By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Sep 16, 2017
From the ninth century, onwards, Arab and other traders have visited the Rakhine state, formerly Arakan, on the western coast of Burma (Myanmar), and in the early days, a group of them settled there. As a result of interaction with the local population, Islam gradually spread, until a large part of the Rakhine state became Muslim.
For centuries, the Muslims of Arakan lived peacefully with the rest of Burma and had no separatist tendencies. However, when East Pakistan was formed in 1947, certain emotional Muslim leaders tried to make a separate Muslim state out of the region where the Rohingya people lived. They described their efforts as ‘self-determination’. This movement picked up pace and many extremist Muslims took an active part in it. The Myanmar central government saw these actions as revolt, as in essence, it was a movement for separation from Myanmar.
Prior to the insurgency, Rohingya Muslims had lived peacefully alongside the other people of Myanmar. But emotional speeches made by separatist leaders kindled separatism in the Rohingya. To curb their activities, the Myanmar government took tough action and stern measures against them, which, according to Rohingya leaders, were an act of ‘oppression’. The government’s response was designed to bring discipline to their country.
In 1971, when Bangladesh was formed, it gave a kind of political boost to the Rohingya leaders, who further intensified their separatist activities, due to which the Myanmar government reacted more stringently than before. This is the story of the Rohingya Muslims in brief.
When I was in Lucknow — perhaps in 1966 — one day, a Muslim scholar came to me and said he was going to Burma, and asked if I would accompany him. When I asked why, he replied that a movement for the formation of a Muslim state was going on in Myanmar and that we, too, should lend our full support to it. I strongly disagreed with his suggestion. I explained to him that people who thought like him might be trying to form a state in the name of Islam, but that such an act would only lead to strife. I told him that I disapproved of their method of proceeding, as a movement that took shape in such a manner was not truly Islamic, and could only lead to conflict and dispute. I made it clear that I could not endorse such a cause. He became angry and left. Since 1966, my opinion on the Rohingyas is only one and that is: The case of the Rohingya Muslims is not one of ‘oppression’, but rather, it is the outcome of ill-judged political activities instigated by unwise leaders.
If the whole picture were to be seen, one would arrive at the conclusion that the Rohingya Muslims are not victims of oppression, but are rather paying the price for their own unrealistic actions carried out under the influence of misguided leaders. Such a separatist movement would be unacceptable to any country, even if it were given the euphemistic name of ‘self-determinism’.
The solution to the problem of the Rohingya Muslims is only one — that is, they must disavow their insurgency and militant activities. They should make it known that they are a larger part of the Myanmar nation.
They should rid their hearts of separatist tendencies. I am sure that the Myanmar government would then accept them, and the whole issue would be peacefully resolved. The separatist movement has only caused a deterioration of the condition of the Rohingyas to the point of ruination, although prior to this they were living prosperously in Myanmar. Indeed, the best interests of the Rohingya Muslims lie not in wanting a separate land, but rather, in living as part of the state of Myanmar. This is true both in the religious and secular sense.
In 1934, I took admission in the Madrasa al-Islah, an Arabic seminary in Azamgarh, for my religious education. I had only one friend in this seminary, one Abdul Rashid Rangooni (he was from Burma). He was a very decent person and had a very good opinion about the Burma of his time. Judging by the impressions I received from him about the Burmese people, I would say that the blame for the later actions which were taken against the Rohingya Muslims lies not entirely with the Burmese administration, but with the unwise Rohingya leaders who fuelled violent activities in the region. In the course of this militancy, outside leaders also participated, aggravating the situation. But I personally know that the Burmese are very good people and will certainly reaccept the Rohingya Muslims wholeheartedly, provided the Rohingyas acknowledge that they were misled by separatist leaders and have now resolved to remain faithful citizens of Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims should know that, in this world, friendship and enmity are both relative terms.
If you offer friendship to another person, he, too, will definitely accept you as a friend. This natural law has been stated thus in the Quran:“Do good deed in return for bad deed and you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.” (41:34)