Thousands pray for world to understand that Myanmar is already peaceful

Religious leaders stand together at an interfaith rally at Yangon’s Aung San Stadium on October 10, 2017. Photo: MOI
Religious leaders stand together at an interfaith rally at Yangon’s Aung San Stadium on October 10, 2017. Photo: MOI

Thousands pray for world to understand that Myanmar is already peaceful

Tens of thousands of people gathered at interfaith rallies around Myanmar yesterday to pray for peace and praise the leadership of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi as military operations and ethnically-charged violence continue to drive Rohingya Muslims out of the country.

In Yangon’s Aung San Stadium, regional chief minister Phyo Min Thein lit a candle to start a prayer event that was conducted by leaders from the Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian communities.

While none of the speakers went into great detail about the conflict in Rakhine State, some did recognize that the country suffers from communal tensions in general.

Dr. Bhaddanta Iddhibala, chairman of the Yangon Region Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, called on the country’s citizens to “be free from killing one another, be free from causing pain to one another, be free from destroying one another, be free from looking down and being jealous of each other.”

In an address that heavily quoted the Quran, Muslim imam Hafiz Mufti Ali proclaimed to the crowd of an estimated 30,000 that Islam demands peaceful behavior.

In what may have been a vague allusion to the persecution of Rohingya in Rakhine State, the imam also petitioned his compatriots: “Citizens should collaborate in friendship and work for the country. Freedom of life, freedom of education, freedom of religion – it is absolutely necessary for the country to fulfil all these rights.”

However, for many in the crowd, peace was defined by the behavior of Aung San Suu Kyi, and their prayers were aimed at reversing the international criticism she has received for her complicity in the displacement of half a million Rohingya civilians. Audience members wore shirts and waved portraits emblazoned with the Nobel Peace laureate’s face.

“This is a ceremony that shows the world that people of all religions in our country are friendly and love each other,” Win Maung, a NLD politician who helped organize the rally, told AFP. “We feel deeply sorry for the reaction from international countries based on news without truth.”

In an impassioned speech, Myanmar’s Catholic leader Cardinal Charles Maung Bo also used his pulpit to support the state counsellor, extol her achievements, and defend her from critique.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi never sought any awards. Many institutions went after her to give her awards, but the only award she sought was the award of being elected, and the people of Myanmar overwhelmingly voted to have her as their leader. No one can take that away from her,” the cardinal said. “She cannot reverse history in 18 months of rule. The world needs to understand.”

He went on: “Now the world sees Myanmar as a heartless country. But actually, the universal religion of Myanmar people is compassion and sympathy.”

To Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters in the crowd, it was the perception of international observers that needs changing – not the behavior of Myanmar’s government, military, or people.

“This event shows that Myanmar is a country where people with different faiths are living in harmony,” said Yangon Region Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein. “I pray that the world will understand the situation in Myanmar and cooperate in the development of our country.”

He added: “Let’s build the future of our country under the leadership of our democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

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