The history of the Rohingya people:
- The Rohingya are an ethnic minority Muslim group living in Myanmar for the past 800 years.
- In 1982 the military junta revoked their citizenship and rendered them stateless.
- Myanmar is a country that is 90% Buddhist.
- According to the UN the Rohingya in Myanmar are the world’s most persecuted minority. Human rights violations against the Rohingya have been recorded since the late 1970’s. In 1982 the Burmese military junta revoked their citizenship. They are denied their rights to education, land, and freedom of movement, employment and to marry without state permission. They are also subjected to both forced labour and forced sterilization.
- The Bangladeshi government has closed its borders, forcing refugees fleeing military atrocities back onto barely seaworthy boats in violation of its international legal obligation not to return someone to a place where they face persecution.
- The government and Burmese society, openly considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and not a distinct ‘national race’ of Myanmar, denying them citizenship. Official statements refer to them as ‘Bengali’, ‘so-called Rohingya’ or the pejorative ‘kalar’.
- Rejected by the country they call home and unwanted by its neighbours, the Rohingya are impoverished, virtually stateless and have been fleeing Myanmar in droves and for decades.
- The Rohingya are also extremely poor but the interesting thing about their poverty is that billions of dollars worth of gas deposits have been found just off the coast of their area of Arakan State, in the Bay of Bengal and companies from South Korea and India are extracting gas in partnership with the Burmese government. An oil and gas pipeline is currently being constructed from Arakan State to China.
- For years now, the Rohingya Muslim people have been targeted in a campaign that a Human Rights Watch report described as “ethnic cleansing”. Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have been forced into segregated settlements and camps, and cut off from any form of humanitarian aid, in many cases.
- The majority Buddhist Burmese government wants them gone. Blatant racism is one of the main reasons underlying their oppression. The Burmese ambassador to the UN described the Rohingya as being too dark to be Burmese and ugly like ogres. This is nothing short of disgusting racism and it is shocking that a country’s diplomats can speak publicly like this in the 21st century.
- In past years South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been the loudest voice on the issue when he addressed the Burmese leadership, calling what the Burmese government is doing, ‘threatening a new apartheid’ and that ‘freedom was cheaper than oppression’.
Over the years of military crackdown, there are credible reports of arbitrary executions, dozens of rapes of Rohingya women, mass arrests, beatings, burning of villages, and forced relocation by the military and security forces. All of these human rights abuses could meet the criteria of violations of international law. Military and security forces have also imposed severe restrictions on access to Rohingya areas, including access for humanitarian aid.
What is the current crisis?
- Again since 25 August, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh amid a military crackdown against what it deems to be a terrorist group.
- Fleeing Rohingya refugees have told horrifying stories of rapes, killings and house burnings, which the government of Myanmar has claimed are “false” and “distorted”.
- The latest military operation has left 400 000 in dire need of humanitarian aid, 120 000 displaced, 2000 dead , more than 20 villages and 100km of land razed to the ground in the government’s scorched earth policy and 30,000 people are currently waiting in no-man’s land to enter Bangladesh.
- Activists have condemned the lack of a firm international response. Some have described the situation as South East Asia’s Srebrenica, referring to the July 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims who were meant to be under UN protection – a dark stain on Europe’s human rights record.
- Military operations against Rohingya villages have been so intense and cruel that the minority’s defenders and human rights activists have warned of an unfolding genocide. The United Nations has reported that the army may have committed ethnic cleansing.
- The UN and other human rights organizations have documented mass gang-rape, killings – including those of babies and children brutal beatings and disappearances.
- Myanmar’s civilian leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, once a famously unflinching defender of human rights and adorable woman activist of the West, has publicly stuck to the military’s line that the Rohingya are illegally squatting on the Burmese territory. She denies that the mass killings of the Rohingya is ‘genocide’ and claims that misinformation is being
There is also rampant Islamophobia and religious intolerance, some examples include:
- There has been a sharp rise in the number of villages across Myanmar that has declared themselves as ‘no-go zones’ for Muslims. Burma Human Rights Network has documented the existence of at least 21 villages spread across the country where locals, with permission from the relevant authorities, have erected signboards warning Muslims not to enter.
- A large number of mosques across Myanmar have either been damaged or destroyed entirely in the last few years. Numerous reports have surfaced of authorities refusing to allow Muslims to repair their mosques. Denying a religious group access to a place of worship contravenes a fundamental right to freedom of expression and religion. In Myanmar, the refusal by authorities to allow the rebuilding of destroyed mosques and the bar on Muslims returning to their places of worship appears to be part of a calculated strategy to deny religious expression for Muslims.
- In the lead up to an event to mark Prophet Day in Yangon, January 2017, for which permission was granted by the authorities, a crowd of about 300 people gathered outside the venue, including monk U Thusita, and were told that Muslims intentionally committed rapes and killings of members of other religions: “If Muslims wanted to practice interfaith harmony then they should join with other religions to eat pork curry.” The event venue cancelled it at the last minute. A similar event in Pyay Township in Bago Division was also cancelled following pressure from local nationalist groups.
What can you do?
In attempting to fulfill the instruction of the Qur’an, where Allah exhorts us to fight for the weak and oppressed, many in our community have taken up the cause of the oppressed in big and small ways. Some have taken up the call of the poor and marginalised and are involved in schemes to improve the lives of the economically disadvantaged, some write about issues, some belong to activist organizations that raise awareness and advocate for the oppressed and some agitate. So no matter how we fight for the oppressed, like the Rohingya, whether with our hands, our tongues or our hearts, as Muslims, the struggle has to happen and must continue.
Here are some simple initiatives every Muslim can take up:
- Persevere in making du’aa to Allah to ease the suffering of the Muslims throughout the world,
- Raise awareness by talking to others about the plight of the Rohingya,
- Join activists groups like ‘Protect the Rohingya’ on social media and get involved in their activities,
- Register your protest by writing to the relevant embassies, international bodies and governmental structures,
- Share your wealth and assist by raising funds to support humanitarian projects to aid the oppressed.
As we strive to attain closeness and a connection with our Creator, we should also embark on a campaign of self awareness and self growth. As Muslims, assisting and fulfilling the needs of the oppressed forms part of one’s individual spiritual revival. Piety and closeness to Allah is not only attained through worship, but also through a process of serving humanity.
Nabi Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) said, “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. So he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to (one who does him wrong). Whoever fulfills the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs…” (Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Like Yemen, Syria and Palestine this crisis requires the urgent personal intervention and leadership of global leaders. It is essential that not only are new restrictions lifted, but also that all the restrictions previously in place are also lifted. Failure to act could result in what Rohingya activists have described as a slow motion massacre by starvation and disease.