Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar
All pent-up fear and tummy butterflies fly away as soon as I land in Yangon. The company representative sponsoring me flashes me a thumbs-up sign through glass window to show he is around to help, if needed. I am granted a 28-day visa, but because I do not have a copy of sponsoring company’s trade license, the charge is double, US$40; I agree. The beetle-nut chewing immigration officer becomes instantly indulgent and benevolent, bares stained fangs at me, stamps my passport and issues me a receipt for US$20. This makes me go hmmmm...
A car takes me to a hotel owned by the country’s military elite, so no luxury is spared; at a price, of course. Yangon is exactly the same as I found it last, some three years ago; grimy but fairly disciplined. My contact calls and says he will have a vehicle pick me up and brought to a local mosque for iftaar and discussions. I take a 30-minute nap because jetlag has dudu’s dancing to salsa music in my head. It starts pouring close to magreeb time when I am driven to the mosque.
The mosque is over 100 years old, majestic and imposing. Originally built by Iranian immigrants to then Burma, it has since been redone several times but the imposing architect of wood and marble remain intact; very beautiful. I have a quick communal iftaar after salaat and meet my sponsors. Not an issue at all I am assured, my mission can and will be done, they have the experience and connections with authorities to move relief supplies to the refugees. Everything legal, official, transparent and properly accounted for. They did something similar after the typhoons of 2010, on a much larger scale; CAI budget is much meager. My relief is radiated in the walls of the mosque as they sparkle with my smile.
I am so reassured; I sleep like a baby, waking up for sehri of chai and a coconut croissant purchased at the hotel lobby last night. My hosts come visiting mid-morning and our agreement for the aid to 770 most poor and destitute Rohingya refugees is hammered out. A food and hygiene supply basket costing about US$32 each will be distributed shortly insha’Allah. Further help will depend on additional funds received; I offer a prayer of thanks to Allah (S) for accepting and rewarding CAI donor’s efforts.
Now, a few words about the Buddhists and government of Myanmar. Much has been written and commented about the tragic events that occurred since June 2012 to the (largely) Muslim community of Rohingyas, between the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Myanmar government and Buddhists have been roundly condemned for the violence and there is credible justification in this censure. Muslims, however, need to be cognizant of following facts:
- The Rohingya issue is not clear-cut; it is very complex, deep-rooted and long lasting. A Google search will give you a decent background.
- The Bangladesh government is equally culpable (more so in my opinion, as they are Muslims and held to a higher standard of behavior in the eyes of Allah) in this conflict; I cannot fathom why this government, recipient of so much goodwill and aid when she is (was) teetering, can turn away people who are certain to die if not provided immediate succor.
- The incident that sparked this conflict began with the rape of a young Buddhist woman by 3 Muslim men. Remember, Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist; think of an inverse situation.
- Minority Muslims in Myanmar have lived besides Buddhists for centuries without major conflicts.
- There are 72 mosques in Yangon alone, smack in the middle of majority Buddhist communities, each mosque proclaim the adhaan, call to prayer, 3 (5) times every day, one at a time of day when most people are asleep; not an issue, even now.
- An Ashoora procession from a local mosque begins past midnight in a mixed community every year, passes right outside the holiest 200-plus years pagoda in Yangon and the (Buddhist) authorities allow this. Why, they (local Buddhist people) come out and pay their respects to the taazeeyas and allams as well, palms folded in respect. No matter these processions leave a trail of spilt blood and used razorblades right outside the pagoda, to be cleaned up by others.
- Muslims in Myanmar form a very small minority, the (repressive, all right) military government could have easily stopped all these freedom granted to Muslims; they didn’t (don’t).
- I know of several very happy, wealthy Myanmar Muslims living and making plenty of money in the country.
Both sides to this conflict have committed atrocities; this fact will be difficult, perhaps, for us Muslims to accept, set right. This does not lessen the agony of (mainly Muslim, overwhelmingly Rohingya) victims, of course. However, we cannot ignore these sobering facts either.
As earlier stated, the issues involved in this conflict are very complex, involving governments that are equally blameworthy. CAI (or her donors) will not be able to change the local politics or mindset of individuals whipping up these killings and mayhem. What we can do is empathize with the victims, show compassion, demonstrate we care, provide some relief. We would hope and pray for nothing less if confronted in the same manner, Allah forbid.
CAI and her donors are so very fortunate and blessed we can help. For this service, am I not the luckiest bloody servant of Allah (S) in this planet?
Dudus (Kiswahili) – Insects