Buddhists and Muslims Join Together for Inter-Religious Harmony


Scenes of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Thailand are persistent and on the rise. In spite of living peacefully together for generations, these two religious communities are now beset by riots, looting, destruction of property, injuries, and death. Each side is demonizing the other, provoking the escalating tension and violence. 

At last, some light can be glimpsed at the end of the dark tunnel. In Myanmar and Thailand, there have been joint efforts by both Buddhists and Muslims to cross the divide between the two religious groups and counter the misperceptions and misunderstandings between them. 

Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, suffered serious clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in July. Seeing the need to promote inter-communal harmony, on 3 August the Muslim Social Welfare Group made offerings of food and robes to the monks at Ma Soe Yein Monastery. This event marked both Eid, the festival celebrated at the end of Ramadan for Muslims, and the beginning of Wa Dwin, Buddhist Lent or the Rainy Season, when monastics reside in one place for three months, going out only for special reasons and a limited time.

Families of victims and representatives at "Breaking the Wall of Silence" forum on 22 July 2014. From The Asia Foundation

Sein Win from the Social Welfare Group said, “About 55 monks in Mandalay, including the 98-year-old War So Sayardaw and a chair monk from Mandalay Sangha Maha Nayaka, and leaders from Christian and Hindu communities attended the event.” War So Sayardaw told the participants Buddhists and Muslims should live in peace by controlling their actions, words, and minds. 

The Social Welfare Group has offered gifts annually to Buddhist monks since 2012. This year is significant, however, because during the recent clashes local monks remonstrated with residents not to become involved, but to remain calm. “We especially thank the monks who stand for all people, and we would like to bring back the social harmony between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay,” stated Sein Win.

Thein Tan from the Mandalay Peace Making Committee said the gifts to monks would go a long way in reducing tension and that “we are uniting through an event like this in order to ensure that we don’t misunderstand each other.” 

In Thailand, on 25 July a car bomb exploded in Betong in the southern province of Yala, with three dead and 42 injured. This is the latest in a 10-year struggle by insurgents to gain independence for this predominantly Muslim area. Sixty-two children have died and over 370 have been injured during the past ten years. Peace talks between the rebel group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, and the government broke down in July last year. Since then, 35 women (mostly Buddhist) have been killed and more than 60 women injured. 

A public forum, “Breaking the Wall of Silence: Stop Taking the Lives of Women and Children,” organized by one Bangkok-based and several women’s organizations from the south was held on 22 July. Buddhist and Muslim mothers, daughters, and sisters described how they had suffered during the violence, and spoke of loved ones lost. One young Muslim mother recounted how she woke up in hospital to learn that she had lost not only her leg, but also her five-year-old son, who had been killed in the explosion at a market. One Buddhist woman was unable to flee from the attack because of her disability. She was later found dead from multiple bullet wounds. 

Victims and relatives said they needed easier access to government assistance. Most of the relatives want some kind of closure by knowing the truth about what happened and who was responsible for the violence. 

At the conclusion of the forum, a statement from women’s organizations and relatives was released calling on the armed parties to “stop any activity that would harm civilians.” They urged that public spaces like schools, markets, and buildings of worship should be safe zones, and that leaders in the Buddhist and Muslim communities should “reconvene interfaith dialogues to correct any misconceptions in the interpretation of religious principles.” There is a strong need for a better emergency response, access to short- and long-term assistance, and a mechanism to find out the truth in order to obtain compensation and initiate judicial action.

(Source: buddhistdoor.com)