Burma ReligionMyanmar Religion
This paper describes stages in the interpretation of religion in Burma.
Religious liberty in Myanmar
When the 1974 World War II constitutions were abandoned in 1988, there was no unconstitutional defence of the right to be free of Islam after the bloodshed of the 8888 uprising. However, the administration imposes limitations on certain types of faithful activity and is charged with having abused the right to free religio.
There are accusations that the regime promotes Theravada Buddhism (which is practised by 90% of the population) towards other faiths, especially among members of minority nationalities. In addition, it was difficult for religious and religious groups to obtain permits to renovate or rebuild churches. Both the antimuslim force and the precise observation of moslem activity continue.
Though there were no new accounts of enforced non-Buddhist proselytizing, the regime exerted downward pressures on Buddhist converts among college and high school undergraduates. To be promoted to higher positions of power and power is generally a condition for detention or proselytizing to Buddhism. The present paper contains publicly available materials from the United States Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report 2007.
There are more than 400,000 Buddha discipline friars, among them novice priests, who rely on the lay faithful for their needs, which includes clothes and diet. There is also a small populace of buddhistic monastics. Among the most important minorities are Christians (mostly Baptists (~70%) and Roman Catholics (~25%) and a small number of Anglicans and a number of other Evangelical denominations), Muslims (mostly Sunnis), Hindus and followers of ancient China and tribal faiths.
While the US administration maintains that the figures for the benefit of Buddhists may be biased, it cannot be checked. It is an extremely varied nation, with a certain connection between race and faith. Theravadan Buddhism is the predominant religious group among the Burmese people and the Shan, Arakanese and Mon minority peoples in the east, west and south.
Christendom is the predominant Chinese religious system in the West and has some followers among the Kachin and Naga peoples who still practise tribalism. The Karen and Karenni of the south and east of the country are also widespread Christianity, although many Karen and Karenni are Buddhists.
It is practiced in Rakhine State, where it is the predominant Rohingya minoritarianism, and in Rangoon, Ayeyarwady, Magway and Mandalay Divisions. Several Burmese, Indians and Bengalese also practise Islam. In general, Tibetan ethnical groups practise a number of ancient religious traditions. Traditions derived from these tribal convictions are widespread in common Buddhistic rites, especially in the countryside.
Since 1988, the present State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has ruled without a parliament and legislation. The majority of those in faith who are registered with the administration are generally free to adore at will, but the administration restricts certain types of religion and often abuse the right to have one.
Though about 90% of the population belongs to Theravada Buddhism and another 1% to Mahayana Buddhism, there is no formal state religious group. The government's pressure to make Buddhism the state faith foundered in 1961 because of protest by minority religions. There is a Department for the Promotion and Dissemination of Sasana (Buddhist Teaching) in the Ministry of Religions.
Govermentally monitored intelligence agencies often show or describe civil servants who pay tribute to Buddhaist friars, make contributions to couples throughout the land, perform ceremonial activities to open, enhance, repair or preserve couples, and allegedly organize volunteer "people's donations" of cash, groceries and unpaid work to construct or renovate Buddhaist worship shrines throughout the state.
Government papers regularly display title page advertising banners quoted from Buddhaist writings. Government has released textbooks on Buddhism class. Sasana Maintenance and Dissemination Department looks after the government's relationships with Buddhaist friars and school. In addition, the government is funding two state Sangha academies in Yangon and Mandalay to educate Tibetan Buddhist friars under the supervision of the state-sponsored State Monk Coordination Committee ("Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee" or SMNC).
State-funded International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) in Yangon was opened in 1998 to "share the nation's Buddhist understanding with the peoples of the world". From the 1960s, it has been difficult for Christians and Muslims to import Russian literary works into the state. Any publication, whether sacred or profane, remains subject to scrutiny and censure.
Officers have from time to time permitted locally printed or photocopied restricted photocopies of sacred material, and the Koran (with the note that it was for domestic use only) in tribal tongues without permission from the federal censorship. Practically all organizations, whether or not they are a religion, must apply to the state. However, in reality only registrated organizations can buy or sale real estate or open banking account.
This requirement causes most faith-based organization to enroll. Areas of worship are enrolled with the Ministry of the Interior with the consent of the Ministry of Rect. Heads of recorded worship groups have more travelling rights as heads of non-recognized agencies and members of their communities. The religion is indicated on the identity documents of the citizen which have been granted by the state.
People are also obliged to indicate their religions on formal request documents, such as a passport. The Muslims in the state of Rakhine, on the west shore, and in particular those of the Rohingya minorities, continue to suffer the most severe types of judicial, economical, educational as well as societal dispariation. Rohingyas is denied nationality by the government because her forebears supposedly did not live in the land at the beginning of UK domination, as prescribed by the Nationality Act.
Five UN Special Rapporteurs and an independent expert on 2 April 2007 urged the government to lift or change its 1982 Nationality Act to ensure respect for the commitments of internationally proclaimed humanitarian law. Rohingyas without nationality do not have entry to secundary schooling because the government allocates secundary schooling only to students, formal celebrations cover a large number of Buddha celebrations in accordance with the Buddhaist majorities and some Christian, Hindu and Muslim celebrations.
There have been some attempts by the government to foster reciprocal understandings among practicians of different religions. Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, Minister for Religion, head of the four major Christian and Hindu religions (Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Hindus), hosted a rally in October 2006 at which the Minister condemned the 2006 Annual Report on International Freedom of Religion.
Said to worshippers that they knew there was a free movement of worship in the land and that the government had always issued authorizations for mosque and church assemblies and reconstruction. Islamic leader called on the minister to seal the mausoleums in the main area, which the government had shut down after municipal unrest in previous years, and to obtain approval for the completion of the madrasses under building.
According to reports, the heads were obliged to subscribe declarations that they enjoy the right to worship and were asked to send a note declaring that their denominations were free to exercise their beliefs in the land, which the Department would publish on its formal website. In a subsequent debate, IRAC declared that although there had been advances on some issues of religion, there was room for further work.
While the government preferred Theravada Buddhism, it controlled the organization and restricted the activity and expressiveness of the Buddhist Clergy ( "sangha"), although some Buddhist friars opposed such controls. On the basis of the 1990 Sangha Organizational Law, the government prohibited any organization of Buddhist friars except the nine state-recognized orders of friars.
The Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a government-sponsored grassroots organization in which it is often mandatory to participate, has organized classes in the buddhistic civilization in which literacy reaches into the minds of tens of millions of people. The ITBMU, although in theory open to the general population, has only received nominees who have been endorsed by governing bodies or endorsed by an older, pro-government Buddha-speaker.
Infiltrating or monitoring the gatherings and activity of practically all organizations, as well as those of faith. Also, the gatherings and activity of church groups were under far-reaching state constraints on free speech and organization. It has controlled and censored all forms of communication, even religion and occasional sermon.
The government molested a group of Buddhist believers during the report year, who every Tuesday, the date of the birth of Aung San Suu Kyi, went to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon to prayer at the column on Tuesday for her liberation and the liberation of all those detained in the state.
Sometimes the agencies used the USDA professional mode to prevent the group from enter the area of the pagodas and make them say a prayer in front of the doorway or scream out loud and applaud to cover up their plea. When Naw Ohn Hla, the spokesman for the faithful, objected to the believers at the pagodas offices and sent a letter to the regimental officials, the group' s community officials again permitted the group to prayer the way back into the area. However, the officials ordered the pagodists to drop pails of pail containing fresh ore on the deck around the Tuesday Post so that the faithful would be kneeling in the waters.
In spite of formal harassments, which included bodily and oral mistreatment by the pro-regime USDA and the People's Militia (Myanmar), the faithful prayed every Tuesday during the year. Usually the agencies did not allow applications for meetings to be held to commemorate traditionally celebrated religious festivals and limited the number of Muslims who could meet in one place.
Muslims, for example, are only permitted to meet in the Yangon satellites during the big Moslem public holiday for services and spiritual schooling. At the end of 2006, a celebrity Islamic religion organization was planning a gold anniversary in Mawlamyine, Mon State, to commemorate the foundation of its organization. Asking approval to host the ceremony, the city division commander, Brigadier General Thet Naing Win, convened a gathering of members of all non-Buddhist faith organizations in the region.
They were told that for safety purposes no events or rituals were allowed. Then, the Moslem organization changed its plan and conducted an inconspicuous celebration to honor those who had been given formal approval to participate in the Hajj by the Ministry of Religion.
In a public protest against his refusal of monkhood, the government arrested Htin Kyaw on March 22, 2007. The Rangoon government then banned any member of the opposing faction from becoming monks or worship leaders in 1995 and banned the monastic monks of a North Okkalapa convent in Rangoon from ordaining Htin Kyaw.
As a result, the Ministry of Religions urged the Ministry of Religions in the state to issue declarations in state-controlled press in which they denied any association with the CSW or condemned the document and rejected the notion that there was any form of religionally discriminatory practice in the state. In addition, the regime discriminated against members of minorities by limiting their education, proselytisation and ecclesiastical work.
In some areas, the governing bodies further forbade the clerics to proselytise. During the reporting year, a number of reports from Eastern European groups have been received from district councils rejecting requests for residence visas from well-known Christians seeking to move to a new Township. Groups stated that this was not a common practise, but rather dependent on the respective church and mayor.
National passports of new believers to Christianity were in some cases seized by Kyrgyzstan' government. Nevertheless, a number of Christians report that even in predominantly buddhistic areas of the land ecclesial affiliation has grown. The Rangoon area government shut down several home chapels during the year because they did not have adequate permits for the holding of their own assemblies.
The only other home communities in Rangoon to remain in action were after they paid a bribe to their own people. Simultaneously, the government made it hard, if not impossibly, to obtain permission to build "authorized" church buildings. Hospitality managers alleged that the community had ordered them to stop letting their facilities to the group that had worshiped the establishment for about a year.
NaSaKa, the government's frontier protection forces, ordered eight Rakhine State municipalities in Rathedaung to shut down their centers, among them 5 Mosques, 4 Madraces, 18 Moqutobs (Premadrassahs) and 3 Hafenez of Khana (Qur'an Recitation Centers) in August 2006. Later on, the locals reopened two madrasahs. Muslims say that civil servants have not registered any madrassas.
Islamic denominations are calling for the closure. In Rangoon on August 19, 2006, Baptist congregation leaders banned a Baptist service workshops for their young people. Public agencies declared that the churches had to obtain prior approval for the implementation of such programmes, although the churches had implemented similar programmes without approval in the last four years.
According to reports, the agencies have also been censoring the same Baptist congregation's week-long divine celebration. The Insein parish in February 2006 also ordered a Chinangelist to finish the divine ministry in his home chapel in Aung San. The Insein, Rangoon parish in November 2005 put pressure on Protestant believers in the 20-year-old Phawkkan Protestant churches to conclude no-worship treaties.
It was in February 2006 that the government issueed an order prohibiting service in the churches. In the past, the Ministry of Religion has determined that the permit to build new monastic structures "depends on the local population"; however, there seemed to be no connection between the building of a pagoda and the need for extra places of Buddhism.
However, in most areas of the countryside, small churches in side roads or other unobtrusive places could only be built by Christians and Muslims with the informational consent of locals, but the informational consent of locals produced a weak legislative state. In the event of changes in any of the existing building regulations or circumstances, official building permits were suddenly revoked and building was stopped.
Some of the local authority tore down already built cathedrals. In most areas, religious groups still had difficulties getting permits to buy lands or construct new chapels. At times the agencies were reluctant because they alleged the Church did not have correct ownership documents, but accessing formal ownership of real estate was exceedingly complicated due to the country's complicated real estate legislation and state ownership of most plots.
Moslems said that the government forbade them to build new churches anywhere in the land, and they had great difficulties in getting approval to do so. Historic mosques in Mawlamyine, Mon State, Sittwe, Rakhine State and other areas of the land deteriorated further because the government did not allow regular upkeep.
Unauthorized churches or sacred buildings were allegedly demolished by some government agencies. As soon as the local authority found out, they ruined the repair of the mosque. Buddha groups had no similar difficulty in getting approval to construct new couples, convents or common rooms. In spite of calls to higher authority, the church has not regained its possession.
Last minutes, civil servants of the federal administration declined to issue a planning approval. On the other hand, the Chinese regime frankly encourages Buddha seminars and allows them to construct large camps. Several Christians in Chin State alleged that the Chinese authority had not approved the erection of new cathedrals since 1997. In the state of China, a Chinese Orthodox chief explained that in order to obtain authorization to fix or construct a chapel, he first had to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Border Progress and National Racial and Development Affairs (NaTaLa), Immigration and the Township Peace and Development Committee.
Yangon, Mandalay and elsewhere, the agencies have permitted the building of new church centers by various church groups only if they have declared their willingness not to worship or display them. Muslims found it very hard to obtain a permit to fix the mosque, although in some cases it was permitted to carry out interior work.
Some parts of Rakhine state were closed off and Muslims were forbidden to pray in them. The state censorships continue to impose specific limitations on the Bible, the Koran and the general publicity of Christians and Muslims. Most annoying limitation was a listing of more than 100 forbidden words that the Celts would not allow in Chinese or Muslim literary texts because they are "indigenous terms" or come from the Pali languages that have long been used in Buddhist lit.
Organisations that are translating and publishing non-Buddhist religions appealed to these limitations. In recent years there have been no records of arrest or prosecution for possessing traditionally written religion. Officials also limited the number of scriptures and the Koran that have been introduced into the state. However, in the year under review, small numbers of individual persons carried the Bible and the Koran to the land for use.
No one reported that the Koran had been caught or seized by the Qur'an at checkpoints, but political rulers were complaining that post office employees were stealing it to be sold on the sidelines. Generally, the government has not permitted constant overseas missionary work in the land since the mid-1960s, when it evicted almost all overseas misionaries, nationalizing all privately owned colleges and clinics that were large and largely associated with Catholic faith organizations.
It is not known that the government has compensated for these large-scale seizures. Cristian groups, of which Catholics and Protestants are included, have taken along priests and worshippers from abroad to visit as tourist, but they have made sure that the government does not see their work as proselytisation.
A number of Bible and madrassah Seminars were also held. During the last days, the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Chinese authorities permitted some members of non-German religions to come into the land to give aid or lessons in either of them.
Several of these groups have not registered with the Council of Churches of Myanmar, but have been able to worship without interfering with the state. It permitted members of all denominations to form and sustain ties with fellow believers in other lands and to go abroad for worship ministry reasons, provided that the country's restricted customs and visas policies, currency control and state surveillance applied to all overseas activity by all people, regardless of their creed.
Occasionally, the regime accelerated its troublesome process of issuing passports for Muslims who had the Hajj or Buddhists make pilgrimages to Bodhgaya, India, despite limiting the number of them. During 2006, some 3,000 Muslims were permitted by Muslim authorities to take part in the Hajj. In 2006, the process became more complicated as most of the Rangoon administration moved to Nay Pyi Taw.
Throughout the reporting year, immigrant and pass officers continue to use the Hajj to blackmail potential travelers for corruption. In Bodhgaya, India, the Indian Buddhist pilgrimage was made by the Indian authorities and privately-owned tourist agents. Non-Buddhist groups continue to face discriminatory behaviour at the top level of the population.
Nor did the central board of the National League for Democracy, the biggest group of the opponents, include non-Buddhists, although some members of most of the country's denominational groups backed the group. Government demoralized Muslims from enrolling in the army, and Christians or Muslims who sought advancement beyond the status of majors were urged by their leaders to turn to Buddhism.
Several Muslims who wanted to join the army allegedly had to state "Buddhists" as their faith on their request, although they were not obliged to conversion. Instead, the government gave some of them Temporary Registration Cards (TRC). The agencies have been insisting that Moslem men who apply for a TRC should beard-free.
Unauthorised Muslim officials, rulers and heads of villages were not allowed to let themselves bearded and some who already had one. Nor did the agencies regard many non-Rohingya Muslims as people. Burmese Muslims from Burma are paying less than Muslims from indigenous minorities (mainly from India or Bengal).
During 2006, a high-profile Islamic religion organization asked the chairman of the Rakhine State Peace and Development Council, the Regional Military Commander and the Ministry of Religion to remove adultery for Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. Muslims in Rangoon can usually obtain neonatal records, but in Rangoon, locals have declined to register the family name.
In general, the Rohingya or Muslim Aracanese did not receive a permit from the government to leave their home cities for any reason; however, the permit was sometimes obtained by means of corruption. Non-Arakan Muslims were given more travelling rights, but also had to obtain the permit, which was usually issued after payment of a graft.
The ones with cash were able to corrupt even the best policemen to get back. Rakhine State Muslims who had finished high schools were not allowed to go outside the state to go to colleges or universities. Most of the approximately 25,000 Rohingya Muslims who remained in Bangladesh refusing to come back because they were afraid of violations of human dignity, which included the threat of being persecuted by religion.
National League for Democracy (NLD) faction leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been in jail or detention since 2003, when she and her convoi, which consisted of several NLD friars while traveling in the Sagaing Division in the northwest of the border.
It is said that the government used monk dresses as an outlaw. In Rangoon on May 15, the agencies arrested more than 30 believers as they were approaching segregated couples to worship Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees. On the next morning, USDA members who claimed to be" representing the people" arrested another 15 believers after praying in a prayer in Mingladon parish, but the agencies let them go the same time.
The government prolonged Aung San Suu Kyi's home detention for another year on 25 May 2007. He was compelled by the military to undress against the Buddhaist commandments, according to which a friar had to take off his gowns at a ceremonial in a cloister. Thandwe' Rakhine State detained Abbot Wila Tha and his assistent Than Kakesa from the U Shwe Maw township Taungup on July 2, 2006, forcing 59 friars and nuns to abandon the convent.
According to internal reports, the abbey refuses to take money from the government or to hold sacred rites. Other allegations by the agencies were that the Abbey threatened regional instability by speaking to the friars and young people about the issue of nongovernmentalism, that he was a supporters of the National League for Democracy and that he backed the mission of Aung San Suu Kyi (pro-democracy NLD militant and leader) when she came to the area a few years before.
An exiled Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimate that 86 Buddhist friars were in jail on various allegations. There were no known numbers of non-Buddhists in jail for their faith. As a rule, the agencies have violated the rule when they arrest them and treat them as normal detainees, as well as torturing them. It was disrespectful of the first name of the friars, not their name.
Civil and militaristic agencies continue to take action against the Christians: arrest of priests, closure of house christians and prohibition of worship. He had previously sent a note to the regimental leaders asking them to end the persecutions of his Rangoon administration in 2006.
During 2005, the Baptist leadership was told by Baptist officials in the state of Hakha's capitol that they would be compelled to move an historical graveyard from the grounds of the congregation to a outpost. Religium chiefs said that the government continues to use violence to move graveyards in many parts of the state.
Historically, a pagoda or a building of power was often erected on seized Moslem lands. The Kachin state has had the Kachin state administration build Buddha christened christening centers in churches where few or no Buddhists live and have tried to force believers into hard labor to bear brick and other provisions for the work.
Goverment officers opened a holocaust in September 2006 near the Kachin Independence Organization head office in Laiza, Kachin state. Rohingya's authority often compelled Rohingya to build Buddha Schools in the north of Rakhine state, although Buddhism makes up about 2 people there. The Muslims Rohingyas from at least ten neighbouring towns asserted in January 2006 that the army had compelled them to transport construction materials for three pilot towns in Padauk Myin, Mala Myin and Thaza Myin in Rathedaung.
In 1983, certain Rakhine State townships, such as Thandwe, Gwa and Taungup, were designated "Muslim-free zones" by order of the state. Officials have tried to stop chinchristians from practicing their religions. During 2005, the Matupi Township Commandant of Chin State ordered the demolition of a 30-foot crucifix built on a hill in 1999 with the approval of the state.
An officer of the higher rank informed the chaplaincies that they could obtain a permit to rebuild the crucifix, but the chaplains have so far declined to apply for such a permit. Burmese Buddhists were encouraged or even forced to enter ethnical areas by the offices of the SDC.
Burmese refugees in the predominantly Islamic north of Rakhine have been "model villages" set up by the local authority to resettle freed Burmese crime figures from other parts of the state. Trustworthy accounts from various parts of the state have also been reported that civil servants have forced people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists in equal measure, especially in the countryside, to donate funds, supplies or material for state-sponsored construction, renovation or maintenance of religious relics or memorials.
Government denies that it was coercing and calls these posts "voluntary donations" in accordance with Buddhaist beliefs of merits. The Lashio government is said to have tried to force traders to donate large amounts of money to build a Buddha sanctuary in April 2006. The money collected was far below the authorities' goal.
Moslem and church chiefs said that during the reporting year, the agencies had shifted away from a drive for enforced Buddhism and instead concentrated on encouraging non-Buddhists to be converted to Buddhism by providing love or corruption. Non-Buddhist persecution, whether compelled or not, is part of a long-standing political initiative to "Burmeseise" ethnically marginalised areas.
Chin source reports in September 2006 that 15 Chinese college graduates retired from a state-run girls' home in Matupi, Chin State, after earlier mandatory volunteer night prayer Buddhism was made obligatory for all the people in the shelter. Even though the women were given free tuition, meals and shelter, they were complaining that they felt under pressure to become Buddhists.
Buddhism is also said to be praying every day in many statechools. NaTaLa ran a Primary Education Center for Buddha Studies in Kanpetlet, Chin State and promised them a job in public after they graduated. We have not heard any report of enforced proselytizing of US minors who had been kidnapped or unlawfully expelled from the United States or of refusing to allow those minors to returne.
The preference of Buddhists and wide-spread prejudices against Indian people, especially Rohingya Muslims, were important causes of tension between the Buddha government and minority Christians and Muslims. The Magway Division in February 2006 saw violence between Muslims and Buddhists in reaction to rumors that Islamic men had been raping a Burmese girl.
The Burmese invaded and set fire to Moslem and ethnical houses, businesses and mausoleums. Initially, there was no intervention by foreign troops, but as the fighting unfolded, the police issued severe curfews in several cities. According to trustworthy reports, the police detained 17 in Sinbyukyun and another 55 in Chauk, mostly Muslims.
By the end of the year, the checks and balustrades stayed closed and the Muslims were not allowed by the law to reconstruct them, nor did they investigate the bloc. Believers said an whole Moslem community escaped to the convent of a trustworthy Buddhist monk near Shwe Settaw to take shelter during the upheavals.
Two Muslims were murdered and one buddhistic friar seriously wounded during several violent outbreaks. A number of Muslim groups accused the regime of trying to intensify tension between Buddhists and Muslims as part of a diverse and rules-policy. There have been armistized conflict between the DKBA and the predominantly Christians' KNU since 1994, when the Karen National Union separated from the KNU to organize the pro-government Democratic Karen Buddhaist Army (DKBA).
Though the DKBA is reported to include some Christians and there are some Buddhists in the KNU, the military clash between the two Karen groups has taken on powerful aloofness. Unconfirmed accounts have also been reported that the DKBA agencies continue to deport village inhabitants who have become Christian. No clear proof to tie the paper to the government.