Rohingya Identity

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U Kyaw Min
RB History
August 11, 2014
Today Arakanese Muslim calls themselves Rohingya or Roewengya. —- writers and poets appeared among the Arakanese Muslims, especially during fifteenth to eighteenth centuries; and there were even some Muslim court poets at the courts of Arakan King’s. (see in chapter four). These poets and writers wrote in Persian and Arabic or in the mixed Language, Rohingya, which they developed among themselves and which was a mixture of Arabia, Bengali, Urdu, and Arakanese. This language is not as widespread today as it was in the past and it has been largely replaced by Burmese and Arakanese. The Muslim artists then also developed the art of calligraphy. Some manuscripts have been preserved but have not yet been scientifically examined. – – – The Muslims who came to Arakan brought with them Arab, Indian, and especially Bengali music and musical instruments. Persian song is sung by Arakanese Muslims to this day. That is how the Rohingyas preserved their own heritage from the impact of the Buddhist environment not only as far as their religion is concerned but also in some aspects of their culture.[1]
As human society developed, identity and ethnicity developed too. Identity is not static, but dynamic. In course of time many new identity of ethnicities grew up. Some even changed their ethnic names which we can observe in our country’s demography. Rohingya identity developed through the interaction of historical processes. It is the product of history, not novel identities forged by a group as being portrayed by some biased historians. No historian can say Rohingya speak Bengali, but just a type of Bengali just like Rakhine is a type of Burma language. Cultural affinity alone cannot tie together two geographically separate ethnic people. Political, geo graphical and economic life of people are main factures that lead to separate identity. Many Myanmar ethnic peoples changed their ethnic names in course of times.
In the last chapters we can see Muslims and their cultural influence in Arakan to a large extent. Mostly they are referred as Muslims. Muslim is not a race or an ethnic people. So to fill the need of time, this Muslims lately began to be called as Rohingya.
In his famous book “Burma in revolt: opium and insurgency since 1948”, Bertil litner described the Muslims of Rakhine as another hybrid race which much later was to become known as Rohingya”[2]
One well known historian is trying to identify Rohingya as Bengali by pointing out British time Bengali infiltration was not only in Rakhine but also in Myanmar side; and there are Bengali Mosques in Yangon. What we must realize is Rohingyas, despite their some affinity with some aspect of Bengali, they were in Arakan before British time. They are not British time immigrants. Their Mosques, one in Aung San Football stadium compound and another in Piniegong ward, Yangon were built before British time and are known as Rakhine Bali(Mosques) These mosques were rewarded by king Bagyi daw to his Arakan die-hard army unit, [See: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2003]
Myanmar specialist Martin Smith in his “Insurgency: the politics of ethnicity, 1995, said; Rohingya had become increasingly popular in recent years.
To those writers who want to relate Rohingya’s root to Bengali and who want to say Rohingya is not an ethnic name but a geographic locator, I would like to ask where the ethnic root of all Myanmar people come. Almost all Myanmar people have their origin somewhere out of the country.
Professor David Stein Berg presents; the people that call themselves Rohingya, as an unrecognized cultural minority that has emerged in a space with “traditionally undefined frontiers” and heavily Muslims and culturally related population.[Stein Berg; Burma, what everyone need to know, Oxford, 2010, P.22]
Egretean and Jagan explained that the term Rohingya is the name under which the local population had been known since 1950. (Egretean and Jagan, soldiers and diplomacy in Burma; P.132)
Jaeques P. Leider, the renowned supporter of Rakhine version of Rakhine history writes:
“Francis Hamilton is one of the most qualified persons to have knowledge on Rakhine related issues in that time. What we learned from him on the one hand that there was a Muslim community in Rakhine at the other hand that both Hindus and Muslims were among those hundreds or thousands of Rakhines who had been deported and resettled in upper Myanmar. The Muslims spoke an Indian language of their own in which they call themselves Rohingya to state the place where they are from. – – – As many Muslims from Rakhine had also fled the kingdom around the time Hamilton visited the areas, there is at least a great likely hood that Hamilton could have heard the name “Rooinga” from them. [J. Leider; Rohingya the name , the movement 2014, P-10]
The most authentic evidence is the report of Advisory commission on the issue of promoting Arakan into a state. That commission was formed on 29, April 1960, by the office of prime minister. It composed of most senior veteran independence activists and the highest ranking official post holders. They are:
1. Dr. Ba Oo, Ex-Union President — Chairman
2. Dr. U Thein Maung,  Ex-Judicial Minister – Member
3. U Tin Ex-Chairman of Pyithu Luttaw, Speaker – Member
4. U Ohn Phe, Ex-Chief Justice – Member
5. U Chit Thaung, Ex-Minister – Member
In the commission report on 30th December 1960, It is said Rohingya from Mayu district also object to the notion of Rakhine state hood. Thus this commission recognized Rohingya (See 1958- 62 Myanmar politics vol. III by U Kyaw Win +3, who were appointed to write true history of Myanmar by SLORC 1991, P-230)
After the British occupation of Rakhine in 1825 and the Yandaps treaty of 1826, many, if not most people from Rakhine who had taken refuge in the district of Chittagong returned to Rakhine. [J. Leider 20-14] Rakhine were said to be returnees.
But Muslim returnees were said to be immigrants.
Abdul Mabood khan says that people from the district of Chittagong even today use that term Rohingya to mean the Arakanese Muslim. (The Maghs Buddhist community in Bengla Desh. P-44)
J. Leider further writes:
Islamic cultural influence on the Rakhine court came first from the sultanate of Bengal in the 15th century as shown by minting of coins during Mrauk-U’s golden age in the 17th century. Chittagong was an economic pillar of the kingdom and Muslims formed a large part of the king’s subjects and Muslim traders competed with Portuguese and Dutch traders. [Here in 17th century Chittagong fell into the hand of Mughal. The large Muslim subjects mentioned above, therefore, must be Muslim in Rakhine proper.] When Bengal fell into the hands of Mughal in 1567, soldiers who fought against the Mughal apparently took service at the court of Rakhine. (J. Leider 2014, P.10)
These soldiers were mostly Afghans. Their presence in Rakhine society had a deep impact to change the social structure of native Muslims: the Rohingyas.
Dr. J. Leider who again mentioned, “There is absolutely no doubt about the existence of urban and rural Muslim communities who were living inside the kingdom that become part of Myanmar in 1785. [J.leider the name, the movement 2014, P.10] The agony of false is, still Rakhine politicians blindly say “today’s Muslims in Rakhine are all illegal immigrants. They all should be subject to verification and naturalization”.
He further emphasized “a literate Muslim community also existed in Mrauk-U”.
Where this Muslims gone? They were there for many centuries. Many generations passed. Still can you say there is not social, cultural change among them? In fact they evolved into a distinct community. Their root is not from the captives deported by Arakan fleet in sixteen to eighteenth centuries as highlighted by Dr. J. P. Leider. There were large Muslim settlements before that.
We can say this distinctive community was there even before Mrauk-U period. Here Morice Collis in collaboration with San Shwe Bu wrote, “Arakan being adjacent to Bengal their might have been a considerable number of Muslim population in it before Mrauk-U age. [This Muslim’s ethnic name today is Rohingya.] (Journal of Burma research society Vol.15, 1925, P.33)
There was a big Muslim community part of which was deported by Bodow Phaya’s army to Amarapura. The king appointed Abhishah Husseine, the head of Arakan Muslims as the head of all the Muslim of Myanmar. (see ThanTun, the royal order of Burma, Kyoto centre for South East Asian study 1983-90, Vol 6, also J.leider, the Rohingya the name – – – 2014, P.12)
J. Leider writes:
“Beyond the peculiar insight into cultural broker ship of both local Muslim teachers and Buddhist monks, who translated the manuscripts also, throw light on the intellectual network of Muslim that testify to a shared Muslim culture and identity that spanned the north east coast of the Bay of Bengal until the colonial period. – – – British interacted with the population through local Muslim interpreters in the early colonial time and obtained historical information in the country through local Muslims. (J. Leider, 2014, P.11)
University distance education first year current geography text book contains, “ In the northern Rakhine state close to the border with Bangla Desh at Buthidaung and Maung Daw townships are where the Rohingya and Shittogonians live; These minority ethnic groups had settled in the border regions Since early days”. Yangon University of Distance Education, first year, textbook of Geography of Myanmar, Module No. Geology, Code No.14.B.Pg.61.
In post-independence period – we have a lot of official record testifying Rohingya identity. First Myanmar newspaper, encyclopedia, journals, periodicals including the one issued by the defense ministry had wide publicity of Rohingya’s indigenous status.
Second there were registrations of university Rohingya student organization, Rohingya daily newspaper, Rohingya labor union.
Thirdly 1961 September 15 Myanmar cabinet had decided to relay four additional ethnic broadcasting program from Burma broadcasting service. Those are Rohingya, Pa-Oo, Lah-ho and Mon languages (see BBS 30th Anniversary Publication journal by U Kyaw Nyint P-71)
Fourthly Muslims in north Arakan, were issued family registrar cards with Rohingya as their race. Returnee from B.D Camps registration cards also bear the same identity. Most interesting is in the latest NaSaKa yearly verification endorsements on family registration card also ratify Rohingya’s identity. [see. Copies in the appendices]
Again our birth certificates, departmental service identity cards including defense ministry’s bear the name Rohingya. Some are attached here as documents. See at the end in the appendices.
Note: NaSaKa = Frontier Immigration Check Task Force.
[1] Moshe Yegar, 1972, P.25
[2] Litner Bertil, Burma in revolt — Chiang Mai: Silk worm Books 1994.
U Kyaw Min is Chairman of Democracy and Human Rights Party.

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