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Myanmar Buddhist hardliners force subdued festivities for Muslims

Residents stand in a queue to receive meat from Muslim people during the Eid al-Adha festival in Yangon on Sept. 25. Muslims in some of Myanmar's smaller townships say pressure from Buddhist hardliners has forced low-key celebrations this year. (Photo by Phyo Hein Kyaw/AFP)

By John Zaw
September 28, 2015

In smaller townships, Eid al-Adha celebrations are understated

Muslims in Myanmar have been forced to keep celebrations of one of Islam's major feast days, Eid al-Adha, low-key, fearing reprisals from a Buddhist hardline group pressuring local governments to ban cattle slaughters that are central to the festivities.

Local authorities appear to be targeting Muslims celebrating Eid al-Adha in smaller townships such as Yamethin and Tharzi in Mandalay Division, according to Muslim community members who spoke with

"We celebrate our feast day quietly … and remind young people not to go around the town wearing nice dresses," said Aung Thein, a Muslim leader in Meikhtila in central Myanmar. "And we also have to bring meat to the town quietly after carrying out the cow's slaughter in the outskirts."

He said local members of the influential Buddhist nationalist group, Ma Ba Tha, have gone around town checking on whether cattle slaughters have taken place.

Meikhtila is no stranger to religious conflict. Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims flared into deadly violence in 2013, resulting in the deaths of 40 people, with dozens more injured.

Across the Buddhist-majority country, long-standing anti-Muslim sentiment has also triggered conflict, particularly in western Rakhine state, when violence in 2012 left more than 200 people dead and forced tens of thousands — mostly Rohingya Muslims — to flee their homes. An estimated 140,000 people in the state still live in temporary camps for displaced people.

Ma Ba Tha, or the Committee for the Protection of Race and Religion, has ratcheted up anti-Muslim rhetoric in recent months. This has raised fears that religion will be used as a political tool as the country gears up for historic elections Nov. 8 — another reason why Muslims are keen to avoid the spotlight now.

Eid al-Adha is an important celebration in Islam. The festival commemorates the story of the Prophet Abraham, also revered by Christians and Jews, who was willing to sacrifice his only son at God's command.

Traditionally, Muslims in Mandalay held public celebrations for Eid al-Adha at local mosques, where they distributed meat to needy people, according to Aung Zaw Win, a local Muslim resident.

"Now we have to do it in our homes instead," he said.

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