The Need to Unite Communities through Inter-Faith Dialogue in Myanmar

Published: Jul 17, 2014 Reading time: 3 minutes
The Need to Unite Communities through Inter-Faith Dialogue in Myanmar
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A new series of inter-religious violence occurred last Tuesday, 1st of July in Mandalay, Central Myanmar, when clashes between Buddhists and Muslims escalated. This sectarian unrest has left two men dead and five injured[1], and resulted in several houses and vehicles being damaged. These riots were the first between Buddhist and minority Muslims in Mandalay and concern has risen that this violence may spread throughout the country.[2]

Myanmar’s struggle with sectarian unrest between different religious groups is not a new phenomenon and stretches throughout the country’s modern history. Many Burmans who are Buddhists show deep-seated resentment towards Islamic peoples, whom they claim are illegally in the country. This is particularly true for those living in Rahkine State, North-East Myanmar, who are often referred to as Rohingya.  The Rohingya, who numbered only 800,000 in 2012[3] have often been characterized as expansionist, with an agenda to convert the country to Islam.

The latest wave of deadly violence between Muslims and Buddhists has overshadowed recent political reforms. The first incident took place in 2012, when widespread clashes between Buddhist and “Rohingya”[4] Muslims left 200 dead[5] and 140,000 displaced in Western Rakhine State.[6] Tension between these two groups escalated once more in March 2013, in Meiktila, central Myanmar, when at least 40 people were killed and many more injured.[7] Another outbreak of violence was reported earlier this year in Rakhine State, which also resulted in the death of 40 people.[8]

Misinformation and inter-religious intolerance have polarized the views of Myanmar's Buddhists and Muslims alike. Interfaith and intercultural dialogue is one aspect of civil society development that can help to reduce tensions and identify common ground that can reduce the chances of further violence.

PIN involvement

People in Need (PIN), in partnership with Civil Society and Community-Based Organizations, has been supported conflict resolution activities since 2012. Among the examples of PIN´s support are activities, implemented in cooperation with local partners that address interfaith dialogue and awareness creation among groups with different religious background and community members. These also include activities that support interfaith education about conflict resolution and reconciliation among young leaders in areas like Mandalay and Mon State.

In 2013, People in Need with Treasureland Development Association (TLDA), a local non-governmental Organization, implemented activities for a “Peaceful Living in Harmony” to create dialogue and raise awareness among young participants in several States in Myanmar. These activities, partly funded by Norwegian Peoples Aid, also included an “Emergency Riots Prevention Workshop” to create a peaceful environment and prevent communal riots and violence between different ethnic- and religious groups.

In addition, PIN has successfully supported activities, implemented by Smile Education and Development Foundation (SEDF), a non-for-profit educational institute, in Yangon and Mandalay. These activities included training and community development projects, as well as the promotion of interfaith education and lessons on tolerance in religious schools. The overall aim of these projects was it to reduce violence and hate crimes that are based on racism and religious prejudices.

PIN will continue to support civil society organizations in these areas in order to support the country’s political transition and reconciliation among different ethnic- and religious groups in Myanmar.

[2] Mandalay is the second largest city in central Myanmar is an important economic hub and centre of Buddhist culture and learning

[4] The Rohingya are Muslims who live mostly in Rakhine, in the north west of the country, bordering Bangladesh. Early Muslim settlements date back to the 7th century. Today, there are some 8 million Muslims of which probably a quarter are Rohingya. This is a fairly small number considering that with a population of around 60 million 90% are Buddhists.