Muslim Voices in Buddhist Myanmar: A Comparative Study of Indo and Sino-Burmese Islam

Project: Research

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The aim of this proposal is an innovative one, specifically, to investigate the constructionof Muslim identity in Myanmar, something that has never been done. At a time whenrelations between various religious communities and Muslims are attracting suchscrutiny, it is remarkable that no study of this kind has ever been undertaken inMyanmar, the Southeast Asian setting in which these relations are today most fraught.The proposed project will examine Buddhist-Muslim ethno-religious diversity at theintersection of social attitudes, historical legacies and government policies incontemporary Myanmar. It will do so by capitalising on the PI’s long-term scholarlyengagement with the Buddhist and Muslim traditions of Myanmar, a country currentlyundergoing significant upheaval and transformation as it deals with change on thepolitical, economic and social frontiers. The country is also witnessing a marked rise ininstances of religious intolerance.The media and scholars in both Myanmar and the West have paid widespread attentionto the most extreme acts of violence perpetrated by Buddhists against Muslims andprovided Buddhist extremists with ample outlets in such publications as Time Magazine(July 2013) and New York Times (June 20, 2013), for their Islamophobic vitriol. But thismedia has generally neglected two longstanding, and arguably more pressing, issues: 1)the need to listen to the voices of Burmese Muslims themselves, voices that are largelyabsent from the prevailing discourse on the country’s current ethno-religious tensions,and 2) the general lack of understanding and trust between the Buddhist and Muslimcommunities and the resulting impact, not only on religious issues, but also on issuesinvolving citizenship and ethnicity. Religion, nationalism and ethnicity are importantingredients of the decades-long identity politics and conflicts of Myanmar, with BurmeseBuddhism being seen as the central source of identity. In this project, I will expand thedebate beyond the traditional focus on the role of Buddhism to address issues ofethnicity, religion and nationalism as origins of Islamophobia and violence in Myanmar.My main focus will be on the individual Muslim men and women who make up twodistinct Sunni Muslim communities in two Burmese cities to determine how theynavigate ‘being a Muslim’ in an overwhelmingly Buddhist and increasingly violentcountry and how their sense of exclusion and belonging differs on the basis of ethnicityand place of residence.


Project number9048058
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/01/166/01/20

    Research areas

  • Ethno-religious conflict,Islamophobia,Buddhist violence,Nationalism,