Latest Highlight

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Asian Tribune
October 23, 2011

Part 5: The Demography Controversy

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the population in Arakan grew to 173,000 in 1831, 248,000 in 1839, 461,136 in 1871 and 762,102 in 1901. For the total population in Arakan to grow to those numbers it would have required yearly annual growth rates of 11.59%, 7.24%, 3.46%, and 2.74% within the first 5, 13, 45 and 75 years, respectively, since 1826. Since the first two growth rates (until 1839) cannot be explained away from natural growth, one must look at huge influx or migration from outside to Arakan as the key contributor to understand the phenomena.

K.M. Saw shares the table below about the demography in Akyab (the first 4 columns).

The above table from Burma Gazeteer, Akyab District (p. 86), clearly shows that there were at least 58,000 Rohingyas, who had identified themselves as Muslims, back in 1871, challenging, thus, Saw’s disingenuous claim that they were a product of the late 19th century British immigration policy for rice cultivation, and railway construction, etc. The Muslim population in the Akyab district should not come as a surprise given the fact that soon after the annexation of Arakan by the East India Company (EIC) in 1826, Mr. Paton, the British official who was the Controller of the Civil Affairs in Arakan, prepared an official report in which he mentioned that the total population of Arakan did not exceed 100,000 of which 60,000 were Maghs (Arakanese Buddhists) and 30,000 (Rohingya) Muslims. Here again, in contrast to Saw’s devious claims, there were already 30,000 Rohingyas living inside Arakan back in 1826. They could not have been planted by the EIC.

As the other three columns in the table above show from my calculation, the Muslim population within the district, which was 21% in 1871, became 33.7% in 1911, i.e., after 40 years. During the same period, Burmese population had jumped from 1.67% to 17.4%. Is this growth reasonable for both these population groups? What could also explain the negative growth rates amongst the Arakanese and Hilly people between 1901 and 1911?

A comparison of the population data in 1871 for the Akyab District vis-à-vis the Arakan Division shows that nearly 60% of the Division’s population lived inside the Akyab District, which had transformed itself from a fishing village in 1826 to a fast-growing town. As noted by the Imperial Gazeteer of India, nearly half the Muslim population of the province lived within the Akyab District, their total number could have been well over 100,000 (or at least 97,092) in 1871, thereby constituting nearly a quarter of the total population of 461,136 (per Britannica). The Muslim proportion in 1901 and 1911 census data is close to Mr. Paton’s report, albeit nearly three-quarter of a century later!

Assuming 62% share of the total population, the Rakhine population inside Arakan could have been at least 286,010 in 1871. It would take the Muslim (Rohingya) and Buddhist (Rakhine) population to grow annually by 2.64% and 3.53%, respectively, to reach those figures of 1871.

It must, however, be pointed out that owing partly to cultural norms of being celibate and/or marrying late, the fertility rate (~ 1%) amongst Buddhists has always been lower than Muslims and Hindus. The figure of 3.53% for the Rakhine Buddhist population is simply untenable by any measure, and could not have been possible without external factors like immigration from outside the territory. On the other hand, as we shall see below, the annual growth rate of 2.64% (between 1826 and 1871) amongst the Rohingya Muslims is not unrealistic at all. Even in this age of family planning (21st century), the yearly population growth rate amongst Muslims is about 2%, and figures as high as 3% are not too uncommon.

Amongst the racist elements within the Rakhine and Burmese Buddhist communities, much fuss has been made about the so-called influx of Muslim peasants from Chittagong. Given the EIC’s prime desire to increase its coffer, it is natural that it encouraged migration to Arakan of the descendants of the former refugees who had settled in Chittagong. Jacques Leider’s research does point out that “The major interest of the East India Company in Arakan lay in the extension of rice cultivation in the Kaladan and Lemro Valleys. This plan succeeded because the scores of Bengal Muslim labourers who had been imported from Chittagong in the middle of the nineteenth century, Akyab, the new capital, had indeed become a major port of export of rice for Europe.” One can notice that Leider mentions scores, and not thousands, of these laborers from Bengal. Such a small influx obviously did not alter the size of Muslim proportion. It is also possible that these seasonal migrant workers returned to Muslim-majority Bengal.

The sudden rise in population within the first few years of British occupation strongly suggests that there were more such ‘immigrants’ from within the Arakanese Buddhist population than any other community. For instance, there were extra 73,000 individuals in Arakan just within the first five years of British occupation, suggesting very strongly that they were recent immigrants from outside, notably from Bengal. Within the next eight years, another 75,000 individuals had added to the list of which probably 60,000 had moved from other places (the remainder being natural growth). As the law and order condition inside Arakan improved, especially after the second and third Anglo-Burmese wars, many other descendants of former refugees moved into Arakan.

As can be seen from the table below the annual growth rate of 7.8% between 1871 and 1911, esp. 10% between 1901 and 1911, amongst the Burmese population cannot be explained through natural process of procreation, and must have been influenced by external factors like migration to Arakan. The positive economic environment in Akyab must have contributed to such an influx of the Burmese people moving into the district. One can also notice that many Arakanese Buddhists had moved away to other places between 1901 and 1911. Thus, it is no accident that their percentage fell to 39.52% of the population in 1911 from being 47.9% in 1901. Could they have migrated to Chittagong Division? Since the 10% increase within the Burmese community seems unreasonable, is it possible that many of the Rakhines had identified them as Burmese and not as Arakanese Buddhists? Whatever may be the real answer, suffice it to say that the huge gain within the Burmese population (56,434) and loss (21,217) within the Rakhine population in 1901-1911 cannot be explained away without considerations or possibilities of such external factors. So is the case with the Hilly and Shan peoples of Arakan.

Interestingly, while Khin Maung Saw cries foul about the declining Arakanese (Rakhine) and Hilly population -- becoming only 45.94% (=39.52+6.42) of the total population in Akyab in 1911, he pretends to suffer from selective amnesia about why there was the loss of 21,217 individuals amongst the Rakhines between 1901 and 1911. His silence about the loss of Hilly people whose numbers had steadily declined by 4557 from 1871 to 1911 (and 1469 between 1901 and 1911) is also strange. Only a half-educated intellectual fraud could ignore such obvious signs!

In the same period (1901-11) the Rohingya Muslim population in Akyab had only increased its share from 32.16% to 33.71%, which can be explained by 1.437% annual growth rate within the community. And this rate is only half the yearly growth rate common amongst Muslim population, and may suggest that some of the residents of the district could have moved elsewhere (including to the Chittagong Division).

As already hinted, amongst many third world countries with a sizable Muslim population the yearly growth rate of 3% or higher is not uncommon. Consider the case of Pakistan (erstwhile West Pakistan prior to 16 December 1971) whose population grew 5-fold from a mere 34 million in 1951, shortly after the partition of India, to 170 million in 2010 (i.e. in six decades). Between 1951 and 1972, when it ceded Bangladesh, the yearly growth rate was 3.2%. Thanks to the family planning program, this rate has significantly come down to 2.5% in the period between 1972 and 2010.

For our purpose here, we need not go all the way westward to Pakistan, but can compare the growth rate of Muslims inside Arakan to that in nearby Bangladesh. As can be seen from the above table, Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) had a 2.8% yearly growth rate between 1951 and 1972. Thanks again to the family planning program, this rate has significantly come down to 1.7% in the period between 1972 and 2010.

From the above analysis, it is quite obvious that the growth rate among the Muslims in Akyab (2.841%) between 1871 and 1911 is at par with the trends shown in Bangladesh (2.8%). Thus, all the fuss about massive migration of Muslims from Chittagong or Bangladesh to Arakan during the British rule is not only wrong and baseless, it is racist, to say the least.

Even if we are to assume the conservative estimate of 2.8% growth rate amongst Rohingya Muslims since 1826, it is not difficult to estimate that their number could have grown to at least 313,716 in Arakan by 1911. The Rohingya population in Akyab District, per Saw’s table, would have then comprised only 57% of their total population inside Arakan.

So far from the utterly false claims of racist elements within the Rakhine community, the likes of Khin Maung Saw, Aye Kyaw and Aye Chan, the growth within the Rohingya Muslim community of Arakan was an organic one – a natural one, which had nothing to do with so-called influx or migration from British Bengal or Chittagong. On the other hand, much of the early increase in Rakhine and Burmese population to Akyab and Arakan do clearly show that it was due to external factors like migration.

As every student of historiography knows the borders in those days were much porous, thus facilitating population movement. It is, similarly, not far-fetched to suggest that the many of those lost from Arakan census account of 1911, could well have migrated to places like Chittagong Hill Tract and Cox’s Bazar (southern Chittagong) in today’s Bangladesh.


In the above analysis of British-era demography of Arakan, in contradistinction to K. M. Saw’s bloated and unsubstantiated claims that while “Arakan was a colonie d'exploitation to the British, but to the Chittagonian Bengalis, Arakan became a colonie de peuplement” what one actually notices is a clear racist campaign by a half-educated Burmese/Arakanese Buddhist extremist who has no knowledge of demography. Unfortunately, Saw is not alone and there are many within his ethnic community that thrives on selling poison pills of racism and bigotry against the Rohingyas of Burma.

As we have noticed, the so-called influx to Arakan was caused by the Rakhines and not Rohingyas (or so-called Chittagonians from Bangladesh). The Rakhines of Arakan should be thankful that the Burmese government has not applied its highly racist and bigotry-ridden litmus test towards citizenship against them, many of whose ancestors had moved into the territory of Arakan from Bengal during the British rule. Their accusation against the Rohingyas of Arakan -- who are the true Bhumi Putras (the indigenous children of the soil) -- is like that of a criminal who accuses its victims.

Regrettably, xenophobia, sponsored by the Burmese government and aided by Rakhaing ultra-nationalists, has caused forced exodus of 1.5 million Rohingya Muslims to seek refuge outside Burma, internal displacement of at least a million, and death of another 50,000. Rohingyas are denied each and every right guaranteed under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Extra-judicial killing and summery executions, humiliating movement restriction, denial of education, job and healthcare, rape of women, arrest and torture, forced labor, forced relocation, confiscation of moveable and immoveable properties, religious sacrileges, etc., are regular occurrences in Arakan, making the Rohingya people an endangered people of our time who require special protection under international laws.

As regional specialists like the distinguished historian - Professor David Ludden of the New York University (and previously with the Ivy League school - U Penn), have repeatedly shown through the massive scholarly works that bear their names – rather than having one singular origin, South Asia and South-East Asia have always included many peoples and cultures which had different points of origin and departures and followed distinctive historical trajectories. What is promoted by ultra-nationalist, narrow-minded revisionists, pseudo-historians as the single tree of their culture, rooted in their racial and religious myths, is actually more like a vast forest of many cultures filled with countless trees of various sizes, shades, ages, colors and types, constantly cross-breeding to fertilize one another. The profusion of cultures blurs the boundaries of the forest. The so-called cultural boundaries of our time are more like an artifact of modern national cultures than an accurate reflection of pre-modern conditions.

Will the revisionist historians and charlatan scholars of Burma reflect upon this fact and amend their ways to make a more inclusive world in our time?

It is high time that the government of Burma repeal its utterly criminal, morally indefensible, repugnant and inhuman Citizenship Law that has denied the right of citizenship and belonging to the millions of Rohingyas of Arakan, who are the true children of the soil.

************ Concluded *********

[Dr Siddiqui’s book - The Forgotten Rohingya: Their Struggle for Human Rights in Burma – is available from]

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
October 16, 2011

Part 4: Rakhine Attempt to Whitewash Burman King’s Crime

Khin Maung Saw provides a highly distorted rendition of the 1784 invasion of Arakan and tries to justify the brutal occupation by the racist and bigot Burman King Bodaw Paya by saying that it was all about reformation of the Buddhist Monk's order. To him, all those who fled were only 50,000. And obviously, to him, these were Rakhines (and no Rohingyas).

Likewise, the Rohingya factor starts with British control of Arakan, esp. as he puts it, after 1886, as if they simply did not exist before the British colonization. He writes, "Arakan was very under-populated at that time. Therefore, the British brought tens of thousands of Chittagonian Bengali Muslims into Arakan. The Arakanese (Rakhaings) have to bear the burdens of these aliens until today. These aliens tried and are still trying to Islamize Arakan (if not the whole of Burma) by all means."

Obviously, such a narrative belies history, esp. the multi-cultural reality of Arakan during the Mrauk-U dynasty, preceding Bodaw Paya's invasion. As we have noted elsewhere during the 40-year Burmese tyrannical rule (1784-1824) of Arakan, tens of thousands of Arakanese of all faiths were massacred. The conquering Burmese forces demolished mosques, temples and shrines and stole the treasures of Arakan (including the Mahamuni statue). They conscripted and enslaved many, some of whom died out of fatigue and hunger while the living ones were settled at other parts of Burma. Some 20,000 inhabitants were taken as prisoners to Ava. By 1798, Bodaw’s repeated demand for forced slave labor (e.g., to build pagodas) and conscript service and the atrocity of his forces plus the rapacity of his local representatives had forced two-thirds of the inhabitants - Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist alike – to take refuge in Chittagong (Bengal). As noted by Farooque Ahmed, a researcher at the JNU, just the number of Muslim refugees to Bengal might have been 200,000. What is worse: during the next four decades of Burman colonization of Arakan, everything that was materially and culturally Islamic was meticulously razed to the ground. 

According to G.E. Harvey, “Arakan had never been populous, and now it became a desert; the towns were deserted and overgrown with jungle, and there was nothing more to be seen but ‘utter destruction … morass, pestilence and death.” Khin Maung Saw’s attempt to whitewash the blood-soaked history of his idol, Bodaw Paya, is simply ludicrous, if not criminal and evil. He may like to re-read the historical account of this Buddhist monster, and learn why the Arakanese enthusiastically collaborated with the East India Company to get rid of the Burmans.

As we have noted earlier, the number of Muslims who lived in Mrohaung, the capital, during Mrauk-U kingdom was rather large, probably half the population. It is not difficult to surmise that the Muslim population could have grown to well over 300,000 in 1784 before the Burman invasion of Arakan, just from the Muslim soldiers alone that had settled there after restoring Narameikhla to the throne in 1430. 

It is well known from demographic studies within Bangladesh that most of those fleeing refugees – mostly Muslim (and some Hindu) Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists - never returned, even when the British allowed such immigration after it had captured Arakan after the first Anglo-Burmese War of 1824-26. They assimilated within Bengal, esp. Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tract Districts. For example, the ‘Rohai’, comprising nearly half the population in southern Chittagong, trace their origin to Arakan, and as citizens of Bangladesh, have no desire to return to Arakan after more than two centuries. Similarly many Rakhine Buddhists are now citizens of Bangladesh. If the descendants of Arakan who had fled to Chittagong during Bodaw Paya’s invasion of the territory, can become citizens of Bangladesh, K.M. Saw’s claim that the Rohingyas in Arakan are the aliens and that they don’t deserve Burmese citizenship show his utterly repugnant chauvinistic attitude that is at odds with scores of international laws governing basic human rights. 

We have also seen throughout history that a persecuted people, no matter how horrible the living condition is even under the worst of the circumstances minus annihilation, don’t want to leave their ancestral homes. Many would try to endure their sufferings than opt out into a life of refugee. Thus, it is conceivable that in spite of the Burman savagery, many Arakanese Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists continued to live inside Arakan, and many would move to and fro through the porous borders as they felt either secure or insecure. 

We are, therefore, not surprised to read Francis Buchanan’s eye-witness account who was a surgeon in 1795 to the British Embassy in Ava, the Burmese capital. He wrote about three dialects spoken: “The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans [Muslims], who have long settled in Arakan and who call themselves Roanigya [Rohingya] or native of Arakan.” In stark contrast to the propaganda of the Buddhist racists in today’s Burma, Buchanan clearly identifies the Rohingya people as the natives of Arakan. [K.M. Saw, e.g., tries to mischievously downplay this with his silly explanations, which are so ludicrous that one can clearly see that he was running out of his evil tricks.] How could the Rohingya be a product of the British colonization when Britain did not even move into the territory until 1824-6, nearly a quarter century after Buchanan’s account?

To account for Muslim factor in Arakan, Saw shoots onto his own foot by quoting R.B. Smart, the deputy assistant commissioner of Akyab: “Since1879, immigration has taken place on a much larger scale, and the descendants of the slaves are resident for the most part in the Kyauktaw and Myohaung [Mrohaung] townships. Maungdaw Township has been overrun by Chittagonian immigrants. Butheedaung is not far behind and new arrivals will be found in almost every part of the district."

Who are these ‘slaves’ that Smart talks about, if they are not the ancestors of today's Rohingyas? So, surely, before 1886, there were already those Kalas in the territory. How did they originate? Did they originate during the British rule, starting at 1824? Surely, not! Can anyone deny the fact that they were a legacy of the Magh-Portuguese piracy, so evident during much of the 17TH and the 18th centuries, when at least 3,000 Bengalis were taken as captives per year, many of whom were forced to work as slaves in Arakan? According to Arthur Phayre, based on the Travelogue of Friar Manrique, the slave population accounted for 15% of the total population of Arakan. 

It is not difficult to also understand that under the new political reality of Arakan with the East India Company (EIC) in power, some of the descendants of the Arakanese refugees that had settled in the nearby EIC-controlled Bengal would be allured to settle back in their ancestral land, and that they would prefer to settle in places like Maungdaw and Buthidaung, which are closest to Teknaf, the southern tip of Chittagong in Bengal. That way, if things did not work out for them they could return to Chittagong with much ease. 

The new colonizers depended on taxation and land-revenue, and rice export was an important trade in those days. However, with only 740 square miles of the fertile land cultivable in 1871, rice export was accounting for 105,894 Pounds Sterling (less than 10% of the total sea-borne trade of Arakan, amounting to 1.35 million Pounds Sterling). 

[Dr Siddiqui’s book - The Forgotten Rohingya: Their Struggle for Human Rights in Burma – is available from]

To be continued.............

Part 4: Rakhine Attempt to Whitewash Burman King’s Crime
By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Asian Tribune
October 12, 2011

Part 3. The Muslim Factor in Arakan

Just as it happened throughout the coastal territories from the Arabian Peninsula to the Barbary Coast and the shores of Gibraltar and Iberian Peninsula (and beyond) via Alexandria, Tripoli and Tunis to the west, and to the shores of Mozambique (originally Musa-bin-Baik) via Zanzibar and Mombasa to the south, and to the lower Gangetic Delta (Bangladesh) and beyond (to the Strait of Malacca) via the Malabar Coast of India to the east, the maritime trade route in the India Ocean in those days (pre-dating European colonization) used to be controlled by the Arab/Persian Muslims. As they traded they also created pockets of settlements, and interacting with and marrying into the local populace, which slowly changed the local customs and culture.

After the rapid expansion of Islam in the 7th century, according to Dr. Moshe Yegar, “Colonies of Muslims, both Arab and Persian, spread all along the sea trade routes… As early as the middle of the 8th century, a sizable Muslim concentration could be found in along the southern coast of China, in the commercial ports of southern India, and Southeast Asia…. Merchants brought silk, spices, perfumes, lumber, porcelain, silver and gold articles, precious jewels, jewelry, and so forth from these countries, and some of the trade made its way to Europe.” “Because sailing ships were dependent on monsoon winds and seasons, it was essential for Arabs and other Muslim traders,” writes Yegar, “to set up domiciles in ports that were located in the heart of local communities. Muslim settlements spread rapidly in Asian port cities as Muslim merchants became vital to the economy of the local communities.”

The local inhabitants of Arakan, as noted in the British Burma Gazetteer (1957), had interactions with the so-called Mohammedans – the ‘Moor Arab Muslims’ (merchants/traders), dating at least to the time of Mahataing Sandya (8th century CE). As to the Muslim settlements in Arakan, the renowned scholars of the early 20th century, Professor Enamul Haq and Abdul Karim Shahitya Visarad wrote in 1935: “The Muslim influence in Roshang [Mrohang: the capital of Arakan during the Mrauk-U kingdom] and modern Chattagram [Chittagong] has been noticeable from ancient times. The Arab traders established trade link with the East Indies in the eighth and ninth century AD. During this time Chittagong, the lone seaport of East India, became the resting place and colony of the Arabs. We know from the accounts of the ancient Arab travelers and geologists including Sulaiman (living in 851 AD), Abu Jaidul Hasan (contemporary of Sulaiman), Ibnu Khuradba (died 912 AD), Al-Masudi (died 956 AD), Ibnu Howkal (wrote his travelogue in 976 AD), Al-Idrisi (born last half of 11th century) that the Arab traders became active in the area between Arakan and the eastern bank of the Meghna River [in today’s Bangladesh]. We can also learn about this from the Roshang national history: when Roshang King, Maha Taing Chandra (788 – 810 AD) was ruling in the 9th century, some ship wrecked Muslim traders were washed ashore on ‘Ronbee’ or ‘Ramree’ Island. When they were taken to the Arakanese king, the king ordered them to live in the village (countryside) in his country. Other historians also recognized the fact that Islam and its influence developed in Arakan in the 9th and 10th century AD.” [Explanatory notes within the parentheses [ ] are mine. It is worth noting that in the dialect prevalent in Chittagong and Arakan the vocal sounds ‘Ha’ and ‘Sha’ are interchangeable. Thus the words Roshang and Rohang are interchangeable. – H.S.]

R.B. Smart writes in the British Burma Gazetteer as follows: “The local histories relate that in the ninth century several ships were wrecked on Ramree Island and the Mussalman crews sent to Arakan and placed in villages there. They differ but little from the Arakanese except in their religion and in the social customs which their religion directs, in the writing they use Burmese, but amongst themselves employ colloquially the language of their ancestors.”

As noted by renowned historian Professor Abdul Karim, “The important point to be noticed about these shipwrecked Muslims is that they have stuck to their religion, i.e. Islam and Islamic social customs. Though they used Burmese language and also adopted other local customs, they have retained the language of their ancestors (probably with mixture of local words) in dealing among themselves. Another point to be noted is that the Arab shipwrecked Muslims have retained their religion, language and social customs for more than a thousand years.”

These shipwrecked Arab Muslims became the nucleus of the Muslim population of Arakan; later other Muslims from Arabia, Persia and other countries entered into Arakan.

Dr. Moshe Yegar says, “Beginning with their arrival in the Bay of Bengal, the earliest Muslim merchant ships also called at the ports of Arakan and Burma proper… Muslim influence in Arakan was of great cultural and political importance. In effect, Arakan was the beachhead for Muslim penetration into other parts of Burma even if it never achieved the same degree of importance it did in Arakan. As a result of close land and sea contacts maintained between the two countries, Muslims played a key role in the history of the Kingdom of Arakan.”

It is no accident that Akyab (today’s Sittwe, the capital of Arakan state of Burma, situated on the south-eastern bank of the Naaf River) is a Farsi name, as are so many other towns and villages named, and how over the centuries most of these local inhabitants along the coastal towns and villages, tired of a corrupt form of their ancestral region, would convert to Islam. And this happened centuries before Muslim rulers governed some of those territories.

Professor Enamul Haq and Abdul Karim Shahitya Visarad wrote: “The Arabic influence increased to such a large extent in Chittagong during mid-10th century AD that a small Muslim kingdom was established in this region, and the ruler of the kingdom was called ‘Sultan’. Possibly the area from the east bank of the Meghna River to the Naaf was under this ‘Sultan’. We can know about the presence of this ‘Sultan’ in the Roshang [Mrohang, the capital Arakan during the Mrauk-U dynasty] national history. In 953 AD Roshang King, Sulataing Chandra (951- 957 AD) crossed his border into Bangla (Bengal) and defeated the ‘Thuratan’ (Arakanese corrupt form of Sultan), and as a symbol of victory setup a stone victory pillar at a place called ‘Chaikta-gong’ and returned home at the request of the courtiers and friends. This Chaik-ta-gong was the last border of his victory, since according to Roshang national history – ‘Chaik-ta-gong’ means ‘war should not be raised’. Many surmise that the modem name of Chittagong district originated from Chaik-ta-gong.”

If the story of Arakanese king -- mentioned in its Chronicles -- moving into Chittagong can be believed, in southern Bangladesh, especially in Chittagong, not only was there a Muslim community present but also a Muslim Sultanate ruling there in the 10th century. It may explain why Dr. Than Tun, the former Rector of Mandalay University and Professor of History at the Rangoon University, believed that the kings mentioned in the Inscription might have been Rohingyas, who lived in the eastern part of the Naaf River. He writes, “In the Kyaukza or stone inscription of 1442, it was written that some Muslim kings of Arakan were the friends of king of Ava.”

In their masterpiece, Arakan Rajshavay Bangla Shahitya, Professor Enamul Haq and Abdul Karim Shahitya Visarad continued, “In this way the religion of Islam spread and the Muslim influence slowly extended from the eastern bank of the Meghna to Roshang Kingdom in the 8th and 9th centuries. From the travelogues of the Egyptian traveler to India, Ibn Batuta (14th century AD) and from the accounts of the Portuguese pirates in the 16th century, the influence of the ‘Moors’ or Arabs was waxing till then. So it is evident that long before the Muslim race was established in Bengal in the 13th century, Islam reached to this remote region of Bengal. A conclusion may easily be drawn that after the establishment in Bengal, Islam further spread in the region. That is why Bengali literature was for the first time cultivated among the Muslim of the region. Since the 15th century onwards the Muslims of this region began to engage themselves in the study of Bengali, that is, began to write books in Bengali, of which we have lots of proofs.”

The Muslim saints, the Sufis, who came in hundreds to the shores of Bay of Bengal had a fabulous influence in proselytizing the local inhabitants to Islam. The Arakanese chronicle gives reference to the traveling of Sufis in that country at the time of the king Anawarhta (1044-1077 CE) during Pagan period. Even, a Russian merchant, Athanasius Nitikin, who traveled in the East (1470), mentions regarding activities of some Muslim Sufis of Pegu. The Merchant pictured Pegu as "no inconsiderable port, inhabited by Indian dervishes. The products derived from thence are manik, akhut, kyrpuk, which are sold by the dervishes.” As noted by Dr. Mohammed Ali Chowdhury, these dervishes were Muslims, and probably of Arab descent, and that at that time some Muslims (from nearby Muslim India) had settled in those places.

As it happened throughout history, wherever Muslims went and settled, they were able to proselytize the local people. The simplicity of their faith, views about salvation, egalitarian characteristics and ease of practice, and their ethos - morals, values, dealings, manners and customs -- had a profound effect on the local population to gravitate them to the faith of these strangers, the newcomers, away from the degenerative form of their own religion that they had endured. These migrant Muslims married into the local populace and parented children.

In his book, The Essential History of Burma, historian U Kyi writes, “The superior morality of those devout Muslims attracted large number of people towards Islam who embraced it en masse.”

This essential piece of history of the Muslims of the coastal regions of today’s Bangladesh and Arakan state of Burma is simply ignored by chauvinist elements within the Rakhine and Burmese community. They cannot imagine Islam amongst the ordinary masses without rulers being of the same faith. They also forget that Islam from its very inception has been a simple practical religion, away from the curses of racism, supremacist concepts and caste system that so overwhelmingly dominated the then Buddhist and Hindu culture. While the temples, statues, mandirs and pagodas were built with gold and precious ornaments, and monks and priests held the demigod status enjoying the benefits of the vast material resources that were endowed to them for their upkeep, ordinary people went hungry and poor, and were forced to lead a life of begging and eternal servitude. It is no accident of history either that vast majority of people in places like Malaysia, southern Philippines and Indonesia, where no Muslim army went, would one day become Muslims and abandon their ancestral religions.

The restoration of the deposed king Narameikhla (Mong Saw Mwan) to the throne of Arakan by the Muslim Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah of Bengal, thus ushering in the Mrauk-U dynasty (1430-1784 CE), is a turning point in the history of Arakan. From this time onward, many of its rulers, indebted to the Muslim Sultan adopted Muslim names (and may even have converted to Islam), a practice that would continue for the next two centuries, until 1638 CE. It is worth noting here that when Narameikhla was dethroned in 1404 CE by the Burman forces, he chose to flee to Muslim Bengal instead of either the Buddhist-ruled Tripura or the Hindu-ruled territories of India.

When the king Naramikhla reached the capital, he was widely acclaimed by his people. He was aided by two contingents of 50,000 Muslim soldiers (first under General Wali Khan and later under Sandi Khan) many of whom later settled in Arakan. They became his advisers and ministers making sure that the territory was not lost again to the Burmans.

The first thing Naramikhla did after regaining his throne was to transfer the capital from Launggyet to Mrohaung, which in the hands of Bengali poets and people became Roshang (Rohang). Those Muslims established the Sandi Khan Mosque in Mrohaung. Their descendants, as noted by the Bengali poets of the 17th century, held high positions during the Mrauk-U dynasty. During the successive centuries the Muslim population in Arakan grew in large numbers as a result of inter-marriage, immigration and conversion. [In my travels around the Diaspora communities, I have come across many of the descendants of those soldiers who came and settled in Arakan during Narameikhla’s time. As Anthony Irwin had noted some 70 years ago, these Muslims look quite different than average Bangladeshis; many of them have distinct Arab and Persian touch about them; many even have Mongoloid touch.]

As a vassal state of the Muslim Sultanate to the west, Arakan adopted the superior Muslim culture from the west in its courts, and minted coins with Arabic inscription of the Muslim article of faith (kalima). In this way, Arakan remained subordinate to Bengal until 1531. Interestingly, however, as noted above, its kings continued using Muslim titles even after they were liberated from dependency on the sultans of Bengal. As to the reason behind this practice, Dr. Yegar writes, “[T]hey were influenced by the fact that many of their subjects had become Muslims. Indeed, many Muslims served in prestigious positions in the royal administration despite its being Buddhist.” In Rakhine Maha Razwin (Great History of Arakan), Tha Thun Aung describes mass conversion of many Arakanese to Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Because of her geographical proximity with the south-eastern parts of Bengal, Arakan developed both political and cultural ties with its neighbor to the north-west. Major Muslim settlements developed along the rivers of Lemru, Mingen, Kaladan, Mayu and Naaf. Its courts and royalties patronized Bengali literature. Some of the best known classical Bengali poets (Alaol, Dawlat Qazi and Mardan) came from Arakan. Its capital city essentially became the breeding ground for Bengali literature in the 17th century. This Mrauk-U period also came to be known as the ‘Golden Age’ in the history of Arakan.

It is also worth mentioning here that as a result of rather lax administrative control of Chittagong by the Mughal and Afghan rulers, and the intermittent rebellion by the Sultans of Bengal against the central government in Delhi, the territory was lost to Arakan between 1580 and 1666 CE. So the ties between Chittagong and Arakan were no less striking than those visible today in places like Texas and California with Mexico.

In their masterpiece work "Arakan Rajsabhay Bangala Shahitya,” Abdul Karim Shahitya Visarad and Dr. Enamul Haq wrote, "The way Bangali flourished in the court of the 17th century Arakan, nothing of that sort is found in its [Bengal’s] own soil. It is surprising that during the exile of Bengali language in Arakan, it was greatly appreciated by the Muslim courtiers of the Arakanese kings and the Muslim poets of East Bengal, especially those of the [greater] Chittagong Division.”

These scholars further wrote, “The study of Bengali literature that the Muslim initiated reached perfection under the aegis of the courtiers of the Roshang kings. It is needless to say that the Kings’ Court of Roshang got filled up with Muslim influence long before this. From the beginning of the 15th century AD the Kings’ Court of Roshang by luck was compelled to heartily receive the Muslim influence…

…. [T]he powerful intrusion of the Muslim influence that penetrated into the Kings’ Court of Roshang in the fifteenth century AD grew all the more in the following centuries. This influence gradually grew so strong that it reached the highest point in the seventeenth century. The Bengali literature in this century shows the full picture of the Muslim influence in the King’s Court of Roshang.”

How can this piece of history about flourishing Bengali literature and the presence of Muslim courtiers and subjects in Arakan be ignored by any objective analyst?

Nor should one forget that when the Mughal Prince Shah Shuja, the Governor of Bengal (1639-59), chose to take asylum in 1660 CE instead of submitting to the authority of Aurangzeb – the new Mughal Emperor, he chose Arakan, which already had many high ranking Muslims serving the king of Arakan. He was accompanied by his family members and retinues, which included hundreds of bodyguards. Upon arrival, however, the Mughal Prince was betrayed by the Arakanese king Sanda Sudamma. While there are competing accounts as to what had ultimately happened to the fate of the Prince, including one account that suggests that Shah Shuja and his family members were treacherously murdered (and another that suggests that he was able to flee to Manipur with some of his retinues), there is little doubt that many of his guards who were attacked savagely by the Maghs of Arakan fled to the nearby jungle. Some of the surviving guards were later made royal archers and bodyguards serving the Arakanese king. Their descendants, known as the Kamans or Kamanchis (bowman), are to be found settled mostly in Rambree Island. Some of the followers of Shah Shuja escaped the persecution of Maghs and crossed to Burma. The king of Ava settled them in Ramethin, Shwebo, Maydu and Meiktila. Their descendants can be found today in these places.

There was yet another kind of interaction between the Kingdom of Arakan with its eastern neighbor Bengal, beginning in the 17th century, when gaining strength, the kings of Arakan would allow the plunder of Bengal, and Bengali captives – tens of thousands - would be brought to work as slaves in Arakan. When the Portuguese moved to the Bay of Bengal, they were allowed to set up their military posts in Arakan. In return, the Portuguese aided the Rakhine Maghs in their piracy in Bengal, terrorizing its people and harassing the Mughal forces. The joint Magh-Portuguese marauding expeditions into Bengal continued well after they were routed out of Chittagong in 1666 by Shaista Khan, the Mughal Viceroy (Subedar) of Bengal and his son General Bujurg Umid Khan. Taking captives, most of whom were Muslims, forcing them into slavery was an important part of those raids.

Friar Manrique, a Portuguese priest who visited Bengal and Arakan and who spent six years in the Augustinian Church at Dianga (Deang, near Chittagong town), was himself a witness to such Magh-Portuguese piratical raids. He wrote, “They usually made there general attacks three or four times in the year, irrespective of minor raids which went on most of the year, so that during the five years I spent in the kingdom of Arracan, some eighteen thousand people came to the ports of Dianga and Angarcale.”

As can be seen from Manrique’s account, the number of those captives was not small, and was in excess of 3,000 per year, and continued for well over a century of piracy.

This is further evidenced by the fact that when the Chittagong fort fell into the hands of the Mughals, 10,000 Bengali (both Muslim and Hindu) captives got liberty and they went to their homes. While the Portuguese pirates sold their captives and/or forcibly baptized them into Christianity, the Magh pirates forced theirs into slave labors in the paddy fields along the Kaladan River (the river was named after these Kalas). So these captives also helped in increasing the Muslim population of Arakan. The descendants of these captives mostly reside now in Kyauktaw and Mrohaung Townships of Arakan.

According to historian Professor Abdul Karim, “In the 17th century the Muslims thronged the capital Mrohaung and they were present in the miniature courts of ministers and other great Muslim officers of the kingdom. An idea of their presence is available in the writings of Muslim poets like Alaol who wrote that people from various countries and belonging to various groups came to Arakan to be under the care of Arakanese king. The Portuguese Padre Fray Sebastien Manrique visited Arakan and stayed for some time; he was also present in the coronation ceremony of the Arakanese king held on 23 January 1635. He gives a description of the coronation procession and says that of the several contingents of army that took part in the coronation, one contingent wholly comprised of Muslim soldiers, let by a Muslim officer called Lashkar Wazir. The leader rode on Iraqi horse, and the contingent comprised of six hundred soldiers. In other contingent, led by Arakanese commanders also there were Muslim soldiers. This evidence of Sebastien Manrique combined with the fact that there were several Muslim ministers in Arakan gives a good picture of the presence of the Muslim in Arakan in the 17th century. The influence of the Muslim officers over the king of Arakan is also evident from the episodes mentioned by Sebastien Manrique.”

The Muslims of Arakan, therefore, are an amalgam of new migrants - Shaikhs, Syeds, Qazis, Mollahs, Alims, Fakirs, Arabs, Rumis (Turks), Moghuls, Pathans - from various parts of the Muslim world that settled during and before the Mrauk-U dynasty, including the captives (the so-called Kolas) brought in from various parts of Bengal and India, and the indigenous Muslims (the children of Bhumiputras who had converted to Islam over the centuries). They created the genesis of what we call the Rohingya Muslims. To put it succinctly: the Rohingya Muslims are the descendants of the indigenous 'Kalas' that either converted or mixed with the Muslim settlers/travelers/Sufis (including Arab/Persian merchants, traders) to the region, the non-returning soldiers who came to restore Narameikhla to the throne of Arakan, the unwilling captives and others that called Arakan their ancestral home. Hence, the Rohingya Muslims are not an ethnic group, which developed from one tribal group affiliation or single racial stock, but are an ethnic group that developed from different stocks of people.

As already demonstrated, the conversion of these indigenous people to Islam has been no different than what has happened throughout history in the last 14 centuries along the coastal regions from Mozambique to Malacca. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the Rohingyas of Arakan while having some similarities in matters of physical features, and borrowing religious, linguistic and cultural heritage with their neighbors to the west would develop their own distinct identity, albeit a hybrid or mosaic one. They are neither Chittagonians nor are they Bengalis [Bangladeshis].

The Rohingya Muslims - the ‘Musulman Arakanese’ - as Anthony Irwin noted, ‘are quite unlike any other product of India or Burma that I have seen.’ Similarly, Moshe Yeager noted, “There is very little common – except common religion – between the Rohingyas of Arakan and the Indian Muslims of Rangoon or Burmese Muslims…”

While their ancestral territory would later be colonized by the Tibeto-Burman Buddhists - the ancestors of today’s Rakhines - whose cultural ties have been towards the east, it is the strength of their group character that the Rohingyas of Arakan were able to retain their linguistic and genealogical ties to the soil. After all, the Rakhines are genetically, culturally and linguistically closer to the Burmans (of Burma). On the other hand, as Dr. Yegar noted ‘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 … their culture.’

As the children of the indigenous people of Arakan, the Rohingyas have as much right, if not more, as the Rakhine Buddhists, to identify themselves with the name that they prefer to describe them. If the late-coming Tibeto-Burman admixture has no problem in calling itself the Rakhaing of Arakan, no outsider (and surely not its abuser) has any right to either define the Rohingya maliciously or deny the same privilege in self-identifying itself.

To call these indigenous people of Arakan -- who identify themselves as the Rohingyas in Burma – “unwanted guests” is like calling the Native Americans unwanted refugees who had settled in America after the Europeans. As much as no massacre of yesteryears and ghettoization of the Native Americans today in designated American Indian Reservation camps can obliterate their genuine right, place, history and identity, no propaganda and government or non-government sponsored pogroms can erase the rightful identity of the Rohingya people of Burma. They are the children of the soil of Arakan.

To be continued .............

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
September 25, 2011

2. Analysis: The Land and the Indigenous People of Arakan

To incite violence and bigotry against Rohingya Muslims of Arakan, Khin Maung Saw does not waste any time. He starts with a picture of a Muslim congregational prayer on the front page, followed by a photo of some soldiers (or possibly guerillas) sitting on the ground. The connotation is quite obvious.

However, such fear-mongering tactics will not succeed and would only lay bare the hideous character of their accusers, as it did in Norway. After all, of all the various communities that call Arakan their home, it is the Rakhine Maghs of Burma that have continued to practice violence; they want a ‘free’ Arakan away from the no less monstrous military brutes of Burma, while still purporting to retain its racist, non-democratic and fascist character that does not allow integration and multi-culture. 

In his prologue Saw mentions the story of an ‘ungrateful’ camel that had dislodged its master from the tent. He does not duck the connotation by stating that the Rohingyas of Burma are like that camel in the story that are trying to dislodge the ‘owner’ of the tent. By ‘owner’, he obviously means his own race - the Rakhine Magh. 

Fact is, however, opposed to this make-belief fictional story put forth by the chauvinist Rakhine: the Rohingyas are neither the guests of Arakan nor are they trying to dislodge anyone. Far from the false Rakhine propaganda of being the outsiders who had settled in Arakan during the British rule of Arakan -- a persistent theme in the propaganda materials of Aye Kyaw, Aye Chan, Khin Maung Saw and other ultra-chauvinist racists of Arakan -- the existence of the Rohingya in the soil of Arakan predates the Magh influx to the territory from Tibet and other parts of Burma. 

As credible research work by unbiased historians and researchers have amply shown, these Rohingyas, derogatorily called the Kalas (by the racist Maghs of Arakan), are the descendants of the indigenous people of Arakan – the true Bhumiputras (adibashis) -- of the land. 

Separated to the north by the high hills and deep forests of the Chin State and to the east by the almost insurmountable Arakan Yoma mountain range which divides the Arakan coastal area from the rest of Burma, the region came to be known as the land of the ‘Kala Mukh’ (Land of the ‘Black Faces’), inhabited by these dark brown-colored Indians who had much in common with the people (today’s Bangladeshis, or more particularly Chittagonians) living on the north-western side of the Naaf River, along the adjoining coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal. The resemblance was not limited to physical features like skin color, shape of head and nose alone, but also in shared culture and beliefs. They thrived on rice cultivation on the fertile planes and the abundant supply of fish in the nearby rivers, streams and the Bay of Bengal. The one-mile wide Naaf River was no barrier to sustain family and cultural ties between these sea-faring people living on either side of the river. Arakan’s northern part Mayu, as noted by Dr. Moshe Yegar, can be seen as ‘an almost direct continuation of eastern Bengal’ [Bangladesh].

The Arakan Mountain range also served as a barrier inhibiting Burmese invasions, and allowing Arakan to develop as a separate political entity. As also concurred by all historians the influx of the Sino-Tibetans (with Mongoloid features) in Arakan, resembling today’s Rakhine stock, did not happen until after the collapse of the Vaisali kingdom in the 10th century CE.

What happened to the region in the centuries before and after this invasion? As evidenced by numerous archeological finds, it is obvious that the Hindu colonists, fuelled by their need for trade and commerce, gold and silver, first colonized the region in the early 1st century CE. According to Dr. Emil Forchhammer, a Swiss Professor of Pali at Rangoon College, and Superintendent of the newly founded Archaeological Survey (1881): “The earliest dawn of the history of Arakan reveals the base of the hills, which divide the lowest courses of the Kaladan and Lemro rivers, inhabited by sojourners from India… Their subjects are divided into the four castes of the older Hindu communities…”

By the 3rd century (CE), the coastal region of Kala Mukh (Arakan) had been settled with the colonists dominating and coexisting warily with the indigenous people. In the sites of major habitation Sanskrit became the written language of the ruling class, and the religious beliefs were those prevalent at that time in south-Asia (or Indian sub-continent). The Hindu kings that ruled the coastal territories of Chittagong also ruled the crescent of Arakan. Presumably, the indigenous people of Arakan, much like their brothers and sisters living to the north-west of the Naaf River in (today’s) Chittagong, practiced some loose form of Hinduism.

The second phase of Indianization of Arakan occurred between the 4th and the 6th century CE, by which time the colonists had established their kingdom, and named their capital Vaishali. As a port city, Vaishali was in contact with Samatat (the planes of lower Bangladesh) and other parts of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Historically, these early rulers came to be known as the Chandras and controlled the territories as far north as Chittagong.

The Anand Chandra Inscription, which contains 65 verses (71 and a half lines) and now sited at the Shitthaung pagoda, provides some information about these early rulers. Interestingly, neither the name of the kingdom or the two premier cities – Dhanyavati and Vaishali – is mentioned. This 11-foot high monolith, unique in entire Burma, has three of its four faces inscribed in a Nagari script, which is closely allied to those of Bengali and north-eastern India. As noted rightly by Noel Singer had it not been for Professor E.H. Johnston of Balliol College, Oxford, who translated the Sanskrit script and the Indian epigraphists before him, the contents of the Inscription which remained inaccessible for well over a thousand years would never have been known. 

The script on the panel on the east face is believed by Johnston to be the oldest. According to Pamela Gutman it was similar to the type of script used in Bengal (Bangladesh) during the early 6th century CE. As to the panel on the north face, Johnston mentioned that several smaller inscriptions in Bengali characters had been added in the 10th century. Gutman however felt that the principal text in this section is of the mid-11th century CE. The panel on the west face, which is reasonably preserved, is believed by Gutman to be of the earlier part of the 8th century. This priceless document not only lists the personalities of each monarch but also some of the major events of every reign.

So who is this Ananda Chandra? In verse 64, it clearly says that he was a descendant of the Saiva-Andhra monarchs [presumably of Banga or Bangladesh] whose kingdom was located between the Godavari and Krishna Rivers of Bengal, and close to the Bay of Bengal. The founder of this new dynasty was Vajra Sakti who reigned circa 649-665 CE. His successor was Sri Dharma Vijaya, who reigned from circa 665-701. As noted by Singer, and much in contrast to Rakhine claims, Dharma Vijaya was not a Theravada Buddhist, but probably a Mahayanist. The next in line was Narendra Vijaya who reigned from circa 701 to 704 CE. The next to rule was Sri Dharma Chandra, who reigned from 704 to 720 CE. He was the father of Ananda Chandra who was a munificent patron of Mahayana Buddhism and Hindu institutions.

As can be clearly seen from the above brief review, the rulers that ruled Arakan, in centuries before the Sino-Tibetan invasion, were of Indian descent, as were the people (the so-called Kalas) who lived there. They had much in common with Banga, or today’s Bangladesh.

So what happened to those indigenous people after the invasion of Arakan in 957 CE by the Sino-Tibetan race? We have absolutely no historic evidence to suggest that they were exterminated. It is not difficult to understand that while the kingdom had changed hands, a majority of those indigenous people (the ‘Kalas’) continued on with their lives as usual, paying taxes (e.g., in grains) to their new rulers, as they had done before to the previous rulers. Some perhaps changed their faith to Buddhism, while many retained their ancestral religion. Theravada Buddhism, imported mostly from Sri Lanka, took centuries to take its root in Arakan, gradually replacing the Mahayanist Buddhism of the latter Vaisali rulers.

It is also important to note that many of the Sinhalese Buddhists, who later came as monks and settlers to Arakan, were the descendants of Bengali Buddhists who had fled the country as a result of internecine wars that took place between the forces of Hinduism and Buddhism in nearby Bengal in the centuries before Islam came to the region. As Buddhism was almost wiped out in Bengal by the Hindu rulers and the Brahmin clergy, it found a safe haven in Sri Lanka where it flourished. And who would have thought that centuries later those Singhalese Buddhists (with a remarkable facial similarity with the people of Bengal), the progenies of fleeing Buddhists from Bengal, would one day become the harbinger of the new faith - Theravada Buddhism -- in Arakan and rest of Burma?

While the previous Vaishali rulers looked westward, the newer Sino-Tibetan rulers looked eastward, thus allowing mixing of its race with Burman people of today’s Myanmar proper. Over the centuries, two communities emerged – one the indigenous with Indian (Bengali/Arakanese) features (the forefathers of today’s Rohingya Hindus and Muslims) and the other, the new-comer with Mongoloid features (the forefathers of today’s Rakhine Buddhists). It is not difficult to also conclude that in those days of porous borders across land and sea there were migration of other races and religions to this region. Buddhist monks, e.g., came from Sri Lanka bringing in their Theravada Buddhism, as did others, slowly changing the culture of the people living there. 

It is simply regrettable to notice how today’s ultra-chauvinist Rakhine and Burman intelligentsia with tunnel-vision refuses to widen their knowledge of the ‘other’ people, Hindus and Muslims, who share the same territory. Anything Indian/Bengali/Chittagonian is usually looked down and frowned upon. It is pure racism at its worst. 

[Dr Siddiqui’s book - The Forgotten Rohingya: Their Struggle for Human Rights in Burma – is available from]

To be continued.................

2. Analysis: The Land and the Indigenous People of Arakan
By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Asian Tribune
September 18, 2011

Part 1: The Rohingya Identity and Hatemongering by Rakhine Racists

Khin Maung Saw’s article “Islamization of Burma through Chittagonian Bengalis as Rohingya Refugees” is a revisionist attempt by a deranged chauvinist Magh to rewrite the history of the Muslims of Arakan. Racism and bigotry are written all over the article.

1. Introduction

In this post-9/11 era of hatemongering and Islamophobia, it is not difficult to understand his evil mindset that steered him to concoct such an absurd idea that the Rohingya Muslims are working towards Islamization of Myanmar (Burma). Forget about the fact that Burma is a military-ruled country with no democracy, how could a mere 2 to 3 million people impose the dictates of their faith on a nation of 50 million, especially when they are denied all basic rights – of movement, assembly, marriage, education, jobs, etc.? One has to be either mentally unstable or very high in mind-altering drugs to hallucinate such a ludicrous idea!

As already recognized by scores of international organizations and human rights groups, including the US government and the UN, the legitimate rights of the Rohingyas of Arakan state of Burma towards equal rights and citizenship in their ancestral home cannot be throttled by hateful propaganda of anyone, and surely not by the paid agents of the rogue regime that have not given up on their divide-and-conquer policy to weaken genuine democratic aspirations of the people of Burma. And what better tactic than to stoke the fear of Islamization of the country by a persecuted minority that has already been brutalized and marginalized! Denied every right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these unfortunate Rohingya people, pushed to settle for an uncertain life of either statelessness or refugees, inside or outside Burma, must now defend their honor and dignity against hateful and bigotry-ridden campaigns by their fellow countrymen – the racist Rakhine/Maghs of Arakan!

Racism and bigotry cannot come any worse than what thus far has been showcased by these evil children of Arakanese (and by default, Burmese) racism! It is sad to see that Saw who has been living in Germany has not learned anything from its past history of xenophobia. He had the choice to either reject or espouse the failed model of Nazi fascism that has had wrecked so much havoc and brought so much pain, shame and unbearable misery to its people. Instead of siding with the persecuted Rohingyas, he chose the hated monsters of the Nazi era as his model. One can only feel repulsed by such an evil choice.

Thus, it is not surprising to discover the unmistakable similarities of his fascist onslaught against the persecuted Rohingyas with those of the Jews of Nazi-era Germany. Like his other pseudo-historian peers - Aye Kyaw and Aye Chan (two unabashed fascists, by any account), his pattern of onslaught against the Rohingya people is borrowed from the hateful works of convicted war criminals like Julius Streicher of the Nazi era. One only has to change the terms ‘Jew’ to Chittagonian Bengali/Muslim or Rohingya, ‘Judenstaat’ to Islamization, and ‘Germany’ to Burma (Myanmar) to see the obvious similarity of their hate campaign.

These demented and paranoid Theravada Buddhists of Arakan, often masquerading as intellectual voices of their community, are no democrats and surely not liberals.

They are, in fact, closet fascists. If allowed to come to power or sway policy decisions, they will, in all likelihood, borrow the pages from the hated (German) SS manual and repeat the heinous crimes of their fellow coreligionists in Cambodia. It is no accident that Saw’s mentor Aye Kyaw wrote the infamous 1982 Burma Citizenship Law that provided the blueprint for denying citizenship rights of the Rohingya people – the other dominant ethnic group of Arakan. It was done with a calculated precision to not only rob the properties of the Rohingya but also to uproot them en masse from the soil of Arakan, their ancestral home. It’s an utterly devious and devilish conspiracy.

Surely, these Buddhists of Arakan give a bad name to their religion and the non-violent founder of their faith. Their malicious words and acts of unfathomable bigotry, racism, aggression against and oppression of the Rohingya people show that they are misfits to the civilized world, especially in the 21st century when people have learned to live amicably burying their age-old prejudice. Indubitably, multi-culture, integration and pluralism -- a reality in most parts of our world today -- are alien concepts to them, and as such, are an anathema to everything that they stand for or crave for their fractured country along the ethnic line.

Forgotten there is the time-honored realization that Burma is a country that has many races, ethnicities and religions. It is a country of many nations. It is not a country either of or for any particular group – be they are the majority Bamar (Burman), the minority Shan, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Rohingya, Rakhine, Mon, Karen, Chinese, Indians, or whatever. Racism runs deep and acts like the Krazy glue holding members of each of these discernible groups together in their own domain, while it acts like a double-edged knife cutting through the fabric of the Burmese society, justifying hostility against disparate groups that have nothing in common either in language or in religion.

The only way this country of many nations can survive and evolve into a civilized state is not through the brutal and savage arms of injustice, denial, xenophobia, abuse and oppression of the minorities but a federal democratic framework that genuinely protects all ensuring their human rights and equality without any discrimination. This means, the Rohingyas of Arakan should have the same rights as enjoyed by a Rakhine; the Karens have the same rights as enjoyed by a Bamar, and so on and so forth for all the races, tribes, ethnicities, and groups.

As much as the spiteful non-Muslim promoters of ‘Islamization of Europe’ and ‘Islamization of America’ have failed to bring about mass-scale onslaught against minority Muslims living in the West, and, instead, have unearthed their own unfathomable bigotry and racism, and the often-ignored but dirty little secret about the criminality of the homegrown terrorists and white hate-groups, the fascists of Arakan and Burma are doomed to failure with their fear-tactic of using boogeyman of ‘Islamization of Burma.’ Their disinformation campaign has also unearthed their true hideous selves.

[Dr Siddiqui’s book - The Forgotten Rohingya: Their Struggle for Human Rights in Burma – is available from]

To be continued.................... 

Asian Tribune
By Dr. Abid Bahar
August 19, 2009

From his recently published book:
Abid Bahar. Burma’s Missing Dots. Montreal: Flapwing Publishers, 2009. P.23-42
(The above book in fact is all about the Rohingya history)

“The Burmese military has clearly embarked on a policy of ridding the country of ethnic Rohingyas by any possible means. Official claims that the refugees are "illegal immigrants" -Asia Watch


An enclave is part of a country geographically separated from the main part by the surrounding foreign territory. A great deal of works has been done by the military’s civilian collaborators on the province of Arakan (Rakhine province) claiming that there is the existence of an enclave in Burma. Most prominent of the authors is Aye Chan. Aye Chan, a native of Burma’s Arakan (Rakhine) province, says there is an enclave in Arakan. (1) His work even outlines the common issues of dispute surrounding the Rohingyas with the Rakhines. This doesn’t seem to be an ordinary enclave. This enclave is Aye Chan’s portrayal of Burma's Rohingya people in the Mayu frontier of the Arakan state. Aye Chan identifies the Rohingyas as the non-natives of Burma who, he claims, illegally settled in this region of Burma’s North-Western province. This paper is a detailed review of the claims.

It is important to understand the issues raised by Aye Chan, for; Aye Chan’s article creates trepidation and suggests to the xenophobic Burmese the issues to consider dealing with the Rohingyas, along with a means to address them. Aye Chan’s article is popular among xenophobic Burmese people as an intellectual work of excellence. It was also published in several other Burmese journals and is popular among anti-Rohingya ultra-nationalists. A review of the work shows, it is a typical reflection of the contemporary state of Burmese scholarship on ethnic minorities. In addition to its Rakhine version of the Rohingya history, genocide readers will find it bearing the warning signs of the Rohingya people’s on-going torment in Arakan. Aye Chan’s present work is important to consider for its unique version of inter-racial relations of some significance that defy academic understanding of Rohingya history and culture. As we will see below he has given a scholastic face to his xenophobic work. As part of a growing contemporary Arakanse popular literature, his goal here seems less erudite and more to demonize the Rohingyas to create fear among the Burmese people.

Who are the Rohingyas?

Rohingyas are an ethnic minority of Burma. Due to their racial differences with the Burmans, they were being officially declared by the military junta as the non-citizens of Burma, making them a stateless people. A closer look shows Rohingyas are a racially different non-Momgoloid Burmese people of multi-ethnic Arakan and Aye Chan's work is part of a literature intended to validate Burmese military’s official claims that Rohingyas are “foreigners” in Burma.

In his article Aye Chan asks “Who are the Rohingyas?” and continues, “Burma gained independence from Great Britain in 1948 and this issue is a problem that Burma has had to grapple with since that time.” (p. 15)

Contrary to his assertion, it is not just the Rohingya issue that has been a subject of debate in Burma since 1948; it is about Burma’s ethnic minorities in general and about Burma's official definition of who is the native of Burma and who is not has been the issue of debate. To resolve this and the other similar issues, U Nu, the then elected Prime Minister of Burma recognized Rohingyas as one of the Burmese nationalities. U Nu also named the Rohingya majority area in Burma’s North-West as the Mayu Frontier. It is the military junta of Ne Win that usurped power later that began persecuting them and questioning the status of the Rohingyas.

The author says, “The people who call themselves Rohingyas are the Muslims of Mayu Frontier area, present-day Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships of Arakan (Rakhine) State, an isolated province in the western part of the country across Naaf River as boundary from Bangladesh. (p. 15)

It is true that Rohingyas are concentrated in the Mayu Frontier. However, they also live in other parts of Arakan. (2) There is even a Rohingya para (village) in Akyab. It seems that at the outset of his article, Aye Chan with a void premise is beginning to isolate Rohingyas into an enclave.

The author states, “Arakan had been an independent kingdom before it was conquered by the Burmese in 1784. Rohingya historians have written many treatises in which they claim for themselves an indigenous status that is traceable within Arakan State for more than a thousand years. Although it is not accepted as a fact in academia, a few volumes purporting to be history but mainly composed of fictitious stories, myths and legends have been published formerly in Burma and later in the United States, Japan and Bangladesh. These, in turn, have filtered into the international media through international organizations, including reports to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Ba Tha 1960: 33-36; Razzaq and Haque 1995: 15).” (p. 15)

Aye Chan identifies the above mentioned sources as "treatises," "fictitious books" without detailing the content of the sources either in this article or elsewhere. It appears that his personal opinion is being passed on as simply an expert opinion.

He says, “The present paper was written for distribution and discussion at a seminar in Japan. During the seminar, there was a debate between the author and professor Kei Nemoto concerning the existence of the Rohingya people in Rakhine (Arakan). Nemoto, in a paper written in Japanese, agreed with the Rohingya historians that the Rohingyas have lived in Rakhine since the eigth century A. D. The author contests the validity of these claims.” (p. 15)

In the above, Aye Chan’s stand on contesting the validity of Rohingya’s origin in Arakan is clear. But the disconcerting thing is if his paper was written mainly to refute Kei Memoto's arguments, as he claims, it becomes an academic responsibility for the latter to provide the bibliographical details of Kei Nemoto's paper. Here we are left with Aye Chan as a feisty boxer without the details of the match!

Disparaging Rohingya history

The author says, “In light of this, it is important to reexamine the ethnicity of the ‘Rohingyas’ and to trace their history back to the earliest presence of their ancestors in Arakan.” (p. 15)

In the above, it is not clear “in the light of” what Aye Chan is trying to find the validity of the Rohingya's Burmese ethnicity? In other words, when he is questioning Rohingya’s origin, the benchmark of his measurement is not clear. But he continues, “And history tells us that we do not have to go back very far. In the early 1950s that a few Bengali Muslim intellectuals of the northwestern part of Arakan began to use the term “Rohingya” to call themselves.” (p. 15)

Aye Chan hesitates to go beyond 1950. One can legitimately question: why? Contrary to Aye Chan’s claims, history tells us that the term Rohingya was there before 1950. From the time of Noromikhla (from 1430 when the latter was helped to regain his kingdom from the Burmese) there had been a great degree of contact between Arakan's Mrohaung city and Bengal. Francis Buchanan, a British historian, in 1799 even met people in Burma who identified themselves as Rohingyas. (3) Michael Charney says, "...Rohingya was an invention of the colonial period, is contradicted by the evidence.”(4)

Obviously, when Aye Chan says "...we don't have to go very far" and claims himself as a historian, denying historical evidence as the above, it is a tendency in history-writing called reductionism. It seems that his understanding of the Rohingya situation is clearly taken in its "face value."

It is important to note that Rohingyas developed from several origins of people mainly from Indo-semitic background. In Aye Chan’s opinionated understanding he even neglected the Rohingya origin in the ancient Chandra rule of the "Indian Kulas." Chandra rule demonstrated in the Brahmni-derived Gupta-and Debanagri script in Arakan's early history. It was during this time that Arab sailors came in contact with the local Dravadian dark skinned people forming the first nucleus of the Rohingya people. (5) In other words, this was the first wave of the typical Rohingya population formation in southern Arakan.

The other great wave of Rohingya formation was the Bengali and Persian settlements in Arakan through the reigns of Narameikhla's time beginning from 1430. We also see during the 16th and 17th century even a "massive deportations of Bengalis” from lower Bengal to Arakan caused in the increase in the “Kula” people. In this context Jacques Leider notes, “Muslim mercenaries, poets, traders, and officials were few in number when compared to the thousands of slaves established along the Kalander and Lambro Rivers." (6) Evidently, even if poets and officials were few; their influence in the Arakani administration was significant. It is no wonder that these were the times of Alaol and the other Rohingya poets, originating from Arakanese slaves, who were the pioneers of the present Rohingalist language and its medieval literature.

It is true, “Michael W. Charney, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Stephan van Galen, Ana Marques Guedes who have all made important contributions during the last fifteen years. Their studies have thrown much light on the economic life of the Mrauk U kingdom, the importance of the slave and rice trade, and the importance of Muslim and Portuguese mercenaries in Arakan. They have shown in particular that when we talk about the presence of Muslims in Arakan and the existence of an early Muslim community, we should not only recall a few poets and ministers at the court of Rakhine, but as well the massive deportations and settlements of Bengalis in Arakan before 1785.” (7)

The number of these “Kalah” people settling in the valley of the greatest river of Arakan was so huge that the river ”Kaladan", was named after the Kalah or the socalled foreigners. It seems from the 16th century this region became the land of the Rohingyas who originated from Bengali slaves. (8)

Surprisingly, the author, claiming himself a native historian contradicts with the above observations and says, ”They [Rohingyas] were indeed the direct descendants of immigrants from the Chittagong District of East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh), who had migrated into Arakan after the province was ceded to British India under the terms of the Treaty of Yandabo, an event that concluded the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826).” (p. 15)

In the above we see Chan’s yardstick is that Rohingyas, as “foreigners” in Arakan, created for themselves an enclave within Burma. As foreigners, they are also the “Influx Viuses” needing to be exterminated. In detail, his hypothesis is that Rohingyas settled in Burma after 1824. Not surprisingly, this is also Burma's military government’s stand on the Rohingyas. In trying to justify his point he used the qualifier, “indeed” ("They were indeed..."). Here the source of his information is missing when he used the word "indeed" to emphasize. Again, it appears that it is simply his opinion.

As expected Aye Chan says, “Most of these migrants settled down in the Mayu Frontier Area, near what is now Burma’s border with modern Bangladesh.” (p.15) In the above when he says "most of these migrants settled down in the Mayu Frontier Area," he supposedly means that not all of Rohingyas are illegal immigrants. If we tentatively accept Aye Chan’s argument, we can now argue, are there records of the families of "most of these migrants" to justify this claim? The answer is, of course not. It is a statement based on flimsy premise. A Rohingya from Kyawktaw says “I was born in the village: Ombadi Rwa, under Kyawktaw Township in Arakan State of Burma. My father's name is Rwasugri Hafizur Rahman. My paternal grand father's name is Zebar Mullock who was killed during the pogrom of 1942 in communal violence. My maternal grand father's name is Amiruzzaman. All their graves along with my other forefathers are lying in that village. They also know very well that it is quite impossible for any Bengali settler to settle in a remote and interior area like Kyawktaw and as such it is quite impossible to find out any Bengali settler among the 40-generation predecessors of the people of Kyawktaw which is at a distance of 4 days journey from Bangladesh.”(9)

When Aye Chan asserts that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants, I believe Aye Chan here refers to their ancestors having supposedly settled after 1826. In making this type of statement the confusion Aye Chan created here is in his expression that Rohingyas are illegal settlers in Arakan. Contrary to Aye Chan’s claim however, Rohingyas are Burmese-born citizens. We now know that based on this same principle of racial categorization, in 1982 the Burmese military government declared the Rohingyas as the non-citizens of Burma. In this allegation, Aye Chan’s stand goes in favor of the military's 1982 Constitutional Act which denied Rohingyas's citizenship. It is now clear that the motivation behind Aye Chan’s writing this article and the book "Influx Viruses" is to reinforce the military’s position that Rohingyas are the noncitizens of Burma.

Again, to further prove his point Aye Chan calls the Rohingyas as “Chittagonians” because he says he finds it in the British colonial records. (p. 15) In this description, we see Aye Chan's double standard. He preferred to call his own community -- Rakhines, identified in the colonial record as “Mugh” meaning the “pirates in the Bay.” On the contrary, for the Rohingyas, he found them as "Chittagonians" to justify them as “foreigners.” In the colonial record, the term “Chittagonian” for Rohingyas had some colonial ambiguity for identifying them which will be discussed later. Aye Chan’s choice for identification of the Rohingyas as being "Chittagonians" -- who are a racially different group from his own -- clearly reflects his ultra-nationalist Rakhine prejudices.

The term Rohingya was in common use centuries ago. But Chan says, “The creators of that term [Rohingya] might have been from the second or third generations of the Bengali immigrants from the Chittagong District in modern Bangladesh.” (p. 16)

As opposed to Aye Chan’s beliefs, we see Francis Buchanan records "Rohingya" as an ethnonym in 1799, as a dialect that " … spoken by the Mohammadens, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Roainga, or natives of Arakan." (10) Michael W. Charney says, "The derivation of Rohingya from Roainga is very clear." (11) Buchanan's explanation that some Brahmin informants from Arakan called themselves as "Rosawan" and that the Rakhines called the Muslims and the Hindus as "Kulaw, Yakin, or stranger Yakin" prove the existence of the ethnonym predating British occupation of Arakan. (12)

Chan continues, “....however, this does not mean that there was no Muslim community in Arakan before the state was absorbed into British India. When King Min Saw Mon, the founder of Mrauk-U Dynasty (1430-1784) regained the throne with the military assistance of the Sultan of Bengal, after twenty-four years of exile in Bengal, his Bengali retinues were allowed to settle down in the outskirts of Mrauk-U, where they built the well-known Santikan mosque. These were the earliest Muslim settlers and their community in Arakan did not seem to be large in number." (p. 16)

We are puzzled with Chan’s statement above! When Bengal army was sent twice; once through Wali Khan and later Sindkhan to help the Arakanese forces to liberate Arakan from Burmese occupation, Chan’s wishful thinking took away the 30 thousand soldiers of Wali Khan and the 20 thousand of Sandikhan's army and their local wives and children who settled by the Kalander River Valley. (13) Aye Chan’s assertion is clearly tendentious, intended to intellectually belittling the Rohingyas history. It is no accident of history that based on a similar type of intolerant attitude, during the 1960s the more active Rakhine extremists to get rid of Rohingya history destroyed the historic Sandikhan mosque of Arakan!

Interestingly, the author acknowledges that, “In the middle of the seventeenth century the Muslim community grew because of the assignment of Bengali slaves in variety of the workforces in the country. The Portuguese and Arakanese raids of Benga (Bengal) for captives and loot became a conventional practice of the kingdom since the early sixteenth century. The Moghal historian Shiahabuddin Talish noted that only the Portuguese pirates sold their captives and that the Arakanese employed all of their prisoners in agriculture and other kinds of services (Talish 1907:422)." (p. 16) Chan, however, tries to belittle Muslim influence by saying, “Furthermore, there seem to have been a small group of Muslim gentry at the court. Some of them might have served the king as Bengali, Persian and Arabic scribes. Because the Mrauk-U kings, though of being Buddhist, adopted some Islamic fashions such as the maintaining of silver coins that bore their Muslim titles in Persian and occasionally appearing in Muslim costumes in the style of the Sultan of Bengal.These were the earliest Muslim settlers and their community in Arakan did not seem to be large in number.” (p. 16)

It is mind-boggling to accept Aye Chan’s assertion of the Rohingyas considering the fact that after the second arrival of the Bengal army when Arakan became a province of Bengal, it even began using Muslim coins, the kings used used Muslim names and the king paid taxes to the Bengali king. Historically speaking, due to such a Bengali/ Persian and Arabic influence, from this point onward in Arakan we see the rise of two distinct people with two languages; Rakhine and the Rohingya. The Muslim gentry's use of Persian and Arabic in the court was the fore bearer of today’s Rohingyalish language, and literature. Poet Alaol and others introduced this new trend in Rohingya literature. Arakan’s Rohingyalish received both Rakhine and Bengali influences which ultimately made it different from Chittagonian dialect. Aye Chan seems oversimplified the complexities of Arakan history and says, “Rohingyas are Chittagonian” “illegal immigrants” and “influx viruses.”

Ignoring Important Facts about Burmese Invasion of Arakan

The present author in his work also ignores other important issues. He says “During the four decades of Burmese rule (1784-1824), because of ruthless oppression, many Arakanese fled to British Bengal. According to a record of British East India Company, there were about thirty-five thousand Arakanese who had fled to Chittagong district in British India to seek protection in 1799 (Asiatic Annual Register 1799: 61; Charney 1999: 265).” (p. 16)
While Aye Chan reports about the Rakhine exodus to Bengal due to the Burmese invasion of Arakan, he remained silent on the Rohingya exodus during the same event. He has excluded the Rohingyas as if Rohingyas were Budapaya's favorites and nothing happened to them. Whereas Puran, probably a Rohingya (as quoted by Buchanan), says, "... in one day soon after the conquest of Arakanthe Burmans put 40,000 men to Death: that wherever they found a pretty Woman, they took her after killing the husband; and the young Girls they took without any consideration of their parents, and thus deprived these poor people of the property, by which in Eastern India the aged most commonly support their infirmities." (14) Other Bengali sources report that refugees poured into Chittagong as far as up to the Sanga River in Chittagong. (15)

Chan, quoting Charney, says, “A considerable portion of Arakanese population was deported by Burmese conquerors to Central Burma. When the British occupied Arakan, the country was a scarcely populated area. Formerly high-yield paddy fields of the fertile Kaladan and Lemro River Valleys germinated nothing but wild plants for many years (Charney 1999: 279)."

In Aye Chan’s co-authored book, Influx Viruses, says, “Many Rakhines, who took refuge in India, began to return to their homeland immediately after the annexation. Most of them began to settle in Sittwe, Kyaukpyu and Thandwe and some people managed to settle in their original native places.” (16) It is true the invasion created such a fear that a great number of people left Arakan. “The population at the time of British occupation in 1826 did not exceed 100,000. In 1831 it amounted to 173,000; in 1839 to 248,000, and in 1901 to 762,102.”(17) It appears that only a fraction of its population returned back to Arakan. What was the population of Arakan at the time of Burmese invasion? From the close contact that Arakan maintained with Bengal for over 3 centuries, it is reasonable to assume that at the time of invasion there could be equal number of Rohingyas and Rakhines in Arakan. This makes sense when we notice that Rohingyas are descended from the aboriginal Dravadian Kula stock, the Arab settlers from the 8th century, the Persian soldiers during the Narameikhla’s time and afterwards, and the massive Bengali slaves exported to Arakan that had culminated to a large “Kula” population in the Kaladan valley of Arakan. It seems clear that with the Rakhines, a large number of Rohingyas also migrated to Chittagong and mingled with the racially similar Chittagonian people.

It is unfortunate that neither the British colonial historians nor any modern Western scholars of Arakan raised this important issue, causing the Aye Chan’s type Rakhine speculation that the rise in the Rohingya population in Arakan was caused by Bengali settlements in Arakan. Bengali sources however, shows that during the genocidal Burmese campaign, a majority of the Arakanese population -- both Rakhine and Rohingya -- escaped from Arakan to Chittagong causing this 'depopulation' of Arakan. Therefore, this massive depopulation cannot be attributed solely to the Rakhine migration to Chittagong; it is also due to the Rohingyas leaving Arakan for a safer place in Chittagong. (18)

Referring to the Chittagong region, just prior to the Burmese invasion, Jacques Leider notes, “Arakan's territorial expansion in the late 16th century came at the price of a large buffer zone that was waste land: the region north of Chittagong up to the Feni River in the Noakhali River; that land was depopulated." (19) Prior to the Burmese invasion, this depopulation in Chittagong was caused by the “Mogh-Portuguese piracy” and Bengali slave trade making Chittagong a wasteland.

During the period of Burmese invasion, the terrified Rakhine and Rohingyas simply crossed the river Naaf and settled in the Chittagong region depopulated due to the Mogh piracy. In order to justify his notion that Rohingyas are foreigners, who had entered Arakan after 1826 as illegal immigrants, Aye Chan says, “… the British policy was to encourage the Bengali inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into fertile valleys in Arakan as agriculturalists. “ (p. 17) Not surprisingly, Aye Chan notes Rakhine returnees after the British conquest of Arakan but ignores the Rohingyas, and blames the British for allowing return of the non-Mongoloid Rohingyas. Aye Chan names the Rohingya returnees as the “Chittagonians.” This, in spite the fact that, as a result of such a genocidal massacre by the Burmese king, just over four decades earlier, many Rakhines and Rohingyas had settled in the relatively peaceful and fertile southern Chittagong, which is topographically similar to Arakan. Seeing the law and order situation restored within a generation, under the British rule, some Rohingyas, like the Rakhines, out of nostalgia must have returned to their ancestral lands. Aye Chan finds it a problem!

Aye Chan says about these migrants: “The migrations were mostly motivated by the search of professional opportunity. During the Burmese occupation there was a breakdown of the indigenous labor force both in size and structure.” (p. 17). This 'breakdown' of the labor force can be explained by the fact that Rohingya (generally agculturists) had left Arakan to settle in Chittagong. Aye Chan identified these returnees as “Chittagonians.”

Aye Chan states “At first most of them came to Arakan as seasonal agricultural laborers and went home after the harvest was done.” (p. 17) understandably, the oppression by the Burmese rule was so fearsome that some Rohingyas must have returned only as seasonal workers considering the fact that Arakan was still in anarchy and Rohingyas had termed it as a (Mogher Mulluk) lawless society. (20)

There is no doubt that as news of the restoration of law and order spread, many Rohingyas must have gone back to reclaim their ancestral homes. Ignoring this vital information, Aye Chan finds the Rohingyas as “Chittagonians” and bulged the Rohingyas with Indian migrants who migrated to Rangoon in Burma during the British period.

Aye Chan says,” ... hunger for land was the prime motive for the migration of most of the Chittagonians. The British judicial records tell us of an increase in the first decade of the twentieth century in lawsuits of litigation for the possession of land.” (p. 17)

In his attempt to prove Rohingyas as being niggling people, Chan cites the number of litigation as an example. However, seen from another angle, it explains the huge volume of the Rohingya population that left Arakan during the invasion and now as the returnees to Arakan had to go to court to reclaim their property that were already occupied by the Rakhines and other aliens from Burma. In accounting the returnees, the impact of the Burmese invasion and its result in the rise of Arakanese Rohingya population in Chittagong, Aye Chan has neglected the Bengali sources that recorded the accounts of migration to southern Chittagong, When dealing with this key issue, his neglect of the contextual approach created a void in his work and retarded his entire line of arguments.

Aye Chan fails to use cross-cultural references and cross checking of data to verify the records in its totality. These make his research incomplete. It appears that the contradictions in his claims are clouded by his willful omission of the Rohingya side of the story. Aye Chan’s most striking omission is that while he remains critical of the Rohingyas, he remains silent about the Burman colonial settlement in Arakan during the same period, which shows his racial favoritism to the Burmese settlers but remains xenophobic in accounting the Rohingyas issues.

Aye Chan also ignored few other details. His main concern was the increase in the Rohingya population during the British period. Other than Rakhine and the Rohingya returnees, the increase in Muslim population could be attributed to the fact that Rohingyas living in agricultural societies had practiced polygamous marriages that must have led to an increase in the child birth which was not the case with the Rakhines.

In proving his hypothesis, Aye Chan often displayed other contradictions. He himself mentioned that the British census included Arakanese Muslims in some accounts as "Indians" and in some other accounts as "Chittagonians.” It is an irony that Aye Chan used such faulty categorizations of the 18th century to identify Arakanese people of our modern times by race and religion to determine their native status and their citizenship rights. In all this, Aye Chan’s misadventure seems to be that, he is as trying to find a pin (the illegal Rohingya) in a haystack.

Aye Chan’s Religious Xenophobia

To create a victim’s complex among the Rakhines, Aye Chan now eulogizes the alleged discriminatory policy by the British. He says, “…British administration to a certain extent gave the Muslim village communities religious and cultural autonomy. How the new comers from the Chittagong District set up their village communities in the frontier area. They occupied the villages deserted by the Arakanese during the Burmese rule and established purely Muslim village communities.” (p. 19 ) What is surprising is that Aye Chan didn't want to understand that there could be the displaced Muslim villagers who had returned back and obviously on their return they were not going to build pagodas in their villages. It is a simple truth that Christians would build church, Buddhists pagodas, and Muslims mosques in their localities. Aye Chan didn’t clarify how making mosques can make the Muslims “purely Muslim communities.”

1942 Japanese Occupation of Arakan and the Birth of Rohingya Tragedy

If the Burmese invasion of Arakan in 1784 and the subsequent British colonial occupation from 1826 were not enough to create misunderstanding among Arakanese people, the 1942 Japanese occupation and the race riot was the last straw to break the camel's back. It led to the birth of Rohingya tragedy. Aye Chan relates, “The Japanese air force attacked Akyab on 23 March 1942 and the British moved their administrative headquarter to India on March 30. The administration by martial law began in Akyab District on 13 April 1942 and with this racial tension burst to the surface, giving way to the public disorder (Owen 1946: 26).” (p. 22) He continues, “Regarding the beginning of the ethnic violence in Arakan, Moshe Yegar wrote that when the British administration was withdrawn to India in 1942 the Arakanese hoodlums began to attack the Muslim villages in southern Arakan and the Muslims fled to the north where they took vengeance on the Arakanese in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships (Yegar 1972:67). However, an Arakanese record says: When the British administration collapsed by the Japanese occupation, the village headman of Rak-chaung village in Myebon Township and his two younger brothers were killed by the kula (Muslim) villagers. Although the headman was an Arakanese, some of the villagers were kulas. The two Arakanese young men, Thein Gyaw Aung and Kyaw Ya, organized a group and attacked the kula villages and some inhabitants were killed (Rakhine State People’s Council 1986:36).” (p. 21)

In the above Aye Chan quotes the notorious Rakhine State People’s Council as a biased source that identifies the Rohingyas as the Kulas. Aye Chan continues, “It is certain that hundreds of Muslim inhabitants of Southern Arakan fled northward, and that there were some cases of robbing the Indian refugees on the Padaung-Taungup pass over the Arakan Yoma mountain ranges after the retreat of the British from the Pegu Division and southern Arakan." (p. 22) If the above version is true, Aye Chan’s original hypothesis that Rohingyas are Chittagonian Bengalis has been contradicted by his own description. The displaced Rohingyas in the north seem to be not from Chittagong, but from southern Arakan.

Reporting the impact of the 1942 events, Aye Chan relates, “But the news of killing, robbery and rape was exaggerated when it reached Burma India border (Ba Maw 1968: 78). The British left all these areas to the mercy of both Burmese and Arakanese dacoits.” (p. 22)

Surprisingly, when Rakhines commit genocide, to Aye Chan, they are only decoits, not the Fascists. The fact of the matter is that genocide was committed by the ultra-nationalist Arakanese army with its local followers who were “the leaders of ANC (Arakan National Congress), formed in 1939 … that … formed a de-facto government, before the Japanese troops and Burma Independence Army (BIA) reached there.” (p.21)

Throughout his essay, Aye Chan shows that Rakhines were the main victims. The question to Aye Chan is: how is this possible when the British withdrew from Arakan and the Rakhine leaders were in charge of Arakan under the Japanese Fascist army? Contrary to this, we see, the Fascist Rakhine leaders were busy inciting their followers. Yes, as evident in Germany and in former Yogoslavia, the 1942 is a single event that displaced Rohingyas from the South to the northern Arakan, in the Mayu Frontier, which Aye Chan erroneously calls the “illegal enclave.”

Aye Chan says, “The events during the war contributed the Chittagonians’ fervent sense of alienation from the heterogeneous community of the Arakan. Anthony Irwin called the whole area a ‘No Man’s Land’ during the three years of Japanese occupation (Irwin 1946:27). Irwin elucidates how the ethnic violence divided the Arakan State between Arakanese and Chittagonians: “As the area then occupied by us was almost entirely Mussulman Country… (from) that we drew most of our “Scouts” and Agents. The Arakan before the war had been occupied over its entire lenghth by both Mussulman and Maugh (Arakanese). Then in 1941 the two sects set to and fought.The result of this war was roughly that the Maugh took over the southern half of the country and the Mussulman the North. (Irwin 1946: 86).” (P.23)


Burmese traditional culture enshrined by the military and its collaborators are characterized by xenophobia. Typically, Aye Chan relates the Muslim community of Arakan. “The village committee authorized by the Village Amendment Act of 1924 paved the way for the Imam (moulovi) and the trusteeship committee members of the village mosque to be elected to the village council. They were also allowed to act as the village magistrates and shariah was somewhat in effect in the Muslim villages (Charter 1938:34-38). At least the Islamic court of village had the jurisdiction over familial problems such as marriage, inheritance and divorce. There was no internal sense of unrighteousness and presence of nonbelievers in their community, and accordingly they believe no internecine struggle was for the time being necessary. However, the ethnic violence between Arakanese Buddhists and those Muslim Chittagonians brought a great deal of bloodshed to Arakan during the World War II and after 1948, in the opening decade of independent Burma. Some people of the Mayu Frontier in their early seventies and eighties have still not forgotten the atrocities they suffered in 1942 and 1943 during the short period of anarchy between the British evacuation and the Japanese occupation of the area.” (p.20)
While Aye Chan recognizes the 1942 massacre, he doesn’t recognize its victims being the Rohingyas. Contrary to Aye Chan’s, some conservative estimates put the figure of Rohingya death over 40 thousand. (21) Aye Chan’s argument shows him as an anti-Rohingya collaborator of the military government policy and its xenophobic interpretation of history. In Aye Chan’s demonstration of events, casual readers of 1942 event might confuse scholarship with propaganda.

Stretching Imagination

“One of the underlying causes of the communal violence was the Zamindary System brought by the British from Bengal. By this system the British administrators granted the Bengali landowners thousands of acres of arable land on ninety-year-leases. The Arakanese peasants who fled the Burmese rule and came home after British annexation were deprived of the land that they formerly owned through inheritance.” Aye Chan says (p. 20) To put Aye Chan’s argument in context, generally speaking, British Zamindary system had not been known as a pro-people system. Zamindars were the agents of the British masters. Since there were Zamindars from both Rakhines and fewer from the Rohingyas, the negative impact of this system by Rohingyas themselves could not have been more than their Rakhine counterparts on the Arakanese society.

Aye Chan continues his anti-Rohingya grievance: “Most of the Bengali immigrants were influenced by the Farai-di movement in Bengal that propagated the ideology of the Wahhabis of Arabia, which advocated settling ikhwan or brethren in agricultural communities near to the places of water resources. The peasants, according to the teaching, besides cultivating the land should be ready for waging a holy war upon the call by their lords (Rahman 1979: 200-204).“

What is the purpose in the use of this paragraph from Fazlur Rahman to explain the religious trends in Arakan? My research on Aye Chan’s work reveals his lack intellectual honesty. In the above quote, Aye Chan misuses the source to prove his point. Firstly, Fazlur Rahman didn't say anything about Arakanese Muslims or about their Faraidi movement or their Ikwan connection because there was no such thing. The fact of the matter is that unlike the Wahabi movement in India, Faraidi movement was largely a homegrown movement against the oppressive Zamindari system in Bengal. Then, it appears that Aye Chan’s motivation has two dimensions, using a Muslim writer as a source to show Aye Chan’s cross cultural expertise on the subject and secondly to portray Islam as being dangerous. As we have come this far, based on the above, we are beginning to question Aye Chan’s credibility as a historian.

More Stretching of Imagination

Aye Chan continues his stretching of imagination: “For the convenience of Chittagonians seasonal laborers the Arakan Flotilla Company constructed a railway between Buthidaung and Maungdaw in 1914. Their plan was to connect Chittagong by railway with Buthidaung, from where the Arakan Flotilla steamers were ferrying to Akyab and other towns in central and southern Arakan.” Here no citation of reference was provided. Since such plan was not mentioned anywhere, whether there was an actual plan, couldn't be ascertained. Under the circumstances, it appears to be a Rakhine xenophobic gossip, recorded by Aye Chan as fact. In addition, such a plan couldn’t be true for other reasons that the distance between Arkan and Chittagong city is over 300 miles. Chittagong, due to its mountainous terrain, and numerous rivers and their tributaries, until today, the railway didn't expand over more than 18 miles from the city of Chittagong to the south. Clearly, there is a difference between ghost writing and history writing!

Aye Chan says, “In the period of the independence movement in Burma in 1920s and 1930s the Muslims from the Mayu Frontier were more concerned with the progress of Muslim League in India.” Again no source of Aye Chan’s information is provided to prove the trend. But what is evident in a similar situation in India was that the Ulama in India sided not with the Muslim League but with the Congress. In the absence of a source for Aye Chan’s information, his hypothesis appears to be no more than what is based on his anti-Muslim built-up prejudices.

Aye Chan describes, “[A]lthough some prominent Burmese Muslims such as M.A. Rashid and U Razak played an important role in the leadership of the Burmese nationalist movement. In 1931, the Simon Commission was appointed by the British Parliament to enquire the opinion of Burmese people for the constitutional reforms and on the matter of whether Burma should be separated from Indian Empire. The spokesman of the Muslim League advocated for fair share of government jobs, ten percent representation in all public bodies, and especially in Arakan the equal treatment for Muslims seeking agricultural and business loans (Cady 1958: 294).” Contrary to Aye Chan’s perception, this must be a good thing by the Rohingya minorities to ask for their rights which he found absurd. Instead of that the more relevant question to be asked, did the party want to separate Arakan from Burma? The answer is a clearly no. So, if it was not to create fear and cause incitement among the Rakhines, why is it necessary for Aye Chan to use this type of anti-Rohingya argument in the first place?

Aye Chan’s Rohingya as the Illiterate Brute

Aye Chan says, “In education, the Chittagonians were left behind the Arakanese throughout the colonial period. According to the census of 1901 only 4.5 percent of the Bengali Muslims were found to be literate while the percentage for the Arakanese was 25.5. Smart reported that it was due to the ignorance of the advantages of the education among the Chittagonian agriculturists. Especially Buthidaung and Maungdaw were reported to be most backward townships because the large Muslim population in that area mostly agriculturalists showed little interest in education.“ (p. 20) Here, Aye Chan is contradicting himself again. In the above, he first makes the Rakines victims in the hand of Muslim Zamindars. Then again he is saying that Muslims remained backward. The point is: if the British helped Muslims with Zamindari system at the expense of the Rakines, how come Muslims remained so backward compared to the Rakhines. In Bengal, where there was also the Zamindari system and most zamindars were Hindus, the latter excelled over the Muslim majority. Here in his description, if Muslims were favored by the British as Chan has mentioned before, Muslims were supposed to excel but now he is saying Muslims remained backward.

It is not hard to understand what Aye Chan has been trying to advocate to his Arakanese and the Burmese audience. It could simply be his conclusion that Muslims were illiterates, and therefore brutes/ fundamentalists, and the trouble-makers to his peace-loving and respectable Rakhine gentleman. Unfortunately, his use of this type of assertions in a seemingly academic paper put together in spurious relationships can easily deceive casual readers of Arakan history.

Aye Chan the Linguist

Aye Chan relates, “In 1894 there were nine Urdur (sic) schools with 375 students in the whole district. The British provincial administration appointed a deputy inspector for Muslim schools and in 1902 the number of schools rose to seventy-two and the students increased to 1,474 (Smart 1957: 207-209). Consequently, more Arakanese and Hindu Indians were involved in the ancillary services of the colonial administration.” (p. 21)

Aye Chan claims that he is a linguist. But the language he is referring to is not "Urdur" but "Urdu." Aye Chan says, “Towards the middle of twentieth century, a new educated and politically conscious younger generation had superseded the older, inactive ones. Before the beginning of the Second World War a political party, Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam was founded under the guidance of the Islamic scholars. Islam became the ideological basis of the party (Khin Gyi Pyaw 1960: 99). “ (p. 25)

What does Aye Chan mean by "superseded the older, inactive ones”? If they were inactive how could they be important? What were they doing when remained inactive? Surprisingly, in identifying this, Aye Chan didn't mention the other Rohingya political parties and their individual ideological trends among the Rohingyas, except the one he found important useful for his explanation; Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam to foment anti-Muslim prejudices amongst his followers. This shows his agenda against the Rohingyas.

Aye Chan says, “During the early post-war years, both Arakanese and Bengali Muslims in the Mayu Frontier looked at each other with distrust. As the British Labor Government promised independence for Burma, some Muslims were haunted by the specter of their future living under the infidel rule in the place where the baneful Arakanese are also living.” (p. 23) The constant anxiety of living in a land that is characterized by intolerance against minority Muslims is understandable. But for Aye Chan to reinforce the prejudices with a loaded word "infidel" as if it is an Arakanese Muslim community's own version of the Rakhine is hypocritical.

Rohingya Frustration and Alienation

Aye Chan in his analysis of the topic goes back to the events of 1942 in a zigzag fashion. He says, “An All Arakan Conference was held in Myebon on 1 April 1947 and about ten thousand people from all parties in Arakan attended. U Aung San was openly assailed to his face as an opportunist by some people attending the conference, using rebellious slogans (British Library, London, India Office Records M/4/PRO: WO 203/5262). U Seinda with the communists behind him moved forward to the rebellion. Actually, Thakhin Soe’s Red Flag Communists took advantage of the misunderstanding between U Seinda and AFPFL. It was in fact an ideological struggle in the AFPFL, the national united front of Burma that was under the leadership of the charismatic leader U Aung San. On the other side some Arakanese intellectuals led by U Hla Tun Pru, a Barrister-at-Law, held a meeting in Rangoon and demanded the formation of “Arakanistan” for the Arakanese people (British Library, London, India Office Records, M/4/2503). All these movements of the Arakanese might have alarmed Muslims from the Mayu Frontier. In the wake of independence most of the educated Muslims felt an overwhelming sense of collective identity based on Islam as their religion and the cultural and ethnic difference of their community from the Burmese and Arakanese Buddhists.“ (p. 24)

As a matter of fact, alienation and panic was not only amongst Muslims from Myu frontier, it was all over Arakan. It was such a panic and a general sense of suffering on the rank and file members of the so-called "Kulas" (the Muslims of Arakan) that during the 1950’s it led them to identify themselves with a common secular name "the Rohingyas of Arakan." While the name "Rohingya" was already existent in Arakan, it was now officially adopted for Muslims by their leaders to fight xenophobia and to state clearly that they will not settle for a derogatory term -- "Kolas” (Negros).

Aye Chan says, “At the same time, the Arakanese became more and more concerned with their racial security and ethnic survival in view of the increasingly predominant Muslim population in their frontier.“ (p. 24) Indeed, among the Rakhines, during the Anglo-Burmese war (1824-1826) the ultra-nationalist sentiment began to grow to the point that after the First World War, the colonial given name Mugh was officially changed into the present name "Rakines". Lately, with the help of the Burmese government, the province was also renamed as the Rakhine state; as if Rohingyas do not exist. The city's Rohingya name Akyab was also changed into Sittwe and Rohingya historic places were even demolished to confirm that Rohingyas are simply “foreigners” in Burma. While this Rakhinization continued on one hand, on the other hand, intellectuals like Aye Chan and their nonintellectual followers even comically exclaim that they have never heard of the name Rohingya before the 1950s; therefore, to them Rohingyas must be foreigners!

In pulling down the pillars of communal tolerance, Aye Chan in biting disposition states, “The ethnic conflict in the rural areas of the Mayu frontier revived soon after Burma celebrated independence on 4 January 1948. Rising in the guise of Jihad, many Muslim clerics (Moulovis) playing a leading role, in the countryside and remote areas gave way to banditary, arson and rapes.” (p. 25) This accusation is libelous, and not surprisingly, thus, that Aye Chan fails to provide a reliable source for his information. He, however, quotes Moshe Yeagar who “wrote that one of the major reasons of Mujahid rebellion was that the Muslims who fled Japanese occupation were not allowed to resettle in their villages (Yegar 1972:98).” (p. 25) Can we blame the Rohingyas under the prevalent circumstance? Their situation was complicated by 1942 riot. The denial of their ancestral land-claims in the south made Rohingyas desperate, leading up to the rebellion against the institutional racism. In this, unlike Aye Chan, Yager as a historian records Arakan as a source of one of the refugee producing areas in South-East Asia, In contrast, Aye Chan identifies the Rohingyas simply as the “Chittagonians” creating an “Illegal Muslim enclave” in Burma to justify the continued genocide.

Arakan's distant past shows Arakan is both at the same time an extension of Burma and also Bengal and the Rakhines and the Rohingyas are the expressions of its past. Now that the xenophobic Burmese military rules Arakan, it denies one part of Arakan history; the Rohingya history. It shows that in this crossroads of South Asia and South East Asia, whenever there is a repressive xenophobic regime in Burma, Rohingyas continues to migrate to Chittagong. Even today, there are 20, 000 registered Rohingya refugees in Chittagong. In this tragic triangle, we see when a Rohingya from Arakan crosses the Burmese border to Chittagong and becomes a refugee in southern Chittagong; he is identified by the Burmese military and their collaborators (Aye Kyaw of the ANC and Aye Chan likes) as simply the Chittagonians. In times of stability, when such a Rohingya goes back to Arakan to reclaim his property, he is seen as the “dangerous Chittagonian” and are normally either killed or put in jail or pushed out of Arakan as a “foreigner.” So, xenophobia followed by repression on the Rohingya prolongs the flow of the refugees to Chittagong.

The author says, “The Mujahid uprising began two years before the independence was declared. In March 1946 the Muslim Liberation Organization (MLO) was formed with Zaffar Kawal, a native of Chittagong District, as the leader. A conference was held in May 1948 in Garabyin Village north to Maungdaw and the name of the organization was changed to “Mujahid Party.” (Department of Defense Service Archives, Rangoon, DR 491 (56)).”
Aye Chan, to reinforce his stand, continues, “Jaffar Kawal became the commander in chief and his lieutenant was Abdul Husein, formerly a corporal from the Akyab District police force (Department of Defense Service Archives, Rangoon, DR 1016). The Mujahid Party sent a letter written in Urdur (sic) and dated 9 June 1948 to the government of Union of Burma through the sub-divisional officer of Maungdaw Township. Their demands are as follows (Department of Defence Service Archives, Rangoon: CD 1016/10/11):
(1) The area between the West Bank of Kaladan River and the east bank of Naaf River must be recognized as the National Home of the Muslims in Burma.
(2) The Muslims in Arakan must be accepted as the nationalities of Burma.
(3) The Mujahid Party must be granted a legal status as a political organization.
(4) The Urdur (sic) Language must be acknowledged as the national language of the Muslims in Arakan and be taught in the schools in the Muslim areas.
(5) The refugees from the Kyauktaw and Myohaung (Mrauk-U) Townships must be resettled in their villages at the expense of the state.
(6) The Muslims under detention by the Emergency Security Act must be unconditionally released.
(7) A general amnesty must be granted for the members of the Mujahid Party.”
As mentioned earlier, there was a general discontent. However, the question that Aye Chan didn’t answer is: why was there a general discontent? Why even the local police felt alienated? It must be a result of gross injustices done to the Rohingyas? While the demands seem legitimate, neither the Burmese military nor the Arakanese dominant group, the Rakhines, felt it necessary to fulfill their demands. During U Nu's time attempts were made to integrate the Rohingyas and they were recognized as one of Burma's nationalities. But after the 1962 military coup of Ne Win, Rohingya rights were being violated and the rule by fear and force continued.

As if the 1942 event was not enough, the military’s oppression from 1962 culminated into the total denial of the Rohingyas as the citizens of Burma, It is known that when ethnic cleansing madness begins it affects innocent people more than criminals. But the biggest culprits in such situations are not the ordinary people who also participate in genocide, it is the inciters. Here in Arakan, it was some Western-trained Arakanese xenophobes who remained the brain behind the violence.

Aye Chan relates, “In the two years following the decision to nationalize the retail trade, some 100,000 Indians and some twelve thousand Pakistanis left Burma for their homeland. The flow of Indians returning to India as a result of these policies began in 1964 (Donison 1970: 199-200). But the Muslim agriculturists from Northern Arakan, most of them, holding the national registration cards issued by the Department of National Registration in the post-war decade, were not concerned with the event and remained in the frontier areas till the Citizenship Law of 1982 was enforced in 1987.” (p. 26)

To Aye Chan "Muslim agriculturists from Northern Arakan, most of them, holding the national registration cards issued by the Department of National Registration" were not yet Burmese and as the "illegals" in the “enclave” should have left Arakan! But the point is, when it takes less than a decade by Burmese (like Aye Kyaw) living in the West to become citizens of western countries, why should such people object at Rohingya’s Burmese citizenship in their ancestral land? When the democratic government of U Nu issued the National Registration Cards to the Rohingyas, if it is not racism, what makes the NRC invalid and requires amending the citizenship law by the military government? It seems that it is not the Rohingya’s origin in Arakan that is the issue here but it is the military government’s genocidal strategy to get rid of an undesirable group -- the Rohingyas. Aye Chan’s present work confirms the situation and seems to weather a continuing existence of genocide in Arakan.

Aye Chan says the story

Aye Chan says, “By this law those Muslims had been treated as aliens in the land they have inhabited for more than a century. According to the 1983 census report all Muslims in Arakan constituted 24.3 percent and they all were categorized as Bangladeshi, while the Arakanese Buddhists formed 67.8 percent of the population of the Arakan (Rakhine) State (Immigration and Manpower Department 1987: I-14).”(p. 27) He cites the census by the military government that considers Muslims as only 24.3% and they are all considered Bangladeshis; it doesn’t cover close to a million Rohingya refugees scattered across the globe. Compared to the military’s labeling of all the Arakanese Muslims as Bangladeshis, indeed, Aye Chan’s portrayal of the hypothetical Rohingya “enclave” with “influx viruses” in the Mayu frontier seems quite liberal in comparison!

Aye Chan says, “In the abortive 1988 Democracy Uprising, those Muslims again became active, hoisting the Rohingya banner. Subsequently when the military junta allowed the registration of the political parties they asked for their parties to be recognized under the name “Rohingya.” Their demand was turned down and some of them changed tactics and formed a party, the National Democratic Party for Human rights (NDPHR) that won in four constituencies in 1990 elections as eleven candidates of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) were elected to the legislature.” (p. 27). Contrary to Aye Chan’s portrayal of the Rohingyas in this and in his other articles as being dangerous Muslim people, the Rohingya’s election participation and the result shows that they are a democratic-minded people. They are for negotiated settlement of their problems. It shows that after all Burmese Buddhist people don't have to fear the Rohingyas because they are neither "foreigners" nor dangerous.

Aye Chan says, “However, the Elections Commission abolished both the ALD and the NDPHR in 1991. Some of the party members went underground and into exile. Recently, the main objectives of the movement of some groups have been to gain the recognition of their ethnic entity in the Union of Burma and to obtain the equal status enjoyed by other ethnic groups. But some elements have adopted the radical idea of founding a separate Muslim state. The following are the Rohingya organizations currently active on the Burma-Bangladesh border (Mya Win 1992: 3):
1. RSO (Rohingya Solidarity Organization)
2. ARIF (Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front)
3. RPF (Rohingya Patriotic Front)
4. RLO (Rohingya Liberation Organization)
5. IMA (Itihadul Mozahadin of Arakan)”

Aye Chan again is using xenophobia as a trick. He says, “Some elements have adopted the radical idea of founding a separate Muslim state.“ When I checked the details, I found Aye Chan showing the case as if this was a trend during the 1990s but in reality it was not. Today most Rohingyas are in favor of their reconciliation and justice through democratic reform in Arakan. Contrary to the current trend, Aye Chan in his work gives us the notion that Rohingyas are some radical elements and their presence is as if “viruses” in Arakan who are required to be destroyed or will eventually destroy the Arakanese Burmese people. This type of dehumanizing literature by so-called academics reminds us of the early signs of genocide in Germany, in the former Yugoslavia, and recently in Rwanda and the literature written by intellectuals in those countries to incite the general public, so as to take up action against its targeted minority.

Fear of Democratic Reform and the End of Rakhine Supremacy

Aye Chan says, “Their leaders began to complain that the term “Chittagonian Bengali” had arbitrarily been applied to them. But the majority of the ethnic group, being illiterate agriculturalists in the rural areas, still prefers their identity as Bengali Muslims. (p. 27) Aye Chan’s source of this information is not from a reliable survey. He is wrong in his observation, for he himself said that the Rohingya parties wanted recognition under their name – Rohingya – which was denied to them by the junta. My general observation of Aye Chan’s work is that no doubt he has a hypothesis. But to prove it, he even strips the source, and suppresses core evidence to make it look credible.

Aye Chan says, “Although they have showed the collective political interest for more than five decades since Burma gained independence, their political and cultural rights have not so far been recognized and guaranteed. On the contrary the demand for the recognition of their rights sounds a direct challenge to the right of autonomy and the myth of survival for the Arakanese majority in their homeland." (p. 28) It is known that when the legitimate demand for the recognition of the minority rights is seen as “a direct challenge,” it triggers genocide. Here Aye Chan is right: Rohingya’s demand for their rights is a direct challenge “to the right of autonomy and the myth of survival for the Arakanese majority in their homeland." Whose homeland? Isn’t Arakan supposed to be the homeland of its people?

The ultranationalists like Aye Chan dreams of the revival of an independent kingdom that was lost to the Burmese. Rakhine’s autonomy from Burma is a minimum gain and guarantee for them; whereas a democratic reform and the establishment of a modern sense of equality and justice will take away such a privileged position from the Rakhines as the absolute owners of Arakan. Aye Chan’s conclusion that if Rohingyas are tolerated, Rakhines have to share the scarce resources with the Rohingyas is clear. Ashin Nayaka, an Arakani monk in encouraging the ultra-nationalists wrote in the forward section of the book Influx Viruses the same:"Rohingya movements have been accompanied by certain dangers and challenges, particularly for the Arakan State and beyond." (22)
Undoutedly, most of the ethnic/ racial troubles originate from an unwillingness to share resources and the myths of a glorious past allow them to demonize the minorities with the myth of being “foreigners.” So Aye Chan’s "influx viruses" in the “Enclave” are simply a myth of a Rakhine survival strategy reinforced by the military government.

Aye Chan says, “A symbiotic coexistence has so far been inconceivable because of the political climate of mistrust and fear between the two races and the policy of the military junta.” (p. 26) There is no doubt that there is a problem between the two races - Rakhine and the Rohingya - in this meeting point of South Asia and South-East Asia. But when Aye Chan understands this, ethically speaking, himself as an educationist, he should not have taken up academic tools to fool people to preach the xenophobic survival myth for his Rakhine race. While the military’s practice of “how to lie convincingly for years helps” in the construction of falsehood through xenophobia, Aye Chan’s use of intellectual tools to understand Rohingya history as well doesn’t help in the construction of knowledge.

Aye Chan denies the birth right of the Rohingyas by concluding, “The Muslims from the other parts of Arakan kept themselves aloof from the Rohingya cause as well. Thus the cause of Rohingyas finds a little support outside their own community, and their claims of an earlier historical tie to Burma are insupportable.” (p. 28)
Aye Chan's article "Enclave" portrays a politically defined superior Rakhine country gentleman living in peace and serenity in Arakan with its glorious past. Here with a future democratic reform, he sees the racially different Rohingya posing a dangerous threat -- a threat from an enclave just near the international border, if not taken seriously, will destroy their lost Arakan’s glory.

Conclusion: Behind the Mask of the Devil

As an educationist, Aye Chan doesn’t like to appear as a street fighter, so he is fighting against the Rohingyas with the mask of the devil, showing an attitude of internal arrogance through his pen. Works like Aye Chan’s justify army’s brutal action to restrict movement on the Rohingyas, ban marriage, impose extreme surveillance and enforce Rohingya’s suffering through starvation in villages which are more like the concentration camps as if they are dealing with “aliens,” “foreigners”, or even “viruses.” Aye Chan seemed to be trapped in his imaginary "enclave" he wanted to build to facilitate the military to act on the Rohingyas like “…hyenas on Africa's Serengeti picking off old and sick gazelle or wilder beast and making a meal,” in this case help the military continue its genocide in Arakan.

From the above review of Aye Chan’s description of Rohingya history, the following themes are rather evident:
(1) Muslims and Rakhines were divided on racial-religious lines;
(2) Muslims fleeing from the south to the north of Arakan and to Bangladesh has been a historical trend; therefore, Rohingyas can not be Chittagonians;
(3) The increase in the population in the north of Arakan seems to be a result of the internal Rohingya migration from the south, thus, disproving Aye Chan’s original hypothesis that Rohingyas are the “Illegal Bengalis.” However, a revisit to Aye Chan’s imaginary enclave with “Influx Viruses” shows that the enclave is there only in Aye Chan's imagination. His dehumanizing work shows his analytical failures in his mixing of ethnic politics with scholarship. Contrary to Aye Chan’s findings, the present research found Rohingyas only as any other human beings demanding protection from the Burmese democracy movement leaders and from the international community to live their lives in the
land of their forefathers.

As we came to the end of the wrangle, I am confronted with the old question, what it is that turns “neighbors against neighbor?” It is an irony that Aye Chan was a native of the Mayu frontier. The answer is not easy even when you turn to the wise and ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. He had warned “one ought not talk or act as if he was asleep." Surely Aye Chan was not asleep when he made the xenophobic and inciteful arguments in his work, so the warning doesn’t apply to him. It appears that he consciously made the above arguments. However, what is perfidious is that Aye Chan’s cleverly constructed work can raise the eye browse of casual readers on the question of the indigenousness of Rohingya people, and can serve as a handy tool for inciting Arakanese ultra-nationalists and xenophobic military to exterminate more Burmese Rohingyas. But to a historian, his findings could at best be seen as an exhilarating wild-goose chase, culminating in xenophobic dead end. Wiliam James rightly said: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices.”(23) In this review of Aye Chan’s essay it is clear that Aye Chan remained thoroughly prejudiced and only tried to rearrange the Arakanese prejudices against the Rohingyas.

End notes 

(1) Aye Chan, “The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)" in U Shw Zan and Aye Chan’s Influx Viruses, The Illegal Muslims in Arakan. New York: Arakanese in the United States, Planetarium Station 2005), 14-33. The book was published in the United States. It was also published on line website., 2005, accessed on November 20, 2005. “Aye Chan is a native of Arakan State in Burma. He studied Japanese language at Osaka University of Foreign Studies and oriental history at Kyoto University. His field of study is Pre-modern history of Burma.During his twenty years of teaching at Rangoon University (Burma), Bard College (NY, USA) and Kanda University of International Studies, Japan, he published articles in Southeast Asian Studies (Tonan-Ajia Kenkyu), SOAS Bulettin of Burma Research and Journal of Siam Society.” He claims himself as a Burmese democracy movement leader.

(2) In July 2007, I have interviewed some Rohingya refugees in Japan and some others who arrived from Rangoon to attend the “International Conference on Problems of Democratic Development in Burma and the Rohingya People" in Tokyo, held on July 16, 2007. In my trip to Bangladesh, in July 2007, I also interviewed some other Rohingya refugees. I have interviewed them for this research.

(3) Francis Buchanan. “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire." in SOAS Bullitin of Burma Research 1.1 (Spring 2003), 40-57; Also in Willem van Schendel (Ed.)“Francis Buchanon” in South East Bengal (1798); his journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla. Edited by Willem van Schendel. Dhaka: University Press Ltd. 1992. Also in Michael Charney, “Buddhism in Araka: Theories of Historiography of the Religious Basis of Ethnonyms” (an unpublished paper) in the Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan From Dhanyawadi to 1962: A conference Organized by the Institute of Asian Studies, South Asian Studies Centre, Chulalongkorn University, 2005.

(4) Michael Charney, “Buddhism in Araka: Theories of Historiography of the Religious Basis of Ethnonyms,” 2005, p. 53.

(5) R. B. Smart. Burma Gazettier: Akyab District Vol.1.A. Rangoon: Burma Governmen Printing and Stay., 1957), p.19

(6) Jacques P. Leider, “Arakan Studies: Challenges and Contested Issues, mapping a field of historical and Cultural research, (an unpublished paper) “in Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan From Dhanyawadi to 1962, 2005, p.15.


(8) Abu Anin, A Study on the Issue of Ethnicity in Arakan, Myanmar,, Accessed on November 10, 2007.

(9) S.W.A. Rahman Farooq. "Pls speak first against any injustice Sat, 22 Dec 2007 06:30:50 -0800.

(10) Francis Buchanan. “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire." Pp.40-57; Also Willem van Schendel (ed.)“Francis Buchanon in South East Bengal (1798) His journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla.” Also in Michael Charney. “Buddhism in Araka: Theories of Historiography of the Religious Basis of Ethnonyms” in the Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan from Dhanyawadi to 1962.

(11) Michael Charney. “Buddhism in Araka: Theories of Historiography of the Religious Basis of Ethnonyms.”

(12) Francis Buchanan. “A comparative Vocabular of Some of the languages Spoken in the Burma Empire." P.55. Also see Willem van Schendel (ed.)“Francis Buchanan in South East Bengal (1798): His journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla,”p. 55.

(13) Mohamed Ashraf Alam.” THE ROHANG (ARAKAN),” Arakan Rohingya National Organization, 2006., accessed on November 12, 2007.

(14) Buchanan , “A comparative Vocabular of Some of the languages Spoken in the Burma Empire," 1992. p.82.

(15) Abdul Haque Chawdhury. Chattagramer Ittihas Prosongo (the old Society and Culture of Chittagong), part 2, Chittagong: Chawdhury 1975 in Bengali, p.2.

(16) U Shw Zan and Aye Chan’s Influx Viruses: The Illegal Muslims in Arakan. P. 4.

(17) ARAKAN Online Encyclopedia Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 315 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed on November 12, 2007.

(18) Abdul Haque Chawdhury. Chattagramer Ittihas Prosongo (the old Society and Culture of Chittagong), part 2, 1975, 2. Also see M. Habibullah History of the Rohingyas. Dhaka: Co-operative Book Society Limited), 1995; Abid Bahar, "Burmese Invasion of Arakan and the Rise of Non Bengali Settlements in Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts."; Accessed on November 12, 2007.

Abdul Karim. The Rohingyas: A Short Account of the History and Culture. (Chittagong: Chittagong: Arakan Historical Society, 2000; Also see Abid Bahar. Dynamics of Ethnic Relations in Burmese Society: A case Study of Inter Ethnic Relations between the Burmese and the Rohingyas; an unpublished M. A. thesis, (Windsor: University of Windsor, Canada, 1981).

(19) Jacques P. Leider’s work is interesting; he uses the key term “frontier culture” for understanding Arakan. Jacques P. Leider, “Arakan Studies: Challenges and Contested Issues, mapping a field of historical and Cultural research,” 2005, p.22.

(20) Abid Bahar. Dynamics of Ethnic Relations in Burmese Society: A case Study of Inter Ethnic Relations between the Burmese and the Rohingyas. 1981.

(21) M. Habibullah. History of the Rohingyas. 1995; Abid Bahar, "Burmese Invasion of Arakan and the Rise of Non Bengali Settlements in Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts"; Abdul Karim. The Rohingyas: A Short Account of the History and Culture. 2000; also see Abid Bahar, Dynamics of Ethnic Relations in Burmese Society: A case Study of Inter Ethnic Relations between the Burmese and the Rohingyas. 1981.

(22) Ashin Nayaka in U Shw Zan and Aye Chan’s Influx Viruses, The Illegal Muslims in Arakan. New York: Arakanese in United States, Planetarium Station 2005. Forward p. vii.

(23) William James quoted in Lewis Vaughn and Chris MacDonald. The Power of Critical Thinking. Oxford University Press: (Canadian edition) 2008, p. 45.

Rohingya Exodus