Burmese Muslims Cancel Eid Festivities

By Lawi Weng 24 October 2012

Many of Burma’s three million Muslims will refrain from celebrating the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha on Friday in respect for their fellow Muslim Rohingyas who are suffering in Arakan State, according to the Rangoon-based Burmese [Myanmar] Muslim Association (BMA).

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Myo Latt, a senior BMA leader, said, “Our brothers and sisters are being murdered and their villages are being burned down in Arakan State. It is for this reason that we will not celebrate Eid.”

Eid Al-Adha is one of the two most celebrated festivals in the Muslim calendar. Also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, it commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (known to Christians and Jews as Abraham) to sacrifice his son to God. It marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj, and is celebrated with family meals, gifts to children, and acts of charity.

Myo Latt said that, usually, all members of the BMA gather for a grand dinner in Rangoon to mark the holy day, and that this is the first time in living memory that they have decided not to hold the event.

He said that those Muslims in states and cities outside Rangoon who still wanted to hold celebrations to mark Eid could do so.

According to a press release by the BMA on Tuesday, the government could not guarantee security for the Muslim festival, and this was the practical reason why celebrations would not be held.

However, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday afternoon, Hla Thein, who is also a Muslim community leader in Rangoon, said that the Burmese government had “changed its tune” yet again, and had instructed him that they would in fact provide security for Muslims in Rangoon on Friday.

Many mosques have been burnt down in restive Arakan State where sectarian clashes between the Muslim Rohingya community and Arakanese Buddhists have raged for some four months.

Muslims in areas as remote as Mandalay and Karen and Mon states have expressed fears over holding celebrations in their local communities this year.

“Five Muslim organizations [in Burma] got together to pen an open letter to the president requesting full protection for our brothers in Arakan State,” said Myo Latt. “But we have not as yet received a reply.”

The BMA’s announcement on Wednesday follows days of confusion after mixed messages were sent by local authorities in Rangoon over whether they would allow Eid celebrations to take place—albeit in private venues—and an order reportedly passed on by Chief Minister of Rangoon Myint Swe instructing Muslim communities to cancel all plans for Eid Al-Adha feasts and activities.

“He [Myint Swe] told us not to hold the festival because of a lack of security,” said Hla Thein.

Meanwhile, at least 200 houses were burned down on Wednesday morning and about 20 homes the night before in Arakan’s Kyaukpyu Township amid escalating violence that followed reports of the killing of one Arakanese Buddhist man and two Muslim women over the weekend.

One Kyaukpyu resident told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday morning: “All the houses that were burnt down this morning belonged to Muslims.” He added that the fires spread to some Arakanese Buddhist homes.

A resurgence in the violence reportedly broke out in western Arakan’s Minbyar Township and spread to Mrauk-U and Kyaukpyu by Wednesday night. According to Arakan State Attorney Gen. Hla Thein, the violence in Minbyar started when a Rohingya man fired his catapult at a Buddhist man.

The State government has since imposed a curfew in Minbyar and Mrauk-U.