At Rangoon Mosque, Buddhist Monks Accept Alms and Discuss Tolerance

By Nyein Pyae Sone 4 July 2013

RANGOON—Following a wave of anti-Muslim riots across Burma, an interfaith group has brought Buddhist monks and Muslim leaders together at a mosque to discuss ways of alleviating widespread religious tensions.

In the first of a planned series of monthly meetings, about 90 people attended the dialogue in Rangoon’s North Okkalapa Township on Wednesday, with the interfaith group hosting alms for the monks after the event by offering a free meal as a goodwill gesture.

Myint Thein, a religious leader from the Myanmar Muslim Network who attended the meeting, said tension between the country’s majority Buddhists and minority Muslims had come to the fore as communities enjoyed more freedom of expression under the new quasi-civilian government but lacked adequate education about different faiths.

He said that under the former military junta—which ruled the country for nearly half a century, until 2011—it was difficult to discuss or write about religious issues.

“Our people lived under military control for a long time,” he said. “We did not have a chance to study many religions. This is why there is religious conflict in our country.”

U Pyinya Siri, a senior Buddhist monk, called for tolerance and respect for the law while addressing religious conflict.

“When someone acts violently against you, you should not lash back,” he said. “You can go tell the authorities to pursue the case. By doing this, it is possible to achieve peace.”

San Ni, a leader from the Interfaith Peace and Unity Group, which organized the event, said religious conflict could scare away foreign investment, which the government is desperate to attract after decades of isolation from the international community.

“We need to carefully analyze why we are experiencing religious problems,” he said. “If we can stop whoever is spreading hate in our communities, we can successfully have peace.”

The interfaith group says it plans to hold monthly meetings at different locations in Rangoon, including a Christian church.

The initiative follows two major monks’ conferences last month which also discussed religious tension in the country. At the second conference, Buddhist leaders urged monks to unite to maintain peace in the country, but also said they supported the proposed restrictions on interfaith marriage and would pressure politicians to accept the bill.

Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the past year have left more than 200 people dead and more than 150,000 people—mostly Muslims—displaced.