History of arrival of Islam in Burma

The first Muslims had landed in Myanmar (Burma’s) Ayeyarwady River delta, Tanintharyi coast and Rakhine as seamen in ninth century, prior to the establishment of the first Myanmar (Burmese) empire in 1055 AD by King Anawrahta of Bagan or Pagan. The dawn of the Muslim settlements and the propagation of Islam was widely documented by the Arab, Persian, European and Chinese travelers of Ninth century. The current population of Myanmar Muslims are the descendants of Arabs, Persians, Turks, Moors, Indian-Muslims, sheikhs, Pakistanis, Pathans, Bengalis, Chinese Muslims and Malays who settled and intermarried with local Burmese and many ethnic Myanmar groups such as, Rakhine, Shan, Karen, Mon etc.

Muslim diaspora

The population of the Muslims increased during the British rule of Burma because of new waves of Indian Muslim Immigration. This sharply declined in the years following 1941 as a result of the Indo-Burman Immigration agreement,and was officially stopped following Burma's (Myanmar) independence on 4 January 1948.

Muslims arrived in Burma as travelers, adventurers, pioneers, sailors, traders,Military Personals (voluntary and mercenary), and a number of them as prisoners of wars. Some were reported to have taken refuge from wars, Monsoon storms and weather, shipwreck and for a number of other circumstances. Some are victims of forced slavery but many of them are professionals and skilled personals such as advisors to the kings and at various ranks of administration whilst others are port-authorities and mayors and traditional medicine men.

Pathi and Panthays

Persian Muslims traveled over land, in search of China, and arrived northern Burma at Yunnan (China) border. Their colonies were recorded in Chronicles of China in 860 AD. Myanmar Muslims were sometimes called Pathi, and Chinese Muslims are called Panthay. It is widely believed that those names derived from Persi (Persian). Bago Pegu), Dala, Thanlyin (Syriam), Taninthayi (Tenasserim), Mottama (Martaban), Myeik (Mergui) and Pathein (Bassein) were full of Burmese Muslim settlers and they outnumbered the local Burmese by many times. In one record, Pathein was said to be populated with Pathis. Perhaps Pathein comes from Pathi. And coincidentally, Pathein is still famous for Pathein halawa, a traditional Myanmar Muslim food inherited from northern Indian Muslims. In Kawzar 583 (13th Century), Bassein or Pathein was known as Pathi town under the three Indian Muslim Kings. Arab merchants arrived Martaban, Margue. Arab settlement in the present Meik’s mid-western quarters.

Panthay During Bagan King, Narathihapate, 1255-1286, in the first Sino Burman war, Kublaikhan’s Muslim Tatars attacked and occupied up to Nga Saung Chan. Mongols under Kublai Khan invaded the Pagan Kingdom. During this first Sino Burman war in 1283, Colonel Nasruddin’s Turks occupied up to Bamaw. (Kaungsin) (Tarek) Turk were called, Mongol, Manchuria, Mahamaden or Panthays. The Chinese General Mah Tu Tu managed the building of a mosque donated by the Yunnanese Muslim king, Sultan Sulaiman, in nineteen century in central Mandalay. The mosque is still maintained in a very good condition. Most of the Myanmar Chinese Muslims are staying around the mosque and it is well known as Panthay Mosque. That area is called Panthay Dan (Panthay Quarters).

Muslims in Bagan (Pagan) Period

Byat Wi and Byat Ta

The first evidence of Muslim landing in Burma’s chronicle was recorded in the era of the first Burmese Empire of Pagan (Bagan) 1044 AD. Two Arab Muslim sailors of BYAT family, Byat Wi and Byat Ta, arrived Burmese shores, near Thaton. (There are people in Iraq, Arabia and some Surthi Northern Indian Muslims with the same sir name even at present. See Byat and Bayt) After their ship wrecked, they managed to use a plank to swim to the shores. They took refuge and stayed at the monastery of the monk in Thaton. They were said to be tall, fair, swift, brave and very strong. According to a chronicle of Burma related to the Byat brothers, they were said to have strength of the full-grown elephant after eating the magical meat of a (Zaw Gyi) or Fakir, a meal originally prepared for the monk who saved them. As a consequence, Thaton king became afraid of them and killed the elder brother while he was sleeping in his wife’s house. The younger brother managed to escape to Bagan and took refuge to king Anawratha. He was kept near the king. He had to fetch flowers, ten times a day, from the Mont Popa, few dozens of miles away from Bagan. He married a girl from Popa and got two sons, Shwe Byin brothers.

Shwe Byin brothers

Later they also served the king as worriers, even as the special agents to infiltrate the enemy’s inner circle. They were famous after they successfully infiltrated the Chinese King Utibua’s bodyguards and drawn three lines with white lime on the Utibua’s body and also wrote the threatening message on the wall. Because of that event, the mighty powerful Chinese army and the king himself were scared, frightened, alarmed and signed a peace agreement with the Burmese.

Though successful in the Bagan's affair with Utibua, they were finally put to death. It is generally assumed that they refused to contribute in the building of a pagoda at Taung Byone, just north of Mandalay. The brothers’ enemies left vacant the spaces for the two bricks so that the king could notice. After a brief inquiry the king ordered to punish the brothers for disobedience but instead of any punishment, they were killed.

The royal raft could not move after that, may be the silent protest against the killing by the friends who were not happy with the execution. The royal sailors at that time were mostly known to be Muslims. The witty, white and black Indian Brahmans, royal consultants interpreted that, the two brothers were loyal faithful servants but unjustly punished, became Nat (spirit) and they pulled the rudder of the royal boat to show their displeasure. Then only, Anawratha ordered the building of the spirit-palace at Taung Byone and ordered the people to worship the two brothers.This was the clever Royal trick used to be played by the Burmese kings to execute the powerful rivals and posthumous elevated them to the level of Nats or powerful Spirits or local gods, just to please their followers or the people who love the executed heroes.

For five days each year Taung Byone village becomes a fairground. Taung Byone, 14 km north of Mandalay, has about 7,000 nat shrines, nearly 2,000 of them elaborate ones dedicated to the village’s famous sons—the brothers Shwe Byin Gyi and Shwe Byin Lay. Up to the present, the followers or believers worship the shrine and those two brothers. Although all those worshipers are tralatitious Buddhists, they all abstain from eating pork, which is not a custom to Buddhism. It is a taboo to allow anyone to carry pork on the buses or cars, while going to that spirit festival still celebrating annually and attended by followers all over Burma. We can still see the vacant slot for the two pieces of brick allegedly triggered that tragic prosecution. So they became the first Muslims persecuted in Burma, possibly because of their religious belief.

King Anawratha 1044-1077 AD also had Myanmar Muslim army units and body guards. When King Anawrahta attacked Martaban, capital of Mon (Talaing) King, Mingyi Swa Saw Kae’, two Muslim officers’ army unit fiercely defended against his attack.

Nga Yaman Kan The King Anawrahta appointed a Muslim Arab as a Royal teacher for his son, Prince Sawlu. That teacher’s son later became the Governor of Bago (Pegu) known as Ussa City. His name was Raman Khan. (Known as Nga Yaman Kan in Burmese. Nga was usually put in front of all commoners i.e. not from the Royal family). King Sawlu himself had given the town to his childhood friend, also an adopted brother because they were fed from the same breast as Raman Khan’s mother was the wet nurse of Prince Sawlu.

Once Raman Khan won the game of dice, jumped with joy and clapped the elbows. The loser king Sawlu was angry and challenged Rahman Khan to rebel against him with the Bago province, if he was a real man. Raman Khan accepted the challenge, went back to Bago and marched back to Bagan with his army of soldiers on horses and elephants. Rahman and army camped at Pyi Daw Thar Island. He was clever and witty with tactics, even knew the geography and landscape near the enemy’s home ground and successfully used them for his advantage. He successfully trapped the famous Kyansittha, King Sawlu and his mighty large Bagan Burmese army in swamps. The whole Bagan army fled. Sawlu was later found and arrested.

Kyanzittha tried to rescue but Sawlu refused to be rescued. His last fatal miscalculation led him to be killed by Raman Khan. Rahman Khan himself was ambushed by the sniper bow-shot of Nga Sin the hunter and died. Later Kyanzittha became the third king of Bagan Dynasty. While expending the empire he brought back many Indian-Muslim captives. They were settled in central Burma.

Muslim sailors and traders

In the chronicles of Malaysia, during the first Melacca Empire of Parameswara in the early fifteenth century, it was recorded the Burmese (Muslims) sailors and traders were regularly arriving there. Those Bago (Pegu) seamen, likely to be Muslims, were also recorded by the Arab Historians of tenth century. During fifteen to seventeen centuries, there were a lot of records of Burmese Muslim traders, sailors and settlers on the whole coast of Burma. That was from Arakan coast (Rakhine), Ayeyarwady delta and Tanintharyi coast (Including all the islands along the whole coast). During Peik Thaung Min (early Bagan dynasty, 652-660 AD), Arab travelers from Madagascar to China through East Indian Islands, visited Thaton and Martaban ports. It was recorded in Arab chronicles in 800 AD.

Because Burma was located at the center of the shipping and trading route starting from Arabia and India, heading towards Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Japan and China, the whole of the coast of Burma developed rapidly. Dela, Yangon and Thanlyin (Syriam) became shipyards, depots of goods and markets for exchange of goods. The Muslims dominated all the seaports in Burma and Thailand, at that time.

In seventeenth century, those Muslims controlled the business and became so powerful because of their wealth. They were even appointed as Governor of Mergui, the Viceroy of the Province of Tenasserim, Port Authorities, Port Governors and Shah-bandars (senior port officials). Muslim sailors built many mosques, but those should be more appropriately called Temples as they were equally holy to Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Chinese. They were called Buddermokan,The so called Buddermokan on Sittway island is claimed by believers of different faiths. ... ‘Buddermokan’ in memory to Badral-Din Awliya, a saint. They are found in Akyab, Sandoway and on a small island off Mergyi.

Sa Nay Min Gyi King (King Sane) had two flotillas of Steam-ships, named Alarhee and Selamat, both are Arabic Islamic names. In 1711, Myanmar Missionary was sent to Mogul King Shah Alam. They used the Alarhee Ship and the captain was an Arab.

Muslim prisoners of war

When Tabinshwehti, TaungooKing 1530-50 AD attacked Hanthawaddy, Muslim soldiers were helping Mons with artillery.

Nat Shin Naung, Taungoo King 1605-82, rebelled against Anaukpetlun, who had founded a new dynasty at Ava in 1613. He retreated to Thanlyin or Syriam, under the rule of Portuguese mercenary Philip de Brito, Anaukpetlun captured the city in 1613 following a long siege where he crucified Nat Shin Naung and de Brito. He enslaved the Indian mercenaries including the Muslims and five battle ships. The Muslim prisoners of wars were settled at the north of Shwebo.

King Thalun (1629-1648)., the successor of Anaukpetlun settled those Muslims at Shwebo, Sagaing and Kyaukse. Muslim prisoners of war were settled in upper Myanmar by successive Burmese kings. Myae Du near Shwebo was one of the sites. Muslim prisoners from Bago during 1539-1599 AD were the first settlers.Tabinshwehti brought back the Muslim prisoners, after attacking Arakan in 1546 and 1549 AD.King Anaukpetlun conquered Syriam in 1613 AD and brought back Muslim soldiers and sailors as prisoners of war. They were settled in Myedu, Sagaing, Yamethin and Kyaukse. King Sane brought back several thousand Muslim prisoners of war from Sandoway and settled in Myedu in 1707 AD. Next year few thousands more were settled in those places and Taungoo.

King Alaungpaya attacked Assam and Manipur of India and brought back more Muslims to settle in Burma.These Muslims later assimilated to form core of Burmese Muslims. Earlier they were called Myedu Kala or Kala Pyo.(Kala = foreigner; Pyo = young.)3000 Muslims from Arakan took refuge under Sa Nay Min Gyi King 1698-1714. They were divided and settled in Taungoo, Yamethin , Nyaung Yan, Yin Taw, Meiktila, Pin Tale, Tabet Swe, Bawdi, Syi Tha, Syi Puttra, Myae du and Depayin. This Royal decree was copied from the Amarapura Royal Library in 1801 by Kyauk Ta Lone Bo. During King Bagyidaw 1819-37 rule, Maha Bandula conquered Assam and brought back 40,000 prisoners of war. About half of them were likely to be Muslims. Maha Bandula and Burmese Army’s war at Ramu and Pan War were famous. Burmese captured one big cannon, 200 firearms, mixed Sepoy Indian 200. Muslims amongst them were relocated at the south of Amarapura that is Myittha river’s south.

Royal Muslim-soldiers

When the famous Raza Dirit attacked and conquered Dagon (Yangon), Muslim soldiers defended from the Burmese side.

Muslim artillerymen and riflemen served regularly in Burmese army and sometimes even as royal bodyguards because the Burmese kings never trust their own race. This is understandable because there was the custom that time that he who kills the king becomes a king. And in Burmese history sometimes the son killed his own father and brothers killed each other to become a king. Even the first Burmese King, Anawrahta had killed his half-brother, King Sokkate. Sokkate had also forced and dethroned his own father King Kunhsaw. The army of King Anawratha (eleven century) already boasted Indian units and bodyguards, Muslims apparently among them. When Tabinshwehti attacked Martaban in 1541 AD, many Muslims resisted strongly. When Bayintnaung successfully conquered Ayuthaya (Thailand) in 1568-1569 AD he use the help of Muslim artillerymen. King Alaungpaya 1752-1760 AD conquered Syrim. Muslim prisoners of war were forced to serve in his army. Pagan Min 1846-1853 AD appointed U Shwe Oh , a Burmese Muslim, as the Governor of the Capital city, Amarapura. His personal secretary U Paing (also a Burmese Muslim) donated a two- mile long bride, made of teakwood across the Taung Tha Man Lake. It is still useful and now became a scenic area attracting picnickers and tourists. In 1850, the Governor of Bagan was also said to be a Muslim.Burmese kings employed a lot of Muslims in his inner circle: Royal bodyguards, eunuchs, couriers, interpreters and advisers.

Muslims in Konbaung Dynasty

Muslims in Amarapura Muslims in Amarapura were about 20,000 families, at the time of Innwa (Ava) kingdom (1855 AD). Most of them were Sunni Muslims. The first mosque in Yangon was built in 1826 AD, at the end of first Anglo-Burmese Wars. It was destroyed in 1852 AD when the British attacked Yangon again.

During the Konbaung dynasty Alaungpaya’s attack of Mons near Pyay, Mon warrior Talapan was assisted by Muslim soldiers. Because of their artillery fire, a lot of Burmese soldiers were wounded and died.

In 1755 Alaungpaya conquered Dagon and renamed it Yangon (meaning 'The End of Strife'). Mon soldiers surrendered and four Muslim rich men also surrendered with the expensive presents, ammunitions and four warships. Although conquered Yangon there are more battles to fight with Mons. So Alaungpaya rearranged the army. Pyre Mamet was one of the “Thwe Thauk Gyi” assigned to serve as the Royal Bodyguard. Alaungpaya attacked Thanlyin or Syriam, and many Muslim artillery men were captured. Alaungpaya captured four warships and Muslim soldiers. They were later allowed to serve him. On the page 203 of the Twin Thin Teik Win’s Cronicles of Alaungpaya’s battles, it was recorded as only three warships.

After Alaungpaya captured Pegu, and at the parade, those Pathi Muslim soldiers were allowed to march with their traditional uniforms. Four hundred Pathi Indian soldiers participated in the Royal Salute March. King Bodawpaya Bodaw U Wine (Padon Mayor, Padon Min) (1781-1819) of the Konbaung Dynasty founded Amarapura as his new capital in 1783. He was the first Burmese King who recognized his Muslim subjects officially by the following Royal decree. He appointed Abid Shah Hussaini and assistants, Nga Shwe Lu and Nga Shwe Aye to decide and give judgment regarding the conflicts and problems amongst his Burmese Muslim subjects. Abid Shah Hussaini burial place was well known as a shrine in Amarapura Lin Zin Gone Darga. Before Ramu and Pan War battles, Burmese army had a march. Among the Burmese army, Captain Nay Myo Gone Narrat Khan Sab Bo’s 70 Cavalry (horse) Regiment, was watched by Maha Bandula. Burmese Muslim Horsemen were famous in that Khan Sab Bo’s 70 Cavalry (horse) Regiment. Khan Sab Bo’s name was Abdul Karim Khan and was the father of the Captain Wali Khan, famous Wali Khan Cavalry Regiment during King Mindon and King Thibaw. Khan Sab Bo was sent as an Ambassador to Indo China by Bagyidaw. During Bagyidaw’s reign, in 1824, Gaw Taut Pallin battle was famous. British used 10,000 soldiers but defeated. During that battle Khan Sab Bo’s 100 horsemen fought vigorously and bravely. More than 1300 loyal brave Kala Pyo Muslims (means young Indian soldiers) were awarded with colourful velvety uniforms.

When Konbaung Dynasty’s 8th. Tharrawaddy Min (King) marched Okkalapa, more than 100 Pathi Muslim Indian Cannoners took part. There are also a lot of Muslim soldiers in other parts of the Tharrawaddy Min’s army.

But during the Konbaung Dynasty’s 9th. Pagan Min 1846-52 there was a blemish in Muslim’s history. Royal Capital Amarapura’s Mayor Bai Sab and his clerk U Pain were arrested and sentenced to death. U Pain was the one who constructed and donated the Taunthaman bridge with more than 1000 teak piles and is still in good condition. Although the real background or aim of building the bridge was not known, before the bridge was built, British Ambassador Arthur Fair’s ship could sailed right up to the Amarapura city wall but the bridge actually obstruct the direct access by British.

King Mindon During Pagan Min reign, Mindon Prince and brother Ka Naung Prince run away with their servants to Shwe Bo and started a rebellion. U Bo and U Yuet were the two Muslims who accompanied the princes. Some Kala Pyo Burmese Muslim artillery soldiers followed them. U Boe later built and donated the June Mosque, which is still maintained in 27th. street, Mandalay. U Yuet became the Royal Chief Chef.

Regent Prince Ka Naung sent scholars to study abroad. Malar Mon @ U Pwint was a Burmese Muslim sent to study the explosives. He became the Yan Chet won or Minister of explosives.

In the Royal Defence Army, many Cannoners were Kindar Kala Pyos and Myedu Muslims. In 1853 King Mindon held a donation ceremony. He ordered to prepare halal food for his Muslim soldiers from, Akbart Horse Cavalry, Wali Khan Horse Cavalry, Manipur Horse Cavalry and Sar Tho Horse Cavalry altogether about 700 of them.

U Soe was the Royal tailor of King Mindon .
Kabul Maulavi was appointed an Islamic Judge by King Mindon to decide according to the Islamic rules and customs on Muslim affairs.

Captain Min Htin Min Yazar’s 400 Muslims participated to clear the land for building a new Mandalay city.

Burmese Muslms were given specific quarters to settle in the new city of Mandalay

  1. Sigaing dan
  2. Kone Yoe dan
  3. Taung Balu
  4. Oh Bo
  5. Setkyer Ngwezin
  6. June Amoke Tan
  7. Wali Khan Quarter
  8. Taik Tan Qr
  9. Koyandaw Qr (Royal Bodyguards’ Qr)
  10. Ah Choke Tan
  11. Kala Pyo Qr
  12. Panthay dan for the Burmese Chinese Muslims.

In those quarters, lands for 20 Mosques were allocated out side the Palace wall.

  1. Sigaing dan Mosque
  2. Kone Yoe Mosque
  3. Taung Balu Mosque
  4. June Mosque
  5. Koyandaw Mosque
  6. Wali Khan Mosque
  7. Kala Pyo Mosque
  8. Seven lots of lands for Setkyer Ngwezin
  9. King Mindon donated his palace teak pillars to build a mosque at North Obo in central Mandalay. (The pillars which failed to place properly at the exact time given by astrologers.)
  10. The broadminded King Mindon also permitted a mosque to be built on the granted site for the Panthays (Burmese Chinese Muslims. Photos of Mandalay Panthay mosque.

Inside the Palace wall, for the Royal Body Guards, King Mindon himself donated and started the building of the Mosque by laying the Gold foundation at the South-eastern part of the Palace located near the present Independent Monument. This Mosque was called the Shwe Pannet Mosque. That mosque was destroyed by the British to build the Polo playground.

King Mindon (1853-78) donated the rest house in Mecca for his Muslim subjects performing Hajj. Nay Myo Gonna Khalifa U Pho Mya and Haji U Swe Baw were ordered to supervise the building. The Kind donated the balance needed to complete the building which was started with the donations from the Burmese Muslims. This was recorded in the Myaedu Mosque Imam U Shwe Taung’s poems.

During King Thibaw’s reign, Muslim soldiers who participated in the Royal Parade were;

  1. Captain Bo Min Htin Kyaw and his 350 Kindar Kala Pyo artillery soldiers.
  2. Setkyer Cannon Regiment Captain Hashim and 113 Cannoners
  3. Mingalar Cannon Regiment Captain U Kye and 113 Cannoners
  4. Mingalar Amyoke Sulay Kone Captain U Maung and 113 Cannoners
  5. Mingalar Amyoke Bone Oh Captain U Yauk and 113 Cannoners.

After King Thibaw’s declaration of war on the British, Burmese Army formed three groups to descend and defend the British attack. One of those, Taung Twingyi defence chief was, Akhbat Horse Calvery Chief, Mayor of Pin Lae Town, Minister Maha Min Htin Yar Zar. His name was U Chone when he was the Chief Clerk of Kala Pyo Army. During the Myin Kun Myin Khone Tain revolt, he carried the Chief queen of Mindon on his back to safety. So he was rewarded with the Mayor position of Pin Lae Myo which was located 12 miles south of Myittha.

Under Maha Min Htin Yar Zar there were 1629 soldiers:

  1. Kindar Captain Bo Min Hla Min Htin Kyaw Thu’s 335 Kindar soldiers two cannon and Sein let Yae 3 regiments
  2. Shwe Pyi Captain Bo Min Hla Min Htin Thamain Than Like and Shwe Pyi 100 soldiers, one cannon and Sein let Yae 2 regiments
  3. Wali Khan’s 990 Akhbat Horse Calvery and Sein let Yae 20 regiments
  4. Specially trained 200 soldiers.

On 28 November 1885, after the British took over the administration, the British revamp the new administration with, Kin Won Min Gyi, Tai Tar Min Gyi, the Minister Maha Min Htin Yar Zar U Chone was included as the representative of the Parliament.

Muslim Mogul Emperor of India

The last Muslim Mogul Emperor of India, Abu Za’far Saraj al-Din Bahadur Shah and his family members and some followers were exiled to Yangon, Myanmar. He died in Yangon and was buried on 7.11.1862.
After the British took over the whole Burma all sub groups of Burmese-Muslims formed numerous organizations, active in social welfare and religious affairs.

See also

External links

  • Myanmar Muslim news-
  • Burmese Muslims Network-
  • Islamic Unity Brotherhood
  • Arakan Rohingya National Organization-
  • Rohingya Language-
  • Free Rohingya Campaign-
  • Myanmar Muslim political Awareness Organization-
  • Panthay on line community-
  • Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • US Department of State,International Religious Freedom Report 2005 on Burma
  • US Department of State, Burma, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices- 2005.Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
  • Amnesty International’s report on Burma
  • UK Conservatives’ Human Rights
  • Priestly, Harry "The Outsiders". The Irrawaddy, Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  • Butkaew, Samart "Burmese Indians: The Forgotten Lives". Burma Issues, Retrieved on 2006-07-07.
  • The Persecution of Muslims in Burma, by Karen Human Rights Group


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