A file image of monks holding portraits of Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing during a rally to show support to the Myanmar military in Yangon on Oct. 14, 2018. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP)
Hard-line Buddhist monks and groups of nationalists closed down Ramadan prayer sites on the outskirts of Yangon in Myanmar.
Some 100 monks led their nationalist supporters into three Muslim quarters in south Dagon township during the nights of May 14 and 15 and demanded that three temporary prayer sites be shut down.
Under pressure, Muslim leaders closed down the prayer sites but have said the sites were allowed by the Yangon Division government.
On May 16, the police chief of Yangon Division said the Muslims could still continue their prayers while saying police would provide security. However, no prayers were held at any of the sites that night, according to Muslim sources.
There are an estimated 10,000 Muslims in the township but there are no mosques.
Kyaw Nyein, secretary of the Ulama Islamic Organization, said the nationalists were not from the township and that it was a planned act.
“It is obvious that some groups who are behind those nationalists are attempting to make a religious conflict,” Kyaw Nyein said.
On the night of May 16, prominent monk Ashin Seindita, from the Asia Light Foundation in Pyin-Oo-Lwin, along with other interfaith activists met with the township’s Muslim community.
Zaw Min Latt, a Yangon-based Muslim resident, said Seindita thanked the local community for showing fortitude for what occurred.
“The monk called for patience and to show love,” said Zaw Min Latt.
Al Haj Aye Lwin, the chief convener of a Yangon-based Islamic school, said hate speech against Muslims remains a problem despite the government trying to rein in nationalist groups.
“Our Muslims have been targeted for political gain … the main intention of such political opportunists is to hurt the civilian-led government,” Aye Lwin told ucanews.com.
Hard-line Buddhist monks from the Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, known as Ma Ba Tha, encouraged anti-Muslim violence in 2012 which left more than 200 people dead and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes in Rakhine State. An estimated 120,000 people in the state still live in temporary camps for displaced people.
Known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric, the nationalist monk organization has renamed itself the Buddha Dhamma Philanthropy Foundation.
Muslims account for 4.3 percent of the population in the Buddhist-majority country, according to the 2014 census. They arrived in the ninth century and most are of Indian, Chinese or Pathi descent.
Myanmar has seen several bouts of religious violence since 2012, much of it targeting Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.