Since prominent Buddhist monk, U Bandatta Seindita, passed the first white rose in solidarity with the Muslim community in Yangon’s South Dagon township after an armed mob forced the closure of prayer houses set up for Ramadan services, a #WhiteRose4Peace campaign has quietly taken off in Myanmar, a silver lining amid the dark clouds of festering nationalism and Islamaphobia.
A day after that impromptu act, interfaith activists and community members rallied together a day later at the Dargah of Bahadur Shah Zafar mosque, where the last Mughal emperor of India and his family are buried, to present their own white roses to the worshipers.
Men and women lined up at the entrance to the mosque, where they handed the flowers to men wearing the taqiyah, or prayer cap, as they left the Friday prayer service.
In a picture that captured the essence of the campaign, a child can be seen handing a white rose to Islamic religious leader Sayargyi U Aye Lwin, who preaches at the mosque.
Three days later, white roses again appeared, this time in central Myanmar at the Myoma Mosque in Sagaing township, where activists again assembled outside the mosque, eagerly waiting with smiles and roses in hand.
Prominent writer and peace activist Nyi Pu Law, winner of the Myanmar National Literary Award, also joined in on the symbolic show of interfaith solidarity.
In light of recent history, this gesture of good faith in Sagaing is particularly meaningful. In 2013, Sagaing was the epicenter of anti-Muslim riots around the country, sending shockwaves around Myanmar and exposing deep divisions in the majority Buddhist country.
But apart from organized group efforts, ordinary people are also joining in on the feel-good campaign, handing white roses to friends and neighbors.
Organizers running the #WhiteRose4Peace Facebook page have made it a point to say that anyone can participate.
“If you want to be a part of the campaign, starting from tomorrow, please hand a white rose to your friend, regardless of ethnicity and religion) with a smile. Please show that Myanmar is a home of happiness, peace, sympathy, empathy and love. Please post photos on social media with #WhiteRose4Peace,” the organizers wrote in a Facebook post yesterday.
The campaign has even reached Malaysia, where a Chinese-Malaysian yesterday went to a mosque in Subang Jaya and presented white roses to the treasurer of the mosque, Danny Aliff Chan.
“We believe that there is no place for hatred and extremism in all our communities anywhere in the world,” Facebook user KV Soon wrote on his post.
Granted, Muslims represent a healthy majority of the Malaysian population, but still, we’ll take his sentiment any day of the week. Allies are never a bad thing.