On 21 August the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw (Bhante Ashin Nyanissara) addressed the vising US commission on International Religious Freedom at the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy in Sagaing, Burma. Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw is one of the most prominent and revered Buddhist monks in Burma. After giving a personal reflection of the history of the various world religions, and commenting on how they have existed peacefully throughout history the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw then gives his views on Islam. I have copied the entire speech here without my own comments. Many would regard this as hate speech. It must be stressed that these are the words of a very prominent Buddhist monk.
For those wishing to understand the reasons for religious conflict in Southeast Asia this speech could provide some strong clues.
There are six major Religions in the world today. Since Human beings came on Earth, people worshipped the Sun, the Moon and various deities. They also sought refuge in them on the basis of fear. It was called a primitive religion. Most of scholars stated that horror initiated the religions of those days. The Buddha also clearly said that the idea and concept of religions originated from fear. Therefore every religion has full responsibility for the removal of fear which is sticking on the mind of people. But, on the contrary, it is regrettable that a fearful religion and its followers emerged in the world. After the primitive religions there appeared Hinduism. And afterwards, Jainism also came out on the Land where Hinduism was being flourished. Forty years after the emergence of Jainism, there appeared Buddhism also. Buddhism appeared on the birth place of Hinduism and Jainism and peacefully coexisted with them for ages. There was no traceable history of bloodshed and conflict among them. Also there was no violence and quarrel even on the statement issued by the Hindus saying that the Buddha was an incarnation of God Vishnu. We had only oral and written arguments. Six hundred years after the Buddha, Jesus Christ appeared in the World. In the ten commandments of Christianity we find many similarities with Buddhism in the field of Morality and Noble practice. Christian missions tried to flourish their faith when they came to the East Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Korea and Japan. The people of those countries were non-Christians. But, even after the arrival of Christianity also there was peaceful coexistence between Christians and non-Christians. No history of conflict can be traced to any side. Because all the Hindus, Janis and Christians are walking together on the common platform of their respective teachings, that is Morality, Loving-kindness and compassion. The religion, founded based on Loving-kindness and compassion, has no conflict and it does only social welfare services like Health, Education and other social infrastructures.
In Myanmar, many Christians converted to Buddhism in the past as well as at the present. They did it not because they were forced by the Buddhists. Similarly, many of Buddhists also converted to Christian faith. No single Christian threatened them to do so. They did it of their own free will. Every religion has and should have freedom of worship and freedom of belief. Look at the Crusade that prolonged about forty years. It was recorded in the history of the world.
We have to note that the beginning of conflict is aggressiveness and extremism either in the field of religion or that of politics. Today, in Iraq, the Islamic extremists are forcing ancient Zoroastrians to change their faith into Islam. They even threatened them to kill if their demand is not met. In Africa, a Muslim woman was given the death sentence just because she has converted to Christianity. Therefore, we, the East Asian Buddhist countries are living in constant daily fear of falling under the sword of the Islamic extremists. As we are lacking power and influence, we cannot compete against with the rapid growth of Islamic world.
There was a recorded history that in the thirteenth century A.D, a Muslim army marched from Turkey through India and destroyed Pala Buddhist dynasty and converted it into Islamic state. Pala Buddhist dynasty was none other than present Bangladesh. In the south of Philippine, the Islamic extremists revolted against the government for twenty years. Today, they established a Muslim state there. The Islamic extremists are holding weapons in the south of Thailand to make it a separate Muslim state.
Every religion, according to me, should perform its activities only for the good and welfare of the people. But, today, Islamic extremists are trying to establish Islamic states by waging war against non-Muslims. It is regrettable that they are performing the holy war (Jihad) on the name of God.
Myanmar regained its independence from British in 1948. They colonized Myanmar for nearly hundred years. Many Africans were imported as slaves when the United States of America was established. In the same way, the English rulers illegally imported labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for the hard labour during their rule.
There is also another bad consequence caused by English colonial rule. During hundred years of British rule, Burmese nationals were not formed as an army. But it was ridiculous that the English rulers administered Myanmar forming different groups of indigenous minorities as an army. When the British rulers went back to England, the minority groups revolted against the Burmese government. We cannot solve those problems until today. These are the natural sufferings faced by the colonial countries.
There is one more important thing that during the British colonial rule, many illegal immigrants from Bangladesh entered into the Rakhine state. In 1948-49, by the name of Mujtahid, those illegal immigrants revolted against Burmese army. Their intention was to establish separate Muslim state. Burmese army had to confront the Islamic Mujahidins. Today, they neither claim themselves as Bangalis nor claim Mujahidins. But, claiming themselves as Rohingars, they are trying to demand a separate home land. They also burned their houses by themselves as if it was done by Burmese Buddhists. We cannot compete with the Islamic world which is the second most powerful and wealthy. Islamic countries occupy the second largest portion even in the United Nations.
The mass media of today is also overwhelmed by the power of money. Most of mass communications such as radios and televisions are controlled by the Islamic world which has sound economy. As we are unable to fight against such a powerful media, the world is not ready either to believe or accept whatever we said. But, we were deafened by the loud explosion of the whole world when the Islamic world says something bad about Myanmar. It was the power of Islamic Medias that made the image and reputation of Myanmar bad. Therefore, we, as the Buddha taught, have determined to objectively care and protect our country and our nationality avoiding two extremes: favour and fear.
Honorable gentlemen – in conclusion, I would like to say that Myanmar is facing various problems and difficulties. Because it was under the colonial rule for nearly hundred years and even after the independence, it was fighting civil and communal war for nearly sixty years. Many organizations from abroad came to Myanmar with the intention of solving such problems. But, instead of solving it, we found that they sometimes made the situation worse and worse. Therefore I would like to request you to find a better solution for such problems. The next one, what I would like to say is that the Myanmar government is now trying to establish internal peace and stability with the intention of ceasing civil war and communal violence. At this crucial Juncture, some religious extremists are frustrating with provocative statements and actions. I would like to request you to give your hands in the process of solving problems and conflicts. A methodical approach is essential for the peace process. It is also necessary not to make things from bad to worse and more complicated. As devout Buddhists, we also promise that we are going to solve these problems without violence and we will do it firmly standing on the teaching of the Buddha, that is tolerance, forgiveness, serving society, sacrifice for others and rationality.
The entire speech is available here.
And in Burmese here.
The preliminary remarks by the United States Commission on Religious Freedom, following their 5 day visit to Burma is available to read.
Thanks to Dr. Maung Zarni who shared much of this material online.