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Muslim Communities in Myanmar

According to the Institute of Islamic Information and Education, Muslims are about 4% of the total population in Myanmar (though a letter from the Burmese Muslims Association to Qatar's UN Ambassafor gives the figure as about 10%).1 The majority of Burma's Muslims are Indian Muslims who settled in Burma when the country was under British rule. Both Hindu and Muslim Indians moved to Burma during the 19th century.2 Some ethnic Indian Muslims migrated into Karen State. Their descendants identify themselves as "Pwakanyaw Thu" or "Black Karen".3 Mixed descendants of Indian Muslims and local women are called Zerbadees. (a perjorative term implying mixed race)4

The Kokang region on the Burma-China border is home to another distinct Muslim community called the Panthays. The Panthays are said to be descended from Kublai Khan's Uzbek soldiers who settled in Yunnan, China and married local women. They crossed into Burma during the 19th century.5

A Muslim group with an older history in Burma is the Rohingya of Arakan State. Arakan was an established kingdom even before modern Burmans (the majority ethnic group of Myanmar) moved from Tibet to occupy Burma in the 9th century.6 7th century Arab Muslim traders brought Islam to the people of Arakan (then called Rohang).7 In the succeeding centuries, Arabs, Persians, Indians and Turks came to Arakan and intermarried with the natives. The distinct ethnic character of the people is evident in their language, Rohingya, which shows the influence of Bengali, Persian, Arabic, and Arakanese.8

Persecution of Burmese Muslims by Buddhists is ongoing today. The history of human rights violations against Muslims in Burma dates back to 1784, when Arakan was invaded by Burman Buddhists. Muslims, as well as other religious minorities in Myanmar, are subjected to organized mass rapes, slavery and other abuses.9


Notes:
  1. Muslim Population Statistics
  2. IMAGES ASIA: REPORT ON THE SITUATION FOR MUSLIMS IN BURMA, May 1997
  3. OIC Condemns Attacks On Muslims In Myanmar
  4. Burmese Muslims: Caught Between Genocide and non-Recognition
  5. The Star and Crescent in Northern Thailand
  6. OIC Condemns Attacks On Muslims In Myanmar
  7. Arakan's Muslims: A Snippet
  8. OIC Condemns Attacks On Muslims In Myanmar
  9. Crackdown on Burmese Muslims (Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, July 2002)