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During Ramadan, Mandalay Muslims stay away from mosques

(Photo: Steve Tickner)

By Khin Su Wai
July 9, 2014

Many of Mandalay’s Muslims are staying away from mosques – and some have even fled the city – as fear grips their community that further sectarian violence could ignite at any time.

“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.

The man said many Muslims feel defenceless against the threat posed by Buddhist mobs, particularly after authorities raided June mosque and seized makeshift weapons. State media reported that sticks and swords, as well as seemingly innocuous items like marbles, were found inside the building, which occupies a block between 27th, 28th, 81st and 82nd streets in Chan Aye Thar San township.

Five people were subsequently arrested at June mosque, police said. Police also found similar items inside other mosques, including Ko Yan Taw mosque, which is also in Chan Aye Thar San township.

The man, who prays at Ko Yan Taw mosque, insisted that the items had only been gathered in order to defend the lives of Muslims if there was an attack. “We cannot defend ourselves despite the threats to our lives. Now we are afraid of even holding a piece of brick,” he said.

The unrest broke out after rumours spread that a Buddhist woman had been raped by two Muslim men from a local teashop. It spread quickly through social media, prompting a crowd of hundreds to gather near the business, hurling stones and damaging property.

Clashes on the nights of July 1 and 2 left one Muslim and one Buddhist dead and almost 20 injured, according to police.

Mandalay Region Minister for Border Affairs and Security Colonel Aung Kyaw Moe said on July 3 that police were patrolling areas near mosques to prevent outbreaks of violence but had not posted security.

He said two police battalions along with constabulary police are ensuring security.

But the secretary of the board of trustees of Ko Yan Taw mosque insisted that Muslims should have the means to defend themselves if necessary.

“We are really scared and we dare not go outside,” 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.”

He said Muslim families who were living inside the compound of the mosque had left Mandalay immediately after the violence broke out.

“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 told The Myanmar Times from Pyin Oo Lwin.

On the outskirts of Mandalay, however, mosques remain mostly open and there are even signs of interfaith cooperation.

“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.

Despite the signs of cooperation, the online rumour-mill is still a powerful force. One Muslim man, Ko Zaw Min Tun from the education centre Tip Top, blamed some extremists for attempting to portray Muslims negatively on social media.

In one case, he said a person near Tho-chan mosque, in Chan Mya Tharsi township’s Myothit ward, shouted that there was a fire while Muslims were inside praying.

“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,’” he said.

A cameraman took photos that were later posted on Facebook. Ko Zaw Min Tun said area residents “reacted well”, seizing the man who had yelled that there was a fire. He said the man later claimed to be working for “Muslim media”.

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