ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN MYANMAR (BURMA)
National name: Pyidaungsu
Land area: 253,954
sq mi (657,741 sq km);total area: 261,969
q mi (678,500 sq km)
Population (2008 est.): 47,758,181
Capital and largest city (2003 est.):Rangoon (Yangon),
Naypyidaw (administrative capital)
Other large city: Mandalay,
Monetary unit: Kyat
68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, other 5%
89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Islam 4%, Animist 1%, other
Literacy rate: 83%
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005
est.): $76.36 billion; per capita $1,600. Real
growth rate: 1.5%. Inflation: 25%.
Slightly smaller than Texas, Myanmar occupies the
Thailand/Cambodia portion of the Indochinese peninsula. India lies to the
northwest and China to the northeast. Bangladesh, Laos, and Thailand are also
neighbors. The Bay of Bengal touches the southwest coast. The fertile delta of
the Irrawaddy River in the south contains a network of intercommunicating canals
and nine principal river mouths.
The ethnic origins of modern Myanmar (known historically as Burma) are a
mixture of Indo-Aryans, who began pushing into the area around 700 B.C.,
and the Mongolian invaders under Kublai Khan who penetrated the region in the
13th century. Anawrahta (1044–1077) was the first great unifier of Myanmar.
In 1612, the British East India Company sent agents
to Burma, but the Burmese doggedly resisted efforts of British, Dutch, and
Portuguese traders to establish posts along the Bay of Bengal. Through the
Anglo-Burmese War in 1824–1826 and two subsequent wars, the British East India
Company expanded to the whole of Burma. By 1886, Burma was annexed to India,
then became a separate colony in 1937.
During World War II, Burma was a key battleground;
the 800-mile Burma Road was the Allies' vital supply line to China. The Japanese
invaded the country in Dec. 1941, and by May 1942, had occupied most of it,
cutting off the Burma Road. After one of the most difficult campaigns of the
war, Allied forces liberated most of Burma prior to the Japanese surrender in
Burma became independent on Jan. 4, 1948. In 1962,
left-wing general Ne Win staged a coup, banned political opposition, suspended
the constitution, and introduced the “Burmese way of socialism.” After 25 years
of economic hardship and repression, the Burmese people held massive
demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. These were brutally quashed by the State Law
and Order Council (SLORC). In 1989, the military government officially changed
the name of the country to Myanmar.
Islamic History and Muslims
The first Muslims landed in Burma’s Ayeyarwady River delta, Tanintharyi coast
and Rakhine as seamen in the ninth century, prior to the establishment of the
first Burmese empire in 1055 AD by King Anawrahta of Bagan
The dawn of the Muslim settlements and the propagation of Islam was widely
documented by Arab, Persian, European and Chinese travelers of the ninth
century. The current population of Myanmar Muslims are the descendants of Arabs,
Persians, Turks, Moors, Indian-Muslims, Pakistanis, Pathans, Bengalis, Chinese
Muslims and Malays who settled and intermarried with the local Burmese
population and other ethnic Burmese groups such as the Rakhine, Shan, Karen, and
Mon.Muslims arrived in Burma as travelers, adventurers, pioneers, sailors,
traders, voluntary and mercernary military personnel, and prisoners of war. Some
were reported to have taken refuge from wars, monsoon storms, shipwrecks, and
other circumstances. Some were victims of slavery but many early Muslims were
professionals and skilled personnel such as royal advisers and administrators.
Others were port authorities, mayors, and traditional medicine men.
Persian Muslims traveled over land in search of China and arrived in northern
Burma at the border with the Chinese region of Yunnan. Their colonies were
recorded in the Chronicles of China, 860 AD. Myanmar Muslims were sometimes
called Pathi, a name believed to be derived from Persian. Bago (Pegu), Dala,
Thanlyin (Syriam), Taninthayi (Tenasserim), Mottama (Martaban), Myeik (Mergui)
and Pathein (Bassein) were full of Burmese Muslim settlers and Muslims often
outnumbered the local Burmese by large margins. In one record, Pathein was said
to be populated with Pathis. In the 13th century (Kawzar 583), Bassein was known
as "Pathi town" under the three Indian Muslim Kings. Arab merchants arrived
Martaban, Margue. Arab settlement in the present Meik’s mid-western quarters.
During the reign of the Bagan King, Narathihapate (1255-1286), in the first
Sino-Burman war, Kublai Khan’s Muslim Tatars invaded the Pagan Kingdom and
occupied the area up to Nga Saung Chan. In 1283, Colonel Nasruddin’s Turks
occupied the area up to Bamaw (Kaungsin). Turk people (Tarek) were called,
Mongol, Manchuria, Mahamaden or Panthays.
Muslims in Bagan (Pagan) Period
Byat Wi and Byat Ta
The first evidence of Muslim landing in Burma’s chronicle was recorded in the
era of the first Burmese Empire of Pagan (Bagan) 1044 AD. Two Arab Muslim
sailors of the Byat family, Byat Wi and Byat Ta, arrived at Burmese shores, near
Thaton.(There are people in Iraq, Arabia and some Surthi Northern Indian Muslims
with the same surname even at present. See Byat and Bayt) After their ship was
wrecked, they managed to use a plank to swim to the shores. They took refuge and
stayed at the monastery of the monk in Thaton. The Thaton king became afraid of
them and killed the elder brother. The younger brother managed to escape to
Bagan and took refuge to King Anawratha.
King Anawratha (1044-1077 AD) also had Myanmar Muslim army units and body
guards. When King Anawrahta attacked Martaban, capital of Mon (Talaing) King,
Mingyi Swa Saw Kae’, two Muslim officers’ army unit fiercely defended against
Muslim sailors and traders
In the chronicles of Malaysia, during the first Melacca Empire of Parameswara in
the early fifteenth century, it was recorded that the Burmese (Muslims) sailors
and traders were regularly arriving there. Those Bago (Pegu) seamen,
likely to be Muslims, were also recorded by the Arab historians of the Tenth
Century. During the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries, there were a lot of
records of Burmese Muslim traders, sailors and settlers on the whole coast of
Burma. That was from the Arakan coast, (Rakhine), Ayeyarwady delta and
Tanintharyi coast (Including all the islands along the whole coast)
During the reign of Peik Thaung Min of the early Bagan Dynasty (652-660 AD),
Arab travelers from Madagascar to China through the East Indian Islands, visited
Thaton and Martaban ports. It was recorded in Arab chronicles in 800 AD.
In the Seventeenth Century, those Muslims controlled the business and became so
powerful because of their wealth. They were even appointed as Governors of
Mergui, the Viceroys of the Province of Tenasserim, Port Authorities, Port
Governors and Shah-bandars (senior port officials).
Muslim sailors built many mosques, but those should be more appropriately called
Temples as they were equally holy to Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Chinese.
They were called Buddermokan, The so called Buddermokan on Sittway island is
claimed by believers of different faiths. ‘Buddermokan’ in memory to Badral-Din
Awliya, a saint. They are found in Akyab, Sandoway and on a small island off
Sa Nay Min Gyi King (King Sane) had two flotillas of Steam-ships, named Alarhee
and Selamat, both are Arabic Islamic names. In 1711, Myanmar Missionary was sent
to Mogul King Shah Alam. They used the Alarhee Ship and the captain was an Arab.
Muslim prisoners of war
When Tabinshwehti, TaungooKing (1530-50 AD) attacked Hanthawaddy, Muslim
soldiers were helping Mons with artillery. Ava king Anaukpetlun captured
Thanlyin or Syriam in 1613 and crucified the rebel Nat Shin Naung, and
Portuguese mercenary Philip de Brito. The Indian Muslim mercenaries and five
battle ships were captured. Muslim prisoners of wars were settled at the north
of Shwebo in Myedu, Sagaing, Yamethin and Kyaukse.
King Thalun (1629-1648), the successor of Anaukpetlun, settled those Muslims at
Shwebo, Sagaing and Kyaukse. Muslim prisoners of war were settled in upper
Myanmar by successive Burmese kings. Myae Du near Shwebo was one of the sites.
Muslim prisoners from Bago during 1539-1599 AD were the first settlers.
Tabinshwehti brought back the Muslim prisoners, after attacking Arakan in 1546
and 1549 AD.
King Alaungpaya attacked Assam and Manipur of India and brought back more
Muslims to settle in Burma. These Muslims later assimilated to form the core of
King Sane (Sa Nay Min Gyi) brought back several thousand Muslim prisoners of war
from Sandoway and settled in Myedu in 1707 AD. Next year few thousands more were
settled in those places and Taungoo. 3000 Muslims from Arakan took refuge under
King Sane in 1698-1714. They were divided and settled in Taungoo, Yamethin ,
Nyaung Yan, Yin Taw, Meiktila, Pin Tale, Tabet Swe, Bawdi, Syi Tha, Syi Puttra,
Myae du and Depayin. This Royal decree was copied from the Amarapura Royal
Library in 1801 by Kyauk Ta Lone Bo.
During the rule of King Bagyidaw (1819-37), Maha Bandula conquered Assam and
brought back 40,000 prisoners of war. About half of them were likely to be
Muslims.Maha Bandula and Burmese Army’s war at Ramu and Pan War were famous.
Burmese captured one big cannon, 200 firearms, mixed Sepoy Indians. 200 Muslims
amongst them were relocated at the south of Amarapura, that is Myittha River’s
When the famous Raza Dirit attacked and conquered Dagon (Yangon), Muslim
soldiers defended from the Burmese side and Raza Dirit also had to use the help
of Muslim sailors.
The army of King Anawratha (eleven century) already boasted Indian units and
bodyguards, Muslims apparently among them. When Tabinshwehti attacked Martaban
in 1541 AD, many Muslims resisted strongly. When Bayinnaung successfully
conquered Ayuthaya (Thailand) in 1568-1569 AD, he used the help of Muslim
artillerymen. King Alaungpaya 1752-1760 AD conquered Syrim. Muslim prisoners of
war were forced to serve in his army.
Pagan Min (1846-1853 AD) appointed U Shwe Oh, a Burmese Muslim, as the Governor
of the Capital city, Amarapura. His personal secretary U Paing (also a Burmese
Muslim) donated a two mile long bridge, made of teakwood across the Taung Tha
Man Lake. In 1850, the Governor of Bagan was also said to be a Muslim. Burmese
kings employed a lot of Muslims in his inner circle: Royal bodyguards, eunuchs,
couriers, interpreters and advisers.
Muslims in Konbaung Dynasty
Muslims in Amarapura
Muslims in Amarapura were about 20,000 families, at the time of Innwa (Ava)
kingdom (1855 AD). Most of them were Sunni Muslims.
During the Konbaung dynasty Alaungpaya’s attack of Mons near Pyay, the Mon
warrior Talapan was assisted by Muslim soldiers. Because of their artillery
fire, a lot of Burmese soldiers were wounded and died.
In 1755 Alaungpaya conquered Dagon and renamed it Yangon (meaning 'The End of
Strife'). The Mon soldiers surrendered and four Muslim rich men also surrendered
with the expensive presents, ammunitions and four warships. Although Yangon was
conquered, there were more battles to fight with the Mons. So Alaungpaya
rearranged the army. Pyre Mamet was one of the “Thwe Thauk Gyi” assigned to
serve as the Royal Bodyguard. Alaungpaya attacked Thanlyin or Syriam, and many
Muslim artillery men were captured. Alaungpaya captured four warships and Muslim
soldiers. They were later allowed to serve him.On the page 203 of the Twin Thin
Teik Win’s Chronicles of Alaungpaya’s battles, it was recorded as only three
After Alaungpaya captured Pegu, and at the parade, those Pathi Muslim soldiers
were allowed to march with their traditional uniforms.Four hundred Pathi Indian
soldiers participated in the Royal Salute March.
King Bodawpaya Bodaw U Wine (Padon Mayor, Padon Min) (1781-1819) of the Konbaung
Dynasty founded Amarapura as his new capital in 1783. He was the first Burmese
King who recognized his Muslim subjects officially by the following Royal
decree. He appointed Abid Shah Hussaini and assistants, Nga Shwe Lu and Nga Shwe
Aye to decide and give judgment regarding the conflicts and problems amongst his
Burmese Muslim subjects. Abid Shah Hussaini burial place was well known as a
shrine in Amarapura Lin Zin Gone Darga.
Before the Ramu and Pan War battles, Captain Nay Myo Gone Narrat Khan Sab Bo’s
70 Cavalry (horse) Regiment's marching among the Burmese army, was watched by
Maha Bandula.Burmese Muslim Horsemen were famous in that Khan Sab Bo’s 70
Cavalry (horse) Regiment. Khan Sab Bo’s name was Abdul Karim Khan and was the
father of the Captain Wali Khan, who lead the famous Wali Khan Cavalry Regiment
during King Mindon and King Thibaw.
Khan Sab Bo was sent as an Ambassador to Indo China by Bagyidaw. During
Bagyidaw’s reign, in 1824, Gaw Taut Pallin battle was famous. British used
10,000 soldiers but were defeated. During that battle Khan Sab Bo’s 100 horsemen
fought vigorously and bravely.More than 1300 loyal brave Kala Pyo Muslims (means
young Indian soldiers) were awarded with colourful velvety uniforms.
When the Konbaung Dynasty’s 8th Tharrawaddy Min (King) marched on Okkalapa, more
than 100 Pathi Muslim Indian cannoneers took part. There are also a lot of
Muslim soldiers in other parts of the Tharrawaddy Min’s army.
But during the Konbaung Dynasty’s 9th Pagan Min (1846-52), there was a blemish
in the Muslims’ history. The Royal Capital Amarapura’s Mayor Bai Sab and his
clerk U Pain were arrested and sentenced to death.
During the Pagan Min reign, the Mindon Prince and brother Prince Ka Naung ran
away with their servants to Shwebo and started a rebellion. U Bo and U Yuet were
the two Muslims who accompanied the princes. Some Kala Pyo Burmese Muslim
artillery soldiers followed them.U Boe later built and donated the June Mosque,
which is still maintained in 27th Street, Mandalay. U Yuet became the Royal
Chief Chef. Regent Prince Ka Naung sent scholars to study abroad. Malar Mon U
Pwint was a Burmese Muslim sent to study explosives. He became the Yan Chet won
or Minister of explosives.In the Royal Defence Army, many cannoneers were Kindar
Kala Pyos and Myedu Muslims.
In 1853 King Mindon held a donation ceremony. He ordered to prepare halal food
for his Muslim soldiers from Akbart Horse Cavalry, Wali Khan Horse Cavalry,
Manipur Horse Cavalry and Sar Tho Horse Cavalry, altogether about 700 of them.U
Soe was the Royal tailor of King Mindon.Kabul Maulavi was appointed an Islamic
Judge by King Mindon to decide according to the Islamic rules and customs on
Muslim affairs.Captain Min Htin Min Yazar’s 400 Muslims participated to clear
the land for building a new Mandalay city.Burmese Muslims were given specific
quarters to settle in the new city of Mandalay.
West Kone Yoe Central Mosque in MandalayIn those quarters, lands for 20 Mosques
were allocated outside the Palace wall.
Sigaing dan Mosque
Kone Yoe Mosque
Taung Balu Mosque
Wali Khan Mosque
Kala Pyo Mosque
Seven lots of lands for Setkyer Ngwezin
King Mindon donated his palace teak pillars to build a mosque at North Obo in
central Mandalay. (The pillars which failed to place properly at the exact time
given by astrologers.)
The broadminded King Mindon also permitted a mosque to be built on the granted
site for the Panthays (Burmese Chinese Muslims) Photos of Mandalay Panthay
Inside the Palace wall, for the Royal Body Guards, King Mindon himself donated
and started the building of the Mosque by laying the Gold foundation at the
South-eastern part of the Palace located near the present Independent Monument.
This Mosque was called the Shwe Pannet Mosque. That mosque was destroyed by the
British to build the Polo playground.
King Mindon (1853-78) donated the rest house in Mecca for his Muslim subjects
performing Hajj. Nay Myo Gonna Khalifa U Pho Mya and Haji U Swe Baw were ordered
to supervise the building. The Kind donated the balance needed to complete the
building which was started with the donations from the Burmese Muslims. This was
recorded in the Myaedu Mosque Imam U Shwe Taung’s poems.
Muslim Mogul Emperor of India
The last Muslim Mogul Emperor of India, Abu Za’far Saraj al-Din Bahadur Shah and
his family members and some followers were exiled to Yangon, Myanmar. He died in
Yangon and was buried on 11 July 1862.
After the British took over the whole of Burma, all sub groups of
Burmese-Muslims formed numerous organizations, active in social welfare and
religious affairs. The population of Muslims in Myanmar increased during the
British rule of Burma as a result of new waves of Indian Muslim immigration.
This sharply declined in the years following 1941 as a result of the Indo-Burman
Immigration agreement,and was officially stopped following Burma's (Myanmar)
independence on 4 January 1948.
Mosques in Yangon
1.Bengali Sunne Jameh Mosque
The Bengali Sunne Jameh Mosque in Yangon (Rangoon) is located on Sule Pagoda
Road. This mosque showcases distinct features of Islamic architecture like the
dome and minarets. It was built by the largely Muslim Indian population that
came to Burma during the British colonial era.
Surtee mosque is situated in Shwe Bontha Street (previously called Mogul Street)
and is one of the oldest mosques in Yangon. It was established in 1871. The
mosque displays architecture that is similar to the style of Moghul mosques in
India. Most people who pray in this mosque are Surtees, who descended from
traders and merchants from villages and towns in and around the Surat district
of India (those towns being, Rander, Surat, Variao, Barbodhan). Most weddings
that take place in this mosque are those of people with Surtee heritage. The
people who attend the mosque share a common culture and practice the Sunni
Hanfia form of Islam. The mosque is undergoing renovations to preserve its
historic character, the basic architecture has never changed. The charity and
donations office is located on 28th Yangon. Donations are always welcome.
3.Rakine Jamae Mosque(Arakan Mosque)
Rakine Jame Mosque is situated in Yangon. It is located in 130th Street in
Mingalar Townyunt Township. It is one of the biggest mosques in Yangon. The
mosque was built at the time of Burmese King Dynasty. The exact time is still
unknown. Rakine Mosque was established by the people(Arakans) who came from
Rakhine state (a state of Myanmar). These people gave the name of the mosque as
Arakan Mosque. However this name was changed into Rakhine Mosque.
This mosque is situated on Bo Aung Kyaw Street (previously Spark Street).
Located in Botataung township, the mosque is a new mosque, constructed in the
last 50 years. People from all Islamic denominations attend this mosque for
prayers. This mosque is fully air conditioned.
This mosque was built after the Surtee Mosque, it is located on Maha Bandoola
Street (previously called Dalhousie Street), Yangon. It has similar architecture
to mosques in India. Many worshippers of this mosque originated from Madras in
the south of India.
Islam, mainly of the Sunni sect, is practiced by 4% of the population according
to the government census. However, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2006
international religious freedom report, the country's non-Buddhist populations
were underestimated in the census. Muslim leaders estimate that as much as 20%
of the population may be Muslim.
Various groups of Myanmar Muslims
Muslims are spread across the country in small communities. The Indian-descended
Muslims live mainly in Rangoon. See Burmese Indian Muslims.
The Rohingya are a minority Muslim ethnic group in Northern Rakhine State,
Western Burma. The Rohingya population is mostly concentrated in five northern
townships of Rakhine State (formerly known as Arakan): Maungdaw, Buthidaung,
Rathedaung, Akyab, Sandway, Tongo, Shokepro, Rashong Island and Kyauktaw.
Panthay (Burmese Chinese Muslims).
Muslims of Malay ancestry in Kawthaung. People of Malay ancestry are locally
called Pashu regardless of religion.
Anti Muslim riot in 1938
There was another anti Muslim riot in 1938, while still under British rule. The
real basic hidden agenda was aimed at the British Government, but the Burmese
dared not show this openly. The growing Nationalistic sentiments fanned by the
local media disguised as anti Muslim to avoid the early detection and notice was
followed by the full blown force of mighty British government machinery.
Throughout the Burmese struggles against British rule, all the political issues,
movements, meetings, demonstrations, riots, rebellions and even the revolutions
were instigated, inspired, influenced and led by newspapers.
Burma for Burmese Campaign
Burmese started the Burma for Burmese only Campaign, then marched to the Muslim
(Surti) Bazaar. While the Indian Police broke the violent demonstration, three
monks were hurt. Burmese newspapers used the pictures of Indian police attacking
the Buddhist monks to further incite the spread of riots. Muslim properties:
shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burnt to ashes. They
assaulted and even massacred the Muslims. It spread to all over Burma and
recorded that 113 mosques were damaged.
The BMC, Burma Muslim Congress was founded almost at the same time with the
AFPFL, Anti-Fascist Peoples’ Freedom Party of General Aung San and U Nu before
World War Two.
Prime Minister U Nu, just few months after independence of Burma, requested the
Burma Muslim Congress to resign its membership from AFPFL. In response to that U
Khin Maung Lat, the new President of BMC decided to discontinue the Islamic
Religious activities of the BMC and rejoined the AFPFL. U Nu removed the Burma
Muslim Congress from AFPFL on 30 September 1956. BMC was asked to dissolve since
1955. Later U Nu decreed Buddhism as the state religion of Burma against the
will of the ethnic minorities and various religious organizations including
West Kone Yoe Central Mosque in Mandalay
Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque, Yangon
Surti Mosque in Yangon
Burma - Hpa An Mosque
Islamic Centers and Organizations
University Muslim Association, Universities and Institutes, Mandalay, Mandalay,
Religious Affairs Council, Rangoon
University Muslim Students Assosiation, Moulmein, Mon State
MUSLIM RELIGIOUS FUND TRUST, Rangoon, MYANMAR
Sunni Jama Masjid, Moulmein, Mon
Phone: 95-57- 25015
Group(Asian Garment), Yangon, Yangon
Phone: 65 81351884
MASJID, Rangoon, BURMA
Chowdry Mosque, Yangon, Yangon
KAUSARIL ISLAMIA, Mandalay, Myanmar
Pipe&Pump Supplies Trading, Mandalay, Myanmar
Chowdry Mosque, Yangon
Boyanpyay Masjid, Rangoon
KHAN MOSQUE, Rangoon
Jamae Mosque, Rangoon
Sunni Jama Masjid, Moulmein
Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), Akyab
MUSLIM RELIGIOUS FUND TRUST, Rangoon
Certification Committee ( IRAC ), Rangoon
Myanmar Students Association, Rangoon
Religious Affairs Council, Rangoon
al-Tullab al-Muslimeen, Arakan, Akyab
University Muslim Students Assosiation, Moulmein
Muslim Information Centre, Rangoon
Banner of Islam, Rangoon
University Muslim Association, Universities and Institutes, Mandalay, Mandalay
الإيواء الخيرية, Buthedaung
KAUSARIL ISLAMIA, Mandalay
Khilliyah Hafizul Quran, Hmawbi
معين الإسلام, Buthedaung
الإسلامية معارف العلوم، علي شنغ, Buthedaung
الإسلامية العالية بوتهيدنغ, Buthedaung
Muslim Owned Business
Group(Asian Garment), Yangon
Hardware Store, Taunggyi
Pipe&Pump Supplies Trading, Mandalay
ROSE (COMPUTER), Rangoon
Islam in xx (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_xx , September, 2008).
Info please (
, September, 2008).
Islam Finder (
World Religions Statistics (
http://www.adherents.com/adhloc/xx , September, 2008).
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in xx,