from October last year show dead children with their heads cut open and the bodies of women with their internal organs spilling out of their torsos. Wirathu said he put them up as a reminder to Buddhists that the country is under attack from Muslim “invaders”.

“Muslims are only well behaved when they are weak, ” he said. “When they become strong, they are like a wolf or a jackal; in large packs they hunt down other animals.”Wirathu believes there is a Muslim “master plan” underway to turn Myanmar into an Islamic state.

If he is right, it is a long-term project. Latest estimates suggest that of Myanmar’s 60 million people, 90% are Buddhist and about 5% Muslim.

“Over the past 50 years, we have shopped at Muslim shops and then they became richer and wealthier than us and can buy and marry our girls,” Wirathu said. “In this way, they have destroyed and penetrated not only our nation but also our religion.”

Master Plan


Wirathu’s solution lies in a controversial nationalist organisation called 969. It calls on Buddhists to shop, sell property and marry within their own religion.Small, brightly-coloured stickers have been distributed to clearly brand businesses as Buddhist-owned.

Supporters of 969 argue it is a purely defensive organisation, created to protect Buddhist culture and identity. Listening to the rhetoric of Wirathu and 969’s leaders, there is no doubt it is squarely aimed at Muslims.

“In the past, there was no discrimination based on religion and race. We all stayed together in a brotherly way,” Wirathu said. “But when their [Muslim] master plan has been revealed we can no longer stay quiet.”

From Rakhine state in the west, to more central towns like Meiktila and Okkan, the link is being made between heightened religious tensions and the preaching and activities of monks and 969.

The outbreaks of violence usually have a depressing symmetry. A small flashpoint, often a crime or perceived insult, perpetrated by a Muslim against a Buddhist, triggers a disproportionate wave of reprisals against the entire Muslim community.

Ten years ago, under the military junta, Wirathu was jailed for his anti-Muslim views. Now in these times of change, his message is widely disseminated through social media and DVDs. Far from being condemned, Wirathu now has backing from the very top.

In June, as his infamy reached its peak, Wirathu appeared on the front cover of Time magazine labelled “The face of Buddhist terror”. Burmese monks were outraged and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein quickly leapt to Wirathu’s defence. The Time issue was banned and a statement released with the President lauding Wirathu as a “son of Lord Buddha”.

‘Obstacle to reform’

_69534220_smarnyinyiSmar Nyi Nyi 

There is no shortage of theories inside Myanmar as to why Wirathu is now flavour of the month. One theory is that continuing ethnic and religious violence could be used by the military as a pretext for maintaining a dominant role in Burmese politics. It is certainly an argument Myanmar’s generals have made before.


“We are also wondering about this,” Kaylar Sa (above), a monk jailed for his part in the Saffron revolution of 2007, told me as he chain-smoked his way through a pack of Red Ruby cigarettes. He pointed out that the government has acted decisively and violently to end monk-led demonstrations against an army-backed copper mine last year, and yet now was unwilling to tackle them over hate speech.

“At the moment, we firmly believe that the 969 movement is unnecessary,” he said. “If this movement continues to be taken seriously, it could become an obstacle to democratic reform.”

A short drive from Wirathu’s monastery, Muslim volunteers guard Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, each night. The men told me that in the event of a Buddhist attack, they expect no protection from the (Buddhist-dominated) police or the army.

Smar Nyi Nyi, a veteran of the 1988 student uprising and one of the elders at the mosque, took me to one side. He expressed views that many Burmese share, that shadowy elements within the establishment are stoking the unrest.

“Everybody is talking about the violence between Buddhists and Muslims,” he said. “Nobody is interested in the dam on the Irrawaddy River. No one is interested in the gas pipeline. If somebody is controlling things, he is a smart man!”

Some Muslims cling to the hope that there exists a silent majority of moderate Buddhists appalled by recent events, secretly rooting for them.

“Most of the Buddhists, they are just onlookers ” a retired Muslim doctor tells me with a shrug. “A few might pass a heartfelt regard and say they’re sorry, but that doesn’t come above the surface.”

For Wirathu, each fresh outbreak of religious conflict reinforces his view that Myanmar is part of a global war on militant Islam and that he is being badly misunderstood.

“We don’t use drones – we haven’t killed [Osama] Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or the Taliban,” he told me.”We are just preaching and posting on the internet and Facebook for the safety and security of our nation. If we are all protecting our own nation who’s the bad guy – Wirathu or Barack Obama?”

Bumbling Hadi is vulnerable within his party

May 17, 2015

Bumbling Hadi is vulnerable within his party

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: Like washing hung out to dry on a wet day,  Islamic party (PAS0 President Abdul Hadi Awang is Hadi3discovering that his support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to continue in office has made his position within his party vulnerable, where some time before it had seemed impregnable.

The Chinese newspapers in the last few days have carried reports that the Prime Minister has said he is not in favour of hudud. Not unxepected, none of Najib’s implied rejection of hudud has been reported in the Malay and English newspapers, a sure sign that the double game being played by UMNO on the matter of enforcement of the Islamic penal code in Kelantan is deliberate rather than willy-nilly.

The Chinese newspaper reports on Najib’s hudud stance follow hard upon the opinion voiced by Nancy Shukri, de facto Law Minister in the PM’s Department, that if hudud is implemented in Kelantan it will give a fillip to the breakaway faction in Sarawak. That faction is experiencing a groundswell from the blowback stemming from the federal government’s stance on the Allah issue on the Peninsula, and now from UMNO’s apparent double-dealing on hudud.

Hudud implementation in Kelantan is bound to add wind to the Sarawakian secessionists’ sails. Furthermore, it is in Najib’s interest not to do anything that will endanger support for him to stay on as PM, should matters arrive at a vote of confidence on his premiership in Parliament.

Sarawak on his side

A parliamentary vote of no-confidence is one of several ways being mulled by the forces wanting to end Najib Razak’s tenure on account of the scandals plaguing the misbegotten sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. The Prime Minister would want all of Sarawak’s 25 BN parliamentarians lodged solidly behind him if matters come to a vote in the Lower House on his future..

All this makes Hadi’s support aired earlier this week for Najib to stay on as Prime Minister in the face of Dr MahathirTun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s insistent demands for him to quit, an act of political naivety on a scale comparable to Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s decision within days of the 1990 general elections, to visit Sabah at the invitation of then Chief Minister Pairin Kitingan.

Pairin had just taken PBS out of the BN and joined Razaleigh’s Gagasan Rakyat (People’s Might) coalition that grouped Semangat 46, DAP and PAS.

PBS’ eleventh-hour withdrawal and backing for Gagasan made things look as if the BN was headed for a voter-denial of its traditional parliamentary super majority in the 1990 general election.

Then Prime Minister Mahathir deviously turned the visit into grist for UMNO’s propaganda mills that drenched government-controlled TV channels and newspapers with sinister talk of a PBS-hatched scheme to turn Malaysia into a Christian state, an early precursor of the claims in recent years by Malay right-wing groups about similar goals of the DAP. The propaganda worked and what seemed like a looming denial of BN’s two-third majority was transmuted into a comfortable BN victory.

Fear of being had by UMNO

Hadi’s backing for a continuation of Najib’s premiership is the quid for the anticipated pro quo of UMNO’s backing for the private member’s bill he proposes to table in the next session of Parliament beginning Monday (May 18, 2015).

Najib’s support for the bill, which is to open the way for hudud to be enforced in Kelantan, was implied by the decision of all 12 UMNO state assemblypersons in the Kelantan legislature on March 19 to vote for the amendments to a Syariah Enactment that PAS had passed as long ago as 1993. That move was stalled by the absence of federal constitutional warrants for it. Hadi’s bill, if backed by UMNO, would presumably clear the way for hudud enforcement in Kelantan.

All this, of course, is now up in the air because of Najib’s apparent prevarication, as reported by the Chinese press. This has made Hadi look more and more like washing hanging out on a clothesline in fickle weather.

The thing that the PAS faithful most despise is being had by UMNO; they are apt to turn on leaders whom they feel have walked into traps prepared for them by UMNO.

More mortifying still for Hadi and his band of supporters in PAS is the news that some corporate financiers of the party, long a discreet group, are beating a path to his challenger,Uustaz Ahmad Awang, to offer financial help for the campaign to unseat Hadi for the President’s post in the elective PAS muktamar scheduled for June 3-6 in Kuala Selangor.

Ulama-professional twosome

In the lead-up to the vote, now that nominations have closed and acceptance to contest announced, PAS delegates are being discreetly reminded of the advice given long ago by respected former President, Fadzil Noor, and reiterated by the revered Nik Aziz Nik Mat, that if the President’s post in the party is occupied by an ulama, the Deputy President’s post should be reserved for a candidate from the professional wing of the party.

In pairing Ahmad and Mohamad Sabu (left), the incumbent Deputy President who is from the professional wing, for the posts of No. 1 and No. 2, the opposition to Hadi within PAS has a twosome that satisfies the criteria set by Fadzil and Nik Aziz, leaders who have passed on but whose legacy is still strong.

Mat Sabu is being challenged by Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, who is a candidate from the ulama wing of the party, and allied to Hadi.

Although a theologian of benign disposition to the professionals, unlike several of his ilk who are decidedly hostile, Tuan Ibrahim is solidly ranged with the conservatives of PAS.

The ulama wing, said to be aiming to extirpate the professionals from the top ranks of the party, has belatedly discovered that their preferred pairing does not adhere to the Fadzil/Nik Aziz stricture against a double-teaming of professionals or theologians for the top two posts.

Presumption, haste, and a lack of premeditation have marked the campaign of the PAS ulama just as it has coloured the political pronouncements of the incumbent President.

Will this prompt the party’s electorate to critically reappraise what the front-running Hadi and the conservatives have wrought for PAS which at this stage looks like more frustration for their campaign on behalf of hudud in Kelantan, amid more double dealing from an abhorred adversary?

This remains to be seen in the fluid days to a pivotal vote in PAS which will be critical to their future in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat and perhaps even to what the ulama wing would like – collaboration with UMNO.

Islam and the fate of others

By Rusman

Given the lack of faith placed in the scholarship of any official Islamic religious body in Malaysia people may find it a better use of their time to educate themselves and spend more time on self-reflection rather than pointing fingers at people during a moment of grief and mourning.  It would be the Ghazzalian thing to do.

From the Ph.D. dissertation of Mohammad Hassan Khalil entitled “MUSLIM SCHOLARLY DISCUSSIONS ON SALVATION AND THE FATE OF ‘OTHERS” also published as a book on Amazon here and PDF of dissertation available here.

In sum, by examining the works of certain highly influential medieval and modern Muslim scholars of various theological backgrounds [al-Ghazali, ibn Arabi,  Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyyah, Rashid Rida], we find that the discourse on salvation and the fate of ‘Others’ involves a limited array of recurring themes, particularly the two themes of Divine mercy (rahmah), which is often associated with God’s unlimited volition, and the significance of Muhammad’s Message, which is often associated with human submission and Divine justice. Even so, the conclusions put forth by these scholars are radically different in certain regards. All are utilizing most of the same texts (the exceptions being a handful of hadiths which usually function to supplement a particular argument), emphasizing the same themes, and yet, because of variations in hermeneutic strategies and motivations, we find that these texts allow for the kind of variation that makes the often monolithic characterizations put forth by numerous scholars a demonstration of apologetic reassessment, polemical over-simplification, or intellectual laziness. Indeed, a recognition of this discourse is necessary for those of us who seek to be conscious of the spectrum of scholarly readings of Islamic scripture. Indeed, we would do well to avoid simply echoing a single side of a particular debate,
even if that side represents the majority.

I will conclude as I began, by asking the question, “What does Islam say about the fate of ‘Others’?” Whatever the answer may be, I hope that the present study demonstrates, at the very least, that we should avoid the very trap many scholars have fallen into, and that is providing one-dimensional responses, whether it be with regard to the issue of salvation on the Day of Judgment, the issue of eternal punishment, or both. Indeed, a deeper appreciation of the rich diversity of possibilities is in order.”



Don’t Politicise Sensitive and Racial Issues, says Malaysia’s King

March 7, 2011

DYMM Yang Di-Pertuan Agong: Don’t Politicise Sensitive and Racial Issues

DYMM The King and His Prime Minister

DYMM Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin today expressed concern over the tendency of certain quarters to raise sensitive and racial issues and politicise matters which they should not.

He said the sovereignty of the Malay rulers, the position of Islam as the religion of the federation, the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, and the legitimate rights of the other races encompassing citizenship and fundamental rights, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, should not be questioned so as to avert disunity.

At Parliament House

“I urge all quarters to uphold the rule of law and the constitution,” he said when opening the first meeting of the fourth session of the 12th Parliament.

Tuanku Mizan said that though Islam was the religion of the federation, there was healthy practice of moderation in the country which enabled other religions to be practised in peace and harmony and these religious festival days were also recognised and regarded as public holidays.

He said it was hoped that to ensure peace in the country, non-governmental organisations would avoid touching on issues which could jeopardise harmony and undermine the nation’s image when implementing their programmes and activities.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong said that although the economy was now going through rapid recovery, as a nation that practised open economy, Malaysia must be sensitive to external factors such as the uncertain global economy which posed a challenge to efforts towards strengthening the country’s economy and subsequently the efforts to achieve a developed nation status with high income in 2020.

However, the King hoped that the Government Transformation Plan and Economic Transformation would benefit the people fully so that they could enjoy the improvement in the quality of life including education, health, housing transport and public amenities.

Tuanku Mizan also congratulated the government on Malaysia’s success in being placed on the 10th spot in the World Competitiveness Report 2010 but hoped Malaysia would not be quickly satisfied with the achievement.

On education quality, the King said educational transformation at the school level, particularly pertaining to the standard of curriculum introduced would be able to raise further the education quality. Tuanku Mizan also called for an improvement in the quality and skill of teachers and lecturers in teaching and learning besides maintaining dedication and integrity.

The King welcomed the strategic cooperation between the police and armed forces in tackling crime such as using military camps to train police personnel, to absorb former soldiers into the police force and to carry out joint patrols.

“I’m most impressed by this development because previously such strategic cooperation had been rare. It was a positive development that would bring much benefits to the people and country,” he said.

In tackling corruption, Tuanku Mizan called on all quarters to give solid support and confidence to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in fighting corrupt practices, power abuse and irregularities in the country.

The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong recorded his appreciation to everyone involved in ‘Ops Piramid’ to bring back Malaysian students from Egypt following the unrest in that country recently.

He also congratulated national athletes who had brought glory to the country at the international level, including at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Suzuki AFF Football Championship, besides hoping that Malaysian athletes would continue to perform excellently at the Olympic Games 2012 in London.