Myanmar

The Rohingya

The Rohingya is a Sunni Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Roughly 800,000 to a million of the world’s 3.5 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, where they currently face severe institutionalized discrimination and violence in what is framed as a religious conflict between Buddhists and Muslims. Many have settled...

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Islam in Myanmar

Myanmar has had a Muslim presence since as early as the ninth century. Muslim sailors intermarried with local Burmese woman and settled permanently in port cities along the Burmese Coast, especially in the Arakan/Rakhine region. Arab and Persian sources mention Myanmar in the 9th and 10th centuries in the context of trade; historically, Myanmar has been at the center of a vast trade network spanning China, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and North Africa. Other Muslims in Myanmar included Indians captured in war and resettled in the interior and Muslim mercenaries in service of Burmese...

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The Karen

The Karen are an internally diverse group of ethnic minorities who live primarily in southern and southeastern Burma. They are the second-largest non-Burman ethnic group in Myanmar comprising some 6% of the population, and are mostly Christian. During WWII, roughly 28% of Karen served in the Burmese army, which by British policy deliberately excluded ethnic Burmans. During the war, the Karen continued to support the British even as Burmans, led by...

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The Kachin

The Kachin are a majority-Christian ethnic group made up of numerous tribes, located in Upper Burma. In 1876, Protestant missionaries cultivated relationships with the Kachin and many converted to Christianity. Kachin leaders signed separate treaties with the British that granted them significant autonomy in the area known as the Kachin Hill Tracts. The Kachin also allied with the British during WWII, while the majority ...

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Judaism in Myanmar

Burma was once home to a thriving Jewish diaspora community, which at one point numbered over two thousand, and which was part of a much larger regional community stretching from India to China. The integration of Burma into the British Empire meant that it was governed by a common international law, the Pax Britannica, which facilitated regulated trade between members of the tightly knit and widespread Jewish community linked by family, language, and faith.

The Musmeah Yeshua, Rangoon’s synagogue built in 1893, was the center of Jewish life in Myanmar until the mid-...

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Hinduism in Myanmar

Approximately 2% of Burmese people are Hindu. Burmese Hindus are a mix of Bengalis, Tamils, Telegus, and Uttar Pradeshis who arrived in Burma under British colonialism. With the military coup of 1962, about 1 million Indians were forced out of Burma, but some remained, mostly in Yangon (Rangoon), Mandalay, and in the Bago District. As India is a close neighbor, Hinduism has had a regional influence for centuries and Hindu gods are sometimes included among the nats, or spirits, worshiped by some Burmese Buddhists. Due to historical ties between Hinduism and Buddhism, Hindus have faced far...

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Christianity in Myanmar

Christians in Myanmar are estimated to make up around 8.2% of the population, roughly 5.5% Protestant, 1.3% Roman Catholic, and the remainder members of independent churches. Of these groups, about 2.5% identify as Evangelicals and 2.1% as Pentecostals. Many of Myanmar’s Karen, Kachin, Chin, Karenni, Lahu, and Naga are Christian.

Many of these ethnic minorities had...

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Chinese in Myanmar

Precise numbers of Chinese living in Myanmar are difficult to come by; most sources give an estimate of 3% of the population, although such a figure does not necessarily take into account the large numbers of Chinese migrant workers living in Myanmar at any given time....

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Catholicism in Myanmar

Roman Catholicism arrived in Myanmar with the Portuguese in the 16th century. Burmese descendants of the Portuguese, known as Bayingyi (derived from the Persian farenji, “foreigner” a term used widely throughout the Indian Ocean region and a legacy of the Crusades), make up the oldest Catholic community. 90% of Burmese Catholics come from the Karen, Chin, Kachin, Chin, Shan...

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Buddhism in Myanmar

Close to 90% of people in Myanmar today are Buddhist, and virtually all of them practice Theravada Buddhism. This branch of Buddhism adheres most closely to the oldest texts in the Buddhist tradition and generally emphasizes a more rigorous observance of the monastic code than other schools of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists ultimately aim to be released from the cycle of suffering, samsara, and to achieve nirvana. To achieve success in this world—and to advance to enlightenment in subsequent rebirths—they must build positive karma, or merit.

Lay people accumulate...

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Burmans

Burmans (also known as Bamar) are the largest ethnic and linguistic group in present-day Myanmar, accounting for approximately two-thirds of the population. They live primarily in the Irrawady Basin and speak Burmese. A distinction must also be made between Burman and Burmese; the latter term refers to any citizen of Myanmar, not just those of the Burman ethnic group.

Almost without exception, Burmans are Buddhist, a fact that has influenced its...

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Ashin Wirathu

Ashin Wirathu (b. 1968) is a Burmese Buddhist monk and the leader of the 969 nationalist Buddhist movement. He has received international notoriety for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and was described on the cover of Time in July 2013 as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.” He was jailed for eight years by the military government in the early 2000s and has repeatedly stoked Burmese fears of the Muslim minority since his release. Although Wirathu asserts that his...

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The State Law and Order Restoration Council

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and later, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is the military government that has ruled Myanmar since 1988. From 1988-1987, the government used the acronym SLORC; since then, their preferred term has been SPDC.

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