Religion in Burma

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Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon - the most revered pagoda in Myanmar

Myanmar (Burma) is a multi-religious country. There is no official state religion, but the government shows preference for Theravada Buddhism, the majority religion.[1] According to both the statistics published by the Burmese government and the CIA, it is practiced by 89% of the population,[2][3][4] especially among the Bamar, Rakhine, Shan, Mon, and Chinese. The new constitution provides for the freedom of religion; however, it also grants broad exceptions that allow the regime to restrict these rights at will.[1]

Although Burma's Jews once numbered in the thousands, there are currently only approximately 20 Jews in Yangon (Rangoon), where the country's only synagogue is located. Most of the Jews left Myanmar at the commencement of the Second World War, and also after General Ne Win took over in 1962.

Hinduism is practiced mainly by Burmese Indians.

Religion in Burma

Alleged persecution[edit]

The Muslim populations are said to face religious persecution in Myanmar. Since independence, successive governments (both democratic and military) did not grant the citizenship of the Muslim Rohingya of Northern Rakhine and forbid missionary activities. The Rohingyas have been forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh or to Muslim states. Their claim to citizenship has been marred by disputes with the ethnic Arakanese, who are mainly Buddhists. Some Rohingyas claim to be the original inhabitants of the region, even stating that the temples of Mrauk U were once Rohingya mosques. Those claims have caused the Buddhist Arakanese to be hostile to the Rohingya.

Many minority religions claim that they have a greater following than the official statistics but they also tend to overrepresent the number of adherents.

Religious freedom of Buddhists[edit]

Buddhists, although clearly professed by the majority of people in Myanmar, have their complaints regarding religious freedom. A political party, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, split from the main Karen nationalist movement, the Karen National Union (KNU), after the Buddhists were denied to rebuild and repair the stupas at Manerplaw. The top leadership of the KNU were also dominated by Christians, although roughly 60% of the Karen are Buddhist.

The Payathonzu Temple is built in the Mon style.

Many monks took part in the 2007 Saffron Revolution and were reportedly arrested by government security forces. Some of the leading monks are still detained in various prisons across the country.[5]

Religious freedom of Christians[edit]

Christians are also said to face persecution. Christians have not moved to the higher echelons of power. A small number of foreign organizations have been permitted to enter the country to conduct humanitarian works, such as World Vision following Cyclone Nargis. A long standing ban on the free entry of missionaries and religious materials persists since independence in 1948, which is seen as hostile to Christianity. The burning of Christian churches is reported in South Eastern Myanmar, where the Karens live.

Christianity is practiced by 4% of the population,[2] primarily among the Kachin, Chin and Kayin, and Eurasians because of missionary work in their respective areas. About four-fifths of the country’s Christians are Protestants, in particular Baptists of the Myanmar Baptist Convention; Roman Catholics make up the remainder.

Religious freedom of Muslims[edit]

Islam, mainly of the Sunni group, is practiced by 4% of the population according to the government census. Muslims face continued oppression from popular radical Buddhist monks, such as Wirathu, .[6] He also supports Burmese laws restricting marriage between Muslims and Buddhists, referring to the former as "parasites."[7] Wirathu has a,so expressed admiration, and a desire to mimic the English Defense League.[8] Riots, supported by radical monks, have forced upwards of 150,000, mostly ethnically Rohingya Muslims, to flee their homes,and have left over 250 Muslims dead; a disproportionately high number of Muslims have been arrested for the riots.[8] The government of Burma has also limited the number of children allowed by parents in some predominantly Muslim towns as a measure to decrease Muslim population growth.[9]

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 international religious freedom report, the country's non-Buddhist populations were underestimated in the census. Islamic scholars claim the country's Muslim population at around 6 to 10% of the total populace.[5] Muslims are divided amongst Indians, Indo-Burmese, Persians, Arabs, Panthays and the Chinese Hui people.

See also[edit]