Monks Conference Calls for Harmony, Criticizes Interfaith Marriage Draft Law

Senior Buddhist monks U Dhammapiya, left, Ashin Saekaneda, center, speak to the media at the end of the Buddhist monks’ convention on Friday. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Senior Buddhist monks U Dhammapiya, left, Ashin Saekaneda, center, speak to the media at the end of the Buddhist monks’ convention on Friday. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

HMAWBI Township — A two-day conference of Buddhist monks concluded on Friday without any mention of a proposal by nationalist monk U Wirathu to lobby for a law that would put restrictions on Buddhist-Muslim marriages.

Instead, the organizers called for peace and communal harmony in Burma and denounced the proposal.

“To accept or not to accept the so-called restrictions on interfaith marriage will be decided in accordance with human rights [standards]. Anybody can marry at their own will,” said U Dhammapiya, a senior monk and a spokesman for the convention.

“I will not accept someone forcing others to convert to their religion. If it violates human rights, we cannot agree to it,” he said, adding that the organizers had not been involved in drafting the law.

U Wirathu, a Mandalay-based monk who leads the controversial 969 nationalist campaign, has produced a 15-page draft law that would require any Buddhist woman seeking to marry a Muslim man to first gain permission from her parents and local government officials.

The draft law, which he had been circulated at the convention and among journalists, would also require any Muslim man who marries a Buddhist woman to convert to Buddhism. Those who do not follow these rules could face up to 10 years in prison and have their property confiscated, according to the draft.

U Wirathu had vigorously defended the draft law on Thursday at a press conference, sitting beside U Dhammapiya and Ashin Saekeinda, the abbot of a monastery in Hmawbi Township, located just outside Rangoon, where the convention was held.

But on Friday afternoon, Ashin Saekeinda said he did not know who had circulated the draft law among participants and journalists, adding that it did not represent the position of the monks’ convention.

“I don’t know who delivered [the draft law]. I managed the meeting personally. I organized the meeting democratically and allowed anyone to participate,” the abbot said.

“I said that only [joint] announcements made during our meeting are official. Others issues don’t have anything to do with our meeting,” he added.

On Monday, eight Rangoon-based women rights’ groups issued a joint statement condemning U Wirathu’s proposed draft law, which he had claimed would “protect Buddhist women’s freedom.”

The organizations included the Karen Women’s Action Group, the 88 Generation Students Women Network, and the Triangle Women Support Group.

“Buddhist women are the target of this draft law, and we know nothing about it all. The ones who drafted the bill are monks. That means it doesn’t represent women,” said Zin Mar Aung, a founder of the Rainfall Gender Studies Group and a well-known women’s rights activist.

At the conclusion of the convention on Friday, its 227 participants issued a statement regarding the ongoing inter-communal tensions.

“We promote peaceful coexistence with all those who are living in the country,” the statement said, adding that the convention had identified seven areas of focus, which included “solving conflict by means of Buddhist way,” “promoting studies that lead to peace-building” and “law and order enforcement for peaceful coexistence.”

“We object to any action, false accusation or statement against Buddhism which are detrimental to Buddhism and the dignity of Buddhist monks,” the statement noted.

Ashin Saekeinda said, “These points were announced on behalf of all the monks in the country. It is an endeavor to educate the monks about peace, should they not understand it before. It is a discussion for the peaceful co-existence between religions.”

The abbot went on to state that the symbolic number 969, which is supposed to represent the tenets of Buddhist philosophy and teaching, is being abused by some during the volatile democratic transition period in Burma.

“Presently, the morale of those who are under 35 or 40 [year of age] is ruined and they’ve turned away from peace. As they are morally ruined, we try to guide them by means of sermons. Here, the number 969 exploited for evil purposes by some,” Ashin Saekeinda said.

U Wirtahu leads the nationalist 969 movement, which has encouraged Buddhist communities across Burma to shun Muslim-owned businesses and support Buddhist-owned shops instead.

His campaign has been accused of inflaming growing sectarian tensions between Burma’s Buddhists and Muslims, who are estimated to make up some 5 percent of the country’s total population.

Violence between Buddhists and Muslim communities broke out in Arakan State, western Burma, in June last year. The unrest has since spread to dozens of towns in other parts of the country. Hundreds of people have been killed and more than 150,000 people — mostly Muslims — have been forced to flee their homes.

Nationalist Buddhist monks have been accused of openly supporting the violence by calling for the removal Muslims from towns and villages in order to establish Buddhist dominance. In some cases, monks were reportedly observed participating in and organizing the street violence.

30 Responses to Monks Conference Calls for Harmony, Criticizes Interfaith Marriage Draft Law

  1. This is a slap on fake monk Wirathu. He is acting like he is a representative whole Burma Monks Committee. No doubt he had abused the 969 buddisht way of teaching. But here I have doubt that why the Dhammapiya or Ashin Saekeinda fall short of condemning this low grade illiterate Wirathu. Why the Burmese authorities are still not taking any action against the perpetrators?
    Can Wirathu answer to the women power of Burma. Hats off to the

    • Yup, Wirathu took advantage of the fact that the senior monks were sitting near him to give that statement he did, making the media think thje senior monk supported him

    • Buddhist philosophy is tolerance and peaceful practice of mindfulness. It may not put the blame to perpetrator or human right abuser. It will learn from the particular mistake, take the lesson out of it; and find the root cause of misunderstanding. Then mindfulness of what is happening in the surrounding and studying of own mind to purify the insight. It believes in Karma and its complicated ways of Sansara. The only way to be free from the dreadful Sansara is to study the mind of oneself and others, tolerate to whatever happened, and establishment of peaceful co-existence in this small world.
      May all being free from suffering.

  2. Hats off to the women rights groups and women activist of Burma.

  3. My comment is probably irrelevant but I do find it a bit strange to see all those colourful flowers surrounding the monks. When I was growing up in Burma during the 50’s and the 60’s I always thought Buddhist monks were very ascetic, live and meditate austerely in their “phongyi kyaungs” (monasteries) and avoid getting involved in mundane “flowery” issues like weddings. I thought Buddhism was the only religion that transcends worldly needs, desires and politics. Things have changed a lot in “Myanmar”. Oh well, all religions now serve some sort of social or political goals and Buddhism seems no longer any different.

    • Well..I am sure monks did not choose those colorful vases, but the event organizers did. It might probably be a good practice to not look at things through a Rohingya-reading glasses all the time. I do reserve sympathy for them and learning about their sufferings really pinches my heart. However, every time I read a snipe by you against monks who stand apart from Wirathu, it really makes me wonder if all of the rohingya are like you.

      • You’re right. These flowers look more like at a Communist Party event in China than in a wretched Rohingya hut. Were the organisers funded indirectly by rich Chinese businessmen? Just asking! You should check the new Facebook page of the Chinese embassy in “Myanmar” where you can see lots of pictures of Buddhist monks. Peking is playing the “Buddhist card” to soften up the anti-Chinese sentiment in Burma. Wirathu is just a stooge. He doesn’t know that he is being used. All this anti-Rohingya anti-Muslim stuff might be just a diversionary tactic that China is using so that people accept the Chinese pipeline, the copper mine, the dams, the railway line, etc. Read Sun Tzu if you want to know more about Chinese strategy. I call it the 2Y-strategy (Yuan and Y-chromosome). Be careful of Peking’s sinister plans. Burma is still under Chinese yoke. Ask Than Shwe or Tay Za, if you don’t believe me.
        By the way, half of my ancestors are from Arakan but I don’t give a damn what tribe they belong to or whether they are descended from Kanraza-gyi (Abhiraza’s older son) or Kanraza-nge! Enough of this primitive tribalism in Burma. If people continue with that kind of nonsense, the Chinese sugar daddies will soon take over from their naval base at Kyaukphru!

    • The problem is that one should never take one monk to judge all monks. There has always been a number of monks that are involved in things that have nothing to do with their original way of life. Unfortunately these monks do not realise that they blemish Buddhism. And that their actions are immediately taken up (also by international press agencies, little they understand) to put Buddhism down as ll other religions are already bankruot in their so-called tolerance and benevolence. Hence I urge all Buddhists to join hands and EDUCATE the people so they understand true Buddhism, which actions will protect Buddhism.
      In the time of the dictatorship monks were reluctant to speak. Now also senior monks are still reluctant to speak. Why?!

  4. I hope Irrawaddy posted this article in Burmese version as well.

  5. Buddhist population is far larger than a combination of Christian, Muslim, Hindu and others. Why do some Buddhist monks have insecure feeling? Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships are already Muslim townships because of military dictatorship’s failure from securing the border. Do not blame the Bengali people for their migration into Burma but blame the useless military government.

    • It was not military dictatorship failure that Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships are already Muslim majority townships. They were Muslim majority townships because they have been living there for 1000 years contrary to the propaganda of illegal immigration. Arakan was a part of Bengal region for a long long time. Whatever happened in Bengal religious wise (changes), it happened in Arakan too. You can find sources of reputation to put pieces of the history of Arakan.

      • @Amanda Swe
        You confuse quality with quantity. The contents of your high production of unsubstantial comments appear like shallow propaganda, but obviously disclose a mission you eagerly want to fulfill: For the “Rohingya” and their (Islamic & NGO-) supporters ??

      • Yeah! Right. If your statement were true, Buthidaung and Maungdaw would have Bengali names. This is the reason we can clearly say that these two townships were Rakhine soil and illegal immigrant Bengali people occupy today. .

      • The districts of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar in current Bangladesh (and old Bengal) were part of Rakhine kingdom. Does Chittagong sound vaguely familiar? It roughly means “edge of army camp” in Rakhine/Myanmar.

      • AmandaSwe, I just wonder at your level of knowledge on Rakhine. Who taught you that Arakan was under Bengal, and that too for 1000 years? Even the Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar areas of Bengal was under Burmese control
        till the British came. Chittagong was lost to the Mughal only in 1666.
        After 1666, the Arakanese army retreated towards Cox’s Bazar and
        towards the Chittagong Hill Tracts where they settled, and their
        successive generations could be seen there even today. The Buddhist kings of Arakan took Muslim names when the Muslim traders and the faraway Mughal kings wielded their power across South Asia. But in actuality they never come to Arakan, even to Chittagong until 1666. If the Arakanese kings were Muslims, as the rohingya charlatans demand, where are the burial
        grounds of those ‘Muslim’ kings? If you visit Muslim countries you’ll
        always see big burial places of ancient Muslim kings. there are none in
        Arakan, because those kings were purely Buddhists. Today millions of
        Muslims take up names like Maung Nu, Ne Win, Sanda Lin, though they are
        Burmese Buddhists. Have these Buddhist names changed them into
        Buddhists, after all? I don’t know how closely touched you are with
        Arakan or Rakhine, both physically and also through your studies, but
        your knowledge shows you know very little about the land and its
        history, let alone its people. Please do more studies before making any
        comments on Arakan. In the 15th and 16th century India, Muslim rulers resorted to excessive force for converting the Hindus and Buddhists of India to Islam. Please check Indian history of those centuries. You can easily come across the names of those Muslim kings. And as a small kingdom in the Bay, Arakanese kings used their brain and brawn to tackle the invasion of the alien religion.

  6. Let us stop male chauvinism which is so characteristic of Asian Nations and Myanmar is not exempt from it. I am glad Buddhist monks realized this on time that it is not their place to exert any kinds of religious influence on social issues. Any rule or law that is not supported by women is not going to last and will face an eventual failure. The 969 organization should concentrate on teaching the basics of Buddhism rather than going around bashing Buddhist women who marry Muslim men and finally convert to Islam. Converting to other religions is a reflection of failure of the Buddhist leaders in their approach on teaching Buddhism.

  7. All those people criticizing the article at must be relieved and can now relax.

  8. Wirathu is backed by the cronies in power. That is why no senior monks try to remove him.

  9. I am very happy with the outcome announcement of the monks’ convention. They should even add a rule to strip any monks complicated physically in this violences. Religion and state should be separated.
    Now, we will need a civil law to protect women from being married by muslim men and convert them and the children to muslim religion. They are just following their Sharia law. Muslim men can marry up to 4 wives at one time (they can divorce one and replace to have 4 at anytime). Their population grows like rabbits (look at illegal Bengalis population in Arakan). And if we follow democratic rules, we have to respect the vote of the majority. I don’t want our law replaced by sharia. I want to protect the future freedom of our country from Sharia.
    I am not against muslim in general. I have many muslim friends. I am against the salafist muslim who are financed by OIC and more and more vocal now around the world. They even intimidate the moderate muslim to become radical, specially the youngs and the poor. I am afraid, we are heading to not the third world war but the global religious war, all against muslim.

  10. I believe this is the only and first ever “balance statement” in the last horrible one year. I personally appreciate the peace initiative by respected Buddhist Monks. It is good to know the true colour of Buddhism, which promotes peace and harmony. For the last one year, the fake and poisoned minds dominated the attacks & instigation and brought a lot of bad name not only to our beloved country, but also to Buddhism. The attacks also disturbed so called “democratic honeymoon” of President Then Sein Government and the aspiring future President DASSK. We need to remember that Burmese are majority and no need to feel insecurity about less than a million poor people in the western border. Burmese Muslims around the country also contribution the country’s economic development but not challenging any power. Development of Rakhine state and social inclusion of all people in the state will bring peace and harmony ( win-win situation) to the country. Rakhine state should also benefit from mega projects ( such as Shwe gas and deep sea port in Sittwe) so that the state will come out from the second poorest region in Burma. We also need to be mindful of the fact that the western border was safest in terms of insurgency and there were hardly any casualty of Burmese military in the last 50 years. Indeed Rakhine state was very peaceful but poor. Buddhist and Muslims live their own way, a bit isolated, but not in that bad relation portrayed by recent reports. There were poor communication and integration due to the bad legacy of previous Government. The best motto today should be “ Chit Za go Shay Zay, Mone za go Tow Zay “ meaning “ Lengthen the Love String and Shorten the Hate string”. We are living in a globalization and maintaining the sovereignty of the country will not rely on the military might or the gang fights. The meaningful sovereignty can be maintained through economic development, good governance, robust law and order, and supremacy on since and technology.

    • I like your optimistic and peaceful view. What happen when local adminstrative body are voted democratically with majority muslim in those town? Then they put the Sharia law on locals? I mean not on Arakan as whole “yet”.
      I want to live in peace and respect the freedom between us. I don’t want anyone imposing their religious law on other. I will not be able to write this blog if there is Sahria rule. If you don’t believe in Koran, you will become infidel, you are worthless. If you say bad about Allah, you are dead. If you say bad about Buddha, people may not like it but you be still alive !
      Remember, we have to protect the freedom for the future from now. One day we dont want to wake up and realise it’s too late.

  11. Yes, this article must be posted in Burmese version.
    Wirathu is a fake monk, a junk. He hailed from Kyaukse, and seems he had some personal grudge against Muslims in his native town or village. The Muslims in Kyaukse are peaceful citizens all along. I know that.because I also hail from Kyaukse. He was a trouble maker since his Primary School days, and carried that on at Min-kone Monastery in the last decade or so.
    He is probably now closely associated with the political group who think this is the only way they can win popularity of their evil political ideas.
    Wirathu and his associates should be discommunicated for good, and the government should bar him from distributing and preaching his evil ideas. It is anti-Buddhist and anti man-kind.

  12. These admirable monks are trying to protect buddhist women.It must be
    earlier than this.Our Government should
    cooperate with the monks.Those who try to against and criticize this plan are not buddhists I suppose.I don’t even know
    Zin Mar Aung so that how can she
    represents women all over the country.

  13. I vote “YES” on Muslim-Buddhists Marriage Law. I have the following reasons:

    1) ISLAM is the fastest growing religion by Births.

    2) We should see England as an examples. After 30 years, for instance, some English neighborhoods turn into Muslim Community and English became minority in their own town.

    3) We must study and learn inter Marriage Laws from Malaysia and Singapore. They have great examples and no one can force that easily).

    4) As a native Karen, living in Karen State, we have documented spread of ISLAM throughout our state. We are very tolerance people but we don’t protect that kind of building new Mosques. Internet has open our eyes and we can see that Building Churches in Indonesia are not very easy and we concluded that ISLAM is not very tolerance religion. As a Karen, I want to know how Burma will change in 30 years later. I am 30 years old and how Karen and neighboring state like Mon State looks like in 30 years later.

    5) We should not forget that Burma let foreigners in for the first time in 60 years. We knew that Missionaries from Christian and Islam are spreading throughout our villages. We are surrounded by India, China and Bangladesh. Do NOT FORGET THAT!!!

    6) European and Americans journalists should stop blaming on Burmese Buddhists. I would suggest before western journalists should look into European society whether Muslims embrace Multiculturalism or not.

    7) We must also study and learn from Japanese immigration system. ( Japan should be our example. Not Europe and American).

    8) We must stop building new Mosques in Burma. ( Again, my argument is that ISLAM is political ideology: and you can’t deny that). Western Countries have serious problems but they don’t want to ADMIT YET.

    9) We have estimate guess for Muslims populations in Myanmar. This is not 5% as media claims. When is the last time Burma collects census?)

    10) Think for next 30 years. Populations matter. Religion matters. We want to build peaceful society. British already brought mass immigration in Colonial time. Understand Modern day colonial ways.

    11) As a Burmese-Karen Buddhists, I want to see my country, my state and my hometown live peacefully. The only way to do is we must implement Muslim-Buddhists Marriage Law for future generations. ( By the way, how many Muslims men convert to Buddhism when they marry to native girls?)

    12) It is very amusing to hear Western Journalists criticize 969 for promoting “SHOP Buddhist Business Model”. In France, Muslims have their separate swimming pool hour, Menus, and “Harla” ). This ideology has been decades. Are you forget about that? ISLAM must change this system. Frankly, this is not acceptable ideology for Harmonic Society. Christians have no problems.

    I hope that So-Called Educated Burmese will understand how people are facing day to day activities in State like Karen State. My question to all is: Yes, you can easily says ” If anyone convert to other religion, feel free. ”

    Then, How about children in our state? They don’t know. How can you let other religion easily convert by proving food and shelters? Don’t we have any PRIDES? Are we just taking easy money from Islamic Countries?

    My personal view on ISLAM:

    ( I have nothing against Burmese Muslims but we are moving toward Democratize Reform and as a Buddhist, we don’t believe that ISLAM is the religion of Peace. We have different views on that. We have seen ISLAM as political ideology and doesn’t match with Democratic society).

    Remember. Tolerance go both ways. Don’t forget what is happening in Southern Thailand in 21 century.


    Win Oo ( From Myanmar)

    • Win Oo wrote; 4) As a native Karen, living in Karen State, we have documented spread of ISLAM throughout our state. We are very tolerance people but we don’t protect that kind of building new Mosques. Internet has open our eyes and we can see that Building Churches in Indonesia are not very easy and we concluded that ISLAM is not very tolerance religion. As a Karen, I want to know how Burma will change in 30 years later. I am 30 years old and how Karen and neighboring state like Mon State looks like in 30 years later.

      Hi win Oo

      Your karen leaders never mention that Karen has a problem with local Muslim.
      What and where is your reference for your above claim. What is your Karen name and where did you study and what level you have achieved in Burma. Could you pinpoint the location or place or areas where local Muslim are trying to suppress the Karen well-being.
      The world only knows that Karen are and were killed by bama military thugs, particularly fox than shwe for 60 years. Do you want to say that local Muslim were killed by Karen as well ?

    • Win Oo,
      No wonder. I met many Karen Muslims. When I asked them how they became Muslims, they told me that the Karen women got married with Muslim men. Bengali people who reside in refugee camps or the Muslims who live near the Thai-Burma border area are easily extending their faith through marriage. Karen people cannot be wiped out by the Burmese military assault but they can be swallowed by some Muslim men through marriage.

  14. Dear Win Oo,
    Your comment is one of the highly qualified and argumentative strongest which I have read in The Irrawaddy and DVB. Congratulations !

  15. Hello
    Did you know history of Thailand,Southern part previously owned by Malay king and during independent English put it Thailand.

    • It is not your business about southern part of Thailand. It must be discussed by Thai and Malay. We don’t need to hear from you. We do not believe what you said.

      • Dear Linyone, “I don’t believe what I don’t know ” is said by many people. May I suggest instead that you say “I will try and find out if what you say is true or not. Where can I get more information, find books on the subject?” That way, you will learn more and more as you grow older, therefore older and wiser.

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