By Habib Siddiqui
Al-Jazeerah, January 13, 2006
For centuries, before the current poisonous situation in which one community does not recognize another, Arakan was a place of harmony and mutual trust in which the two major religious communities (Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims) thrived side by side as sister communities. All this happened because of the first of the Mrauk-U kings who had sought and got help from the Muslim Sultan of Bengal in 1430 CE to restore his kingdom. In the centuries that were to follow, the minority Muslims became essentially the royal guards, generals, ministers and advisers.
But things changed beginning in 1784 when the Burman king Boddow Paya annexed the country and evicted most Arakanese – Buddhists and Muslims alike. Many fled to Chittagong (now in Bangladesh) and other adjoining territories. A reign of terror was established in the next four decades in which much of the Muslim architecture and culture would systematically be wiped out to make the country appear 100% Buddhist. With the British occupation in 1826 and subsequent Burman control of modern Burma (since its independence), various groups have been played mercilessly against each other so that the central authority could hold on to its reign of authority.
The Rohingya people have now become the worst victims of our modern time. They are essentially reduced to the forgotten people of our time (see this author’s article: – The Rohingya: the forgotten people of our time). Not only are their citizenship denied by the SPDC ruling junta in Myanmar, even their place in history, at least from the time of Mrauk-U dynasty, is now denied by many racially biased pseudo-historians with agendas of their own. The subject on Rohingya has become a taboo or a poison pill!
Pamela Gutman is an unbiased historian who has studied the ancient history of Arakan. In this book, she took a close look at recent archaeological research conducted in Mrauk-U. The fortified city of Mrauk-U was Arakan's capital for four centuries, and the impressive remnants of old Arakanese temples and pagodas still stand as a living reminder of the past. Unfortunately, as already hinted above, most of the Muslim sites, including the famous Sandikhan mosque now stand in ruins. A serious effort is needed at the behest of the UN to restore such sites for a better appreciation of this Mrauk-U (now lost) Kingdom, where it embodied the notions of pluralism and religious tolerance among the various groups.
Gutman’s book is a major contribution to our knowledge of Arakan. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in Southeast Asian history and architecture.