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Muslims in Burma in the Days of Kings

By Aman Ullah
Muslim seamen first reached Burma in the ninth century. Southern Burma, or more exactly, the coastal regions of Arakan, the Delta of the River Irrawaddy, Pegu, and Tenasserim, was known to the Muslim sailors of that period who traded in the eastern waters. There were Muslims in Burma in the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.
The descendants of these Muslim traders formed the original nucleus of the “Burman Muslim” community which, in the days of the Burmese Kingdom. As the years passed, the number of Muslims in Burma increased, partly as a result of the growing numbers of descendants from mixed marriages and partly because of the arrival of growing numbers of Muslim traders and adventurers.
Beginning in the 7th century, Arab travelers came from Madagascar travelling to China through the East Indian Islands, stopping in Thaton and Martaban. During Peik Thaung Min (early Bagan dynasty, 652-660 AD), Arab travelers from Madagascar to China through East Indian Islands, visited Thaton and Martaban ports. It was recorded in Arab chronicles in 800 AD. [1]
Before the 17th. century, the East India British company had to trade with Burma through the Muslim merchants who made the yearly excursion from the Coromandel Coast to Syriam at the end of wet monsoon. From those Muslim merchants, company obtained from Burma things like Martaban Jars, small supply of gold, copper, tin, benzoin and lac. [2]
In the 17th century, those Muslims controlled the business and became powerful because of their wealth. They were even appointed as governors of Mergui, viceroys of Tenasserim, port governors and Shah-bandars (senior port officials).[1][3][4] 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”[5][6][7] in memory of Badral-Din Awliya. They are found in Akyab, Sandoway and on a small island off Mergui.[8]
King Sane (Sa Nay Min Gyi)[10][11] brought several thousand Muslim prisoners of war from Sandoway and settled in Myedu in 1707 AD. Three thousand Muslims from Arakan took refuge under King Sane in 1698–1714. They were divided and settled in Taungoo, Yamethin, Nyaung Yan, Yin Daw, Meiktila, Pin Dale, Tabet Swe’, Bhodhii, Syi Tha, Siputtara, Myae du and Depayin.[12]Moreover, over 3,000 Muslims who migrated from Arakan had been disposed of in the military service of the king in 1709 AD. These Muslim settlements are in there but of course much increased in the population.[11]
Sa Nay Min Gyi King (King Sane’) of Ava (1698-1714) had two flotillas, named “Elahee” and “Selamat”, both are Arabic Islamic names. These ships were recorded to have called at Forte St. George. These ships, perhaps, were built by the Arab ship builders at Syriam. In 1711, the missionaries exchanged between
Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah I King Sane’. Burmese used the “Elahee” to send them to India and the captain was an Arab.[ 9]
King Alaungpaya attacked Assam and Manipur of India and brought back more Muslims to settle in Burma. These Muslims later assimilated to form core of Burmese Muslims. Earlier they were called Myedu Kala or Kala Pyo. (Kala = foreigner; Pyo = young.) During King Bagyidaw 1819-37 rule, Maha Bandula conquered Assam and brought back 40,000 prisoners of war. About half of them were likely to be Muslims. [13] Maha Bandula and Burmese Army’s war at Ramu and Pan War were famous. Burmese captured one big cannon, 200 firearms, mixed Sepoy Indian 200. Muslims amongst them were relocated at the south of Amarapura that is Myittha river’s south. [14]
At the beginning of the Konbaung dynasty, King Alaungpaya attacked Mon peoples near Pyay. The Mon warrior Talapan was assisted in the defence by Muslim soldiers. In 1755 Alaungpaya conquered Dagon and renamed it Yangon, meaning ‘The End of Strife’. The Mon soldiers surrendered, along with four Muslim rich men who surrendered with expensive presents, munitions and four warships.[15] Following this, Alaungpaya attacked Thanlyin and captured many Muslim artillery men,[16] who were later allowed to serve in his army. Alaungpaya captured four warships and Muslim soldiers.[17] After Alaungpaya captured Bago, a parade was held in which Pathi Muslim soldiers were allowed to march in their traditional uniforms.[18]
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 Royal decree, appointing specific ministers to give judgment regarding conflicts amongst his Burmese Muslim subjects. [19]
After deposing his brother following the Second Anglo-Burmese War, King Mindon Min showed favour to the Burmese Muslims. Several Muslims were giving rank in the military and civil administrations. In 1853 King Mindon held a donation ceremony in which he ordered the preparation of halal food for his 700 Muslim horse cavalry soldiers. Upon the founding of Mandalay, several quarters were granted to Muslims for settlement. Also at this time, Mindon Min allocated space for several mosques, including the Kone Yoe mosque. He also donated teak pillars from his palace for the construction of a mosque in the North Obo district of Mandalay, and began constructing of a mosque in his own palace to accommodate the Muslim members of his bodyguards. Finally, he assisted in building a rest house in Mecca for Burmese subjects performing Hajj.[20]
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 recognised 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.[21] Abid Shah Hussaini burial place was well known as a shrine in Amarapura Lin Zin Gone Darga.
Before Ramu and Pan War battles, Burmese army had a march. Among the Burmese army, Captain Nay Myo Gone Narrat Mayyu Khan Sab Bo’s 70 Cavalry (horse) Regiment, was watched by Maha Bandula.[22] 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, famous Wali Khan Cavalry Regiment during King Mindon and King Thibaw. Khan Sab Bo was sent as an Ambassador to Indo China by Bagyidaw.
After King Thibaw’s declaration of war on the British, the Burmese Army formed three groups to descend and defend the British attack. One of those, Taung Twingyi defence chief was Akhbat Horse Cavalry Chief, Mayor of Pin Lae Town, Minister Maha Min Htin Yar Zar. His name was U Chone when he was the Chief Clerk of Kala Pyo Army. During the Myin Kun Myin Khone Tain revolt, he carried the chief queen of Mindon on his back to safety. So he was rewarded with the Mayor position of Pin Lae Myo which was located 12 miles south of Myittha.[23]
Reference: –
1. Kyi, U (1950). Various Notable Facts in Burmese History (Thesis). Mandalay: Tri-pedaka Propagating Press.pp. 156–157
2. Early English Intercourse with Burma by D.G.E. Hall p.87
3. Yegar, Moshe (1972). The Muslims of Burma: a Study of a Minority Group. Schriftenreihe des Südasien-Instituts der Universität Heidelberg. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. ISBN 3-447-01357-5. OCLC 185556301. p. 5, ll. 22–27
4. Sir Richard C. Temple, Buddermokan, JBRS, XV, pt 1 (1925)1-33
5. Yegar (1972), p. 8, para. 1
6. Journal of the Burma Research Society 15: 1-33. the coast from Assam to Malay with the curious mosques known as Buddermokan reverenced by the Buddhists and China-men as well as Mahomedans. B. Arakan Rajsabhay Bangala Sahitya (1600 – 1700 AD) Bengali Literature in the Kings’ Court of Arakan By Dr. Muhammad Enamul Huq (M.A., Ph. D) and Sahitya-sagar Abdul Karim Sahitya Visarad Translated from Bengali by: Maung Sein Pru [4] Archived 11 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
7. Yegar (1972), p. 8
8. Early English Intercourse with Burma by D.G.E. Hall p. 201-2
9. The past account of Burmese Muslims (in Burmese) by U Po Chai, Mya Than Press, Sagaing
10. The Coming of Islam to Burma, Col Ba Shin p.68.
11. This Royal decree was copied from the Amarapura Royal Library in 1801 by Kyauk Ta Lone Bo. Shin (1961)
12. Sanʻʺ Chve (2005). Kun’ bhon’ a lvan’ [Konbaung Dynasty Royal History] (in Burmese). 1–3. Mangala ton` ññvan`, Ran` kun`: Ra praññ` Ca pe. OCLC 63241377. vol. 2, pp. 168–169
13. Sanʻʺ Chve (2005), vol. 2, p. 377
14. Let Ware Nawrattha’s Chronicles of Alaungpaya’s battles.p. 77
15. Nawrattha, p. 98.
16. Nawrattha, p. 99.
17. Sanʻʺ Chve (2005), vol. 1, pp. 136-142
18. The Royal gazette of Bodawpaya, Criminal Law Royal Decree Vol. 4, page 176.
19. MRA (2005)
20. The Royal gazette of Bodawpaya, Criminal Law Royal Decree Vol 4, page 176.
21. Sanʻʺ Chve (2005), vol. 2, p. 392
22. Myanmar Encyclopedia (1999), vol. 6, p. 434

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