Muslims banned from public prayers in Myanmar town

 

 
 

08-06-2017
UCAN

Mandalay: 

A ban on Muslims praying in public spaces in a town in Myanmar during Ramadan has heightened concerns that freedom of religion is under threat in the Buddhist-majority nation.Disquiet among the country’s Muslim minority has increased since local officials in Thaketa Township, just outside of Yangon, banned prayer services being conducted on the street.Those breaking the ban would face charges according to a law, said local authorities who have already charged three Muslim men for doing so. The authorities say the prayer session threatened social stability.Tin Shwe, a Muslim community leader in Thaketa, said that he and two other community leaders on June 2 had to pledge on an official document that Muslims would not conduct prayers on the street again.The ban follows after about 50 Muslims from the township held Ramadan prayers on a street because they are banned from worshiping at nine local Islamic schools, two of which have been shut by local authorities since late April."As a Burmese Muslim and citizen of Myanmar, we feel very sorry that we can’t do prayer services during Ramadan," Tin Shwe told ucanews.com.The 55-year-old Muslim man said that Muslims and Buddhists have been living peacefully in the township and that no violence had ever occurred between the two communities. "In my life, this is the first experience that we are banned from praying and the schools were chained locked due to some hard-line Buddhist groups who are outside of the township," Tin Shwe said.The prayer ban follows the forced closure of two Islamic schools in the town on April 28. Around 150 hard-line Buddhist monks and their supporters gathered near the schools and demanded local officials close the buildings as they are used for worship and were allegedly built illegally.Under pressure from the protesters, the two schools were sealed off temporarily by the local authorities in a bid to prevent further conflict.Tin Maung Than, general secretary of the Islamic Religious Council of Myanmar in Yangon, said that it is very difficult situation for Muslims to do prayers during Ramadan.He said that leaders from the Islamic community met with one of the minister from Yangon Division and requested that the schools be allowed for prayer services."The officials urged us not to do prayer services at schools and to instead do worshiping at houses instead so it was not successful meeting," Tin Mg Than told ucanews.com.Zaw Min Latt, a Muslim resident from Yangon, told ucanews.com that Myanmar lacks rule of law which leads to local authorities failing to protect minority Muslims against hard-line Buddhists."I want to question freedom of belief and freedom of worshiping in Myanmar. The 2008 Constitution officially grants every religion the right of belief," Zaw Min Latt told ucanews.com.Phil Robertson, from Human Rights Watch, said what has occurred is further evidence of the Myanmar government’s failure to protect religious freedoms."Mosques and madrassas that have been forcibly shuttered should be immediately re-opened, and religious believers should not be threatened or criminally charged simply for exercising their fundamental right to observe and practice their religion," Robertson said in a statement.The predominately Buddhist country has seen several bouts of religious violence since 2012, much of it targeting the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.Hard-line Buddhist monks from the Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, known as Ma Ba Tha, encouraged anti-Muslim violence in 2012, which left more than 200 people dead and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. An estimated 120,000 people in the state still live in temporary camps for displaced people.Known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric, the nationalist monk organization has recently renamed itself as the Buddha Dhamma Philanthropy Foundation.Muslims account for 4.3 percent of the population in the Buddhist majority country according to the 2014 census. They arrived in the ninth century and most are of Indian, Chinese or Pathi descent.

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