By U Kyaw Min
Throughout history Muslim population in Arakan was either majority or proportionally even with Rakhine people. Except a small portion of Muslim who is called Kaman or Kamanthei, the rest identify themselves as Rohingya. Myanmar had a first stage random census in 1953/54. People were not aware of what it was. Again in 1973 census Muslim registered themselves as Rohingya, but in the census report they were categorized as Pakistanis and Indians. But 99.7 percent of total population including Rohingya was described as citizens whereas only 5316 persons were shown as foreigners.
In 1983 census, despite the respondent’s claim to be Rohingya, the reports designated them as Bangladeshi. But in that census, there were no clarification of citizenship. It is obvious, that state policy from then was, to make these Muslims of Arakan, Bengali. It is amazing to think of how the Pakistanis and Indians in 1973 census were converted into Bangladeshi in 1983 census.
So this Muslims are at the crossroad now. They identify themselves as Rohingya where the government along with Rakhine people calls them Bengali.
The crucial thing is, either they are Bengali or Rohingya or Muslims, they have been there in Arakan since the creation of the earth. This is not a hypothetical assertion; it is not an illusion. It is a reality. If we go through “The Missing links in Arakan History” by S. N Goshal, we will find it. Rohingya belong to ancient Darvavadi and Vessali period. Time, space, personalities and vested interest had created a false picture of Arakan history; and Rohingyas were deprived off their history. Now they are branded as Bangladeshi fresh illegal immigrants. Knowing this distortion of history, Nobel laureate, Harvard professor Amartya Sen, at a Harvard seminar, last year declared; “it is not the Rohingya who came into Myanmar it is Myanmar who went into Rohingya land” It is because historians say Arakan was an Indian land before10th century and its peoples were like that of Bengal. Myanmar people from the east get their settlement only after 10th Century. This Myanmar in British records is Mug. In many Rakhine native chronicles e.g. “Danyawaddy Aredawpon” the author claimed to be Myanmar. Today Rakhine in Bangladesh identify themselves as Mramar too.
Burmese laws stipulate that those whose permanent residence happened within present day map of Myanmar territory anterior to BE 1180 and 1823 AD are Myanmar indigenous peoples: The Muslims of Arakan today, Bengali or Rohingya, or Kalar whatever we call, they have been there before that date line which we can vividly observe in the earlier chapters of this treatise.
Sultan Kadirshah, (Rakhine versions: kala Sultan katera) a Muslim became 37th king of Maruk-U in 1737 AD. When he was dethroned, in 1738 AD there was a country wide insurrection of Muslims. (Rakhine state council chronicle (politics) 1984, P-77)
From AD 1685 to 1708 AD i.e. from Weradammaraza to Sanda Thuriaraza nine Successive kings were powerless. The royal bodyguards of Kaman force took fire in their hands and could roam around the country freely. They made and unmade kings at their will; some kings were dethroned within days. They were then known as king maker of Arakan (W.S.desai, the pageant of Burmese history 1961, P-61, 63)
Nat Myint Sann Aung a Rakhine author writes: “Sandawizeya 1709-1731 was an able, qualified king. He managed to maintain and sustain his rule. He suppressed and persecuted Muslims. He deported the Kaman force to off shore islands of Akyab and Rambre. Many had fled to Bengal and Myanmar proper. After him the country’s situation again became Chaotic. Kalas (Muslim) in the west were interfering in the internal affairs. Some Rakhine nobles and princes were taking help of kalar (Mulims). Abaya Maharaza (AD 1764-1773) was revolted by DahbaingGyiThauk-kra. He organized and honored the native kalar (Muslims). He recruited a kala army to seize the throne. He became king in 1773-1777 AD with the title, Sanda Thumanaraza. But he too was killed and DamarazRaza became the king in (1777-1782) But native kalar (Muslim) are not contented. They sending off their families (women and young ones) to Panwa (Ramu) organized a revolt. Some Rakhine noble and grandees co-operated with the kalar (Muslims). Consequently the last Arakan king MahaThamadaraza (1782-84 AD) was enthroned. Professor Harvey said he was from the despised race of Ramree. Some say he would not worship idols. So he is assumed to be from the Muslim Kaman race. Some Rakhine including the father of king Berring( ChanPyan) invited Ava king BodawPhaya to take over Arakan. BodawPhaya who was waiting for that chance and sent a force, under the command of his eldest son and easily could take over Rakhine under its sovereignty.
To sum up Muslim in Arakan were neither mercenaries nor aliens. They were part and parcel of Arakan (Rakhine) society. The politics of Arakan, especially during the third phase of Mrauk-U dynasty was monopolized by Muslims. During Myanmar king BodawPhaya’s rule Muslim community was allowed to settle their religious and social dispute according to their Sharia law. In 1807.Bodawphaya issued a royal decree (see on P….) in this regard. First a single Judge (Qazi) was appointed, then there were region wise Judges (Qazi). Till today there are Qazi villages and Qazi mosques in various places in Rakhine state. British preserved this Qazi system until early 20th century. (A Qazi appointment letter of British time is attached here by. (see the appendices)
Dr. J. P. Leider writes in 1807 the Muslim community of Arakan came under the authority of a single Burmese Muslim leader appointed by the king. Under BodawPhaya’s rule Arakan was under four governors and to settle Muslim affairs there was a special Muslim governor. He is said to be Rama wadyMyowanSyagyi, U Nu.
Dr. J. P. Leider precisely says, “The major political problems of the period 1685 to 1710, were the revolt of native populations north of Naf River and the rebellion of Mons that the royal guards proved unable to tackle”. Here native population in the north means Muslim. So SandaWizeyaraza who came in power in 1709-1730 AD tried to get rid of Muslims. He began to persecute Muslims. Kaman body guards were deported to offshore islands of Ramree and Akyab. Many other native Muslims had to flee to Bengal and Ava, whom Ava king Sney Min had settled in 12 different places in Myanmar (see on page —) Dr. Than Tun described them as Indians who came from Arakan. Here it is most probably this Muslims were not Rakhine speaking but Indian speaking. Most of this Muslims and their descendants served with Myanmar king’s army. In BagyidawPhaya’s diehard army there was a die-hard Rakhine Muslim unit. There are two Rakhine mosques in Yangon which were gifted by the king to his Rakhine Muslim army units.
Further the Economy of the country was under Muslim control. Most of the traders used to come to Arakan were Muslims (see U Hla Tun Pru; Arakan treasure troves 1984, P-327 and Pamela, 2001, 136)
According to Dr. J. P. Leider “Dutch sources confirmed the presence of Muslim officers in Arakan court and the Shahbanders (masters of the port) of the capital port were always a Muslim until 1785. There were also Muslim poets and artists in the court. This is a sparkling element of cultural refinement at the Arakan court”. (J. Leider, Poet and traders in Mrauk-U 2011)
Arakan kings had a conception to increase its population. So the captives brought from Bengal coast by Arakanese themselves were not to be sold as slaves but to serve this kingdom on various capacities. They were employed as sweepers; artists, technocrats, Farmers and boatman in Arakanese Navy. Some served in higher ranks too.
Muslim cultural influence in Arakan was remarkably extensive too. Emil Foch hammer, British time director of archaeology in describing the Badar mokan Mosque of Akyab (Sittwe) writes: “the principal mosque has become the prototype for Buddhist temples like the one on the plate XLIII, (Andawceti in Sandoway). This pagoda is the most perfect type of blending of Indian Mosque and Burmese turreted spire”.- – - Again in describing phyalah ceti in Sandoway, he writes: it represents a combination of the style of native image house and the Mohammadan Mosque (see plate No. XLIV)
Dr. Pamela says, “in 15th and 16thcenturies Arakan was the recipient of dramatic cultural influences from Islamic world and Europe which resulted in the renaissance, expressed in the originality of its shrines and sculptures. The close proximity of Bengal and the initial dependence of Mrauk-U ruler and their Islamic counter parts saw Muslim influence even in Buddhist architecture”. – - – In describing shit Thaung Pagoda of Mrauk-U she writes: “the total effect being remarkably similar to the Mosque architecture of Sixteenth century Gaur, the capital of Bengal. Both the lattan Masjid and Bora Suna Masjid, for instance, have multi arched faces and are surrounded by series of domes. (Dr. Pamela, The lost Kingdom of Burma) Dr. Pamela further rea marked in her “Ancient Arakan”, people in Arakan specially in the north nearing to Bangladesh still speak language mostly similar to the inscriptions of ancient Arakan.
This shows cultural interconnection in Arakan in the early period. To sum up Muslim involvement in every sphere of Arakan life is not from colonial period but it can be traced from time immemorial. Thus I hope we have still space in Arakan to peacefully coexist and to be treated as equal for a better future.
Rohingya today are accused of not to be faithful to the country. But history proved Rohingyas fought along with Myanmar army, whereas Rakhine fought along with British in the first Anglo-Burma war. (See Captain Robertson, First Anglo Burma war)
Rohingya insurgent Mujahids surrendered in 1961. Until now there is no Rohingya armed group on ground. Rakhine have various armed groups on the ground. Before independence there were armed militias led by U PinyaThiha, Bo Mra Hla Aung, (see Thakin Tin MyatBonbuwa Ma Phyint). There were an Arakanese tan movement instigated by U TunAungKyaw and U Hla Tun Pru, who later became state councilor in U Ne Win’s Government. (U Kyaw Win +3. Myanmar history 1958-62) Yet it is said this people are faithful, only Rohingya are not.
Mujahids surrendered because firstly they did not enjoy Public support. In those times police force in Maung Daw Buthidaung region was mostly composed of Rohingyas. Secondly the Mujahids Could not resists the operational attacks continuously carried out by above Rohingya police force led by their Rohingya officers. Mujahids were so literally suffocated that they could not find place to hide out, and finally they surrendered.
In support of above notion here by I am attaching some certificates of honor and appreciation given by the Government to the Rohingya police officers. (see at the appendices.)
The last message of this author is Rohingyas desire a peaceful life. In Arakan king’s period they were a respected community. In defense and administration they were important actors. During British rule all including Rohingyas were equal subject peoples. No exploitation and discrimination of one race by another. Post-independence Burmese governments gave equal rights: and no classification in citizenship there. All hold the same National Registration certificates NRC. Hence there were no racial disunity, conflict and violence No privileged race; playing field was level. Thus the society was Co-operative and harmonious.
From U Ne Win’s Coming in power, racial discrimination was introduced. Hatred against Rohingya has been breeded. Rohingya’s rights were stripped of one after another. There were dozens of joint operation against the populations which culminated in the out flux of Rohingya in hundreds and thousands. Lastly Rohingya’s citizenship right was taken away by enacting 1982 new but arbitrary citizenship law. They were kept in a sort of quasi- statelessness. Then came non-stop propaganda to blame this Rohingya as illegal Bengali. This Fermented Rakhine people’s mindset. They want to get rid of these so called illegal. Subsequently there came all this violence, violations which can be termed as crime against humanity
When there were institutionalized discrimination, classification, polarization and segregation, there we saw conflicts and violence. Once all citizens enjoy equal status, such as in South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, there society became Peaceful and country’s economy had developed too. No grades of citizens there. The state protect all including minorities. Bali in Indonesia is a minority dwelling island but it is very peaceful and attracts the world’s largest tourists.
We invite all to racial harmony and urged to forget the past grievances and work together in unity for the future. What to note is, hatred breed hatred which will lead to unwanted conflict and destruction.
 Nat Myit Sann Aung; “Sak activities in the time of Rakhine kings” RakhineTasaing magazine 1977-78, P-142-143.