Just a day after a self-described mob of patriots, armed with knives and sticks, forced the closure of temporary Muslim prayer houses being used for Ramadan services in Yangon’s South Dagon neighborhood, a prominent monk has extended an olive branch by visiting the local community and urging tolerance.
U Bandatta Seindita, founder of the Asia Light Foundation, a monastery in Pyin Oo Lwin, sat down with a cross-section of community members of different faiths at about 10pm last night, encouraging them to cultivate “empathy, kindness, compassion, and tolerance,” as a group of reporters looked on.
Seindita was honored with the World Harmony Award in Oslo in 2015 for his interfaith work.
“If we are patient with each other, everyone in our nation can live prosperously. I want to thank you for your patience. Please continue to be patient in the future,” Seindita told the small crowd gathered around him.
Speaking on the sideline of the impromptu event, Seindita expanded on that message in a chat with a local reporter.
“I am not blaming anyone. As a monk, we are peacebuilders, and I want everyone to be tolerant. Anytime there is conflict in the country, there is great harm done and I want to encourage everyone to do what is best for the country,” he said, before offering white flowers — a symbolic show of interfaith dialogue — to the crowd, then walking to meet officials at the township office.
In the past month, during Ramadan, mobs have confronted the South Dagon Muslim community on two separate occasions, demanding that they shutter temporary prayer houses that the Muslim community had opened with the permission of the state government.
Myanmar has seen a steady rise in nationalism, often in conjunction with the rise of ultra-nationalist religious organizations such as Ma Ba Tha (The Patriotic Association of Myanmar). Local media reports suggest that Buddhist monks were present during the two confrontations with South Dagon’s Muslim community as well.
U Seindita’s gesture of interfaith solidarity drew praise on social media, a welcome breath of fresh air from the oppressive air of nationalism and Islamophobia.
The gesture by the monk has even sparked an online campaign, with this morning’s creation of the White Rose Campaign, with the purpose of “spreading metta (loving kindness) and show community resilience towards hatred and extremism.”