CAIRO – As millions of Muslims across the world rejoiced the spirituality of Ramadan, persecuted Burma Muslims are terrified to visit mosques amidst the spate of attacks they have been facing since the start of the holy month.
“I don’t know what the situation is for security of the mosques; I haven’t been to the mosque since July 2,” one Muslim man, who asked not to be named, told The Myanmar Times on Wednesday, July 9.
Violence erupted last week in Mandalay when about 300 Buddhists including 30 monks attacked a Muslim-owned teashop in the area over an alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by Muslim men.
The Buddhists, who threw stones at Muslim properties, have ransacked several Muslim-owned shops, homes, and a mosque, damaging at least three cars and injuring several residents in knife attacks.
Mandalay attacks have left two killed and 20 injured, the police revealed.
Mosques were the latest victim of the sectarian violence in Mandalay, after being abandoned by worshippers over security fears.
Several police raids of mosques have doubled the fears of Muslims, especially after seizing their makeshift weapons that Muslim use to defend their community.
“We cannot defend ourselves despite the threats to our lives. Now we are afraid of even holding a piece of brick,” said one of the Muslims prays at Ko Yan Taw mosque.
Muslim leaders insist that their community should have the right to defend itself “if necessary”.
“We are really scared and we dare not go outside,” the secretary of the board of trustees of Ko Yan Taw mosque U Khin Mg Aye said.
“We have the right to protect our children but the police took sticks from our mosques. As a result, we’ve posted three men to guard the mosque.”
After police raids of several mosques Chan Aye Thar San township, it has arrested at least five persons.
Moreover, hundreds of Muslims, who used to live in the Taw mosque compound, have fled after Buddhists attacks.
“All 58 households [between 400-500 people] left the mosque and went to Pyin Oo Lwin and Kyaukme. Some people who can afford it have now gone to Jiegao on the China-Myanmar border,” U Khin Mg Aye said.
Mosques in the northern parts of Mandalay are still frequently visited by worshippers during the holy fasting month.
“There are many Buddhist people in our ward, we all lived together for many years,” said U Khin Mg Than, an official from northern Mandalay’s Miba Zey mosque.
“Near our mosque, there is Naga monastery and Hmankin monastery. They told me to come and stay in their monasteries if anything happens,” he said.
Yet, the signs of religious coexistence in the north were tainted by anti-Muslims’ online campaigns that are led by extremist Buddhists.
In other cases, sedition is being fostered by extremists who distract Muslims while praying.
In Chan Mya Tharsi township’s Myothit ward, a person screamed that there was fire near Tho-chan mosque, forcing all Muslims to get out of the mosque.
“When our Muslims came out from the mosque [after hearing] that shouting, the person then shouted, ‘The Muslims are coming out of the mosque with weapons,” a Ko Zaw Min Tun, a Muslim man from the education centre Tip Top.
Burma’s Muslims -- largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent -- account for an estimated four percent of the roughly 60 million population.
Muslims from around the world are fasting from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan which started earlier this week.
Muslims entered Burma en masse for the first time as indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent during British colonial rule, which ended in 1948.
But despite their long history, they have never fully been integrated into the country, widely considered as foreigners.
Last week’s violence is not the first to target the religious minority in Burma.
In April 2013, more than 40 people were killed and several mosques were burnt in central Burma after a dispute between Muslims and Buddhists in Meikhtila.
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