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23:45, 21 May 2018 Monday
Update: 16:23, 08 May 2018 Tuesday

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Buddhists living in peace in Muslim majority countries
Buddhists living in peace in Muslim majority countries

During the past few years, there has been an increasing trend of hostilities against Islam and its followers, particularly in the countries where they are sizeably in minority. The phenomenon has been visible globally, though with a remarkable difference in intensity.

Mohamad Radytio - Indonesia

While people usually point fingers toward the United States and Europe, the trend of hostility against the ethnic Muslim community can also be seen in the Buddhist majority counties of Asia. Despite the ongoing genocidal extermination and systematic atrocities against the Muslims in several Buddhist majority countries such as in Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka where the Monck-led acts of repression, rioting, and discrimination against the Muslim population have become a regular feature. As against it, the Buddhist minority population in Muslim majority Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have not yet faced any reprisal or revenge attacks.
What is happening against the Muslims in these Buddhist majority countries compelled me to do some research on what is happening to Buddhist minority in the countries where Muslims are the predominant majority. What came out is in contrast with the treatment of Buddhist minority in Muslim majority countries, where the Buddhists are enjoying freedom of religion and living a normal life and excelling in different walks of life.

In Malaysia, there are many Buddhist politicians and businessmen outshining their Muslim compatriots. They even rule the Penang, an important province with prominent name in business and economy. They are being represented both as the ruling ministers and opposition leaders. The Buddhist minority is well-positioned in the country’s media as editors or columnists, as also mostly in control of the country’s private economy. In case of any discriminatory act against them, they can easily report it to the media which is always willing to highlight the news and pressurize the government for taking speedy remedial measures. Chinese language, alongside those of Indian Tamils, is recognized by the law as one of working languages, with numerous television and radio news being broadcasted in Chinese language. Buddhist adherents in Malaysia, who are mostly of Chinese origin, are free to establish their schools and other cultural and religious institutions. As a matter of fact, not only their languages are allowed, but their cultural events are also celebrated nationwide, while some of the events are recognised as national or state holidays. Interestingly, in Malaysia, all these positive things are happening against the backdrop of a constitution which has enshrined Islam as its sole state religion and a government which adheres to Islamic Council’s opinions on several issues.

In neighbouring Indonesia, even better conditions exist for the Buddhist minority population. Despite being the most populous Muslim country in the world and huge percentage of Muslim population as compared to Malaysia, the Indonesian government has allowed up to six religions to enjoy the status of state-sanctioned religions. All six religions are not only enjoying government protection, but all their major celebrations are listed as national holidays. In Jakarta, where the governor is coming from Islamist coalition, Buddhism is considered as enriching the City’s culture, with Daai TV, a Buddhist TV Network, airing their broadcast from their sprawling Buddhist headquarter complex in North Jakarta. In East Java, the heartland of Islamic culture, the minority Buddhist community has just recently established a sleeping Buddha statue in Mojokerto County that is claimed as one of the largest in Southeast Asia, competing with Buddha statues in Bangkok and Myanmar. Furthermore, against the backdrop of a 250 million-strong population where 87.2 % of its population is Muslim and only 2 % of them are Buddhist, Indonesian economy is led by Chinese people, many of whom are adherent of Buddhism. Even one of them, Murdaya Poo, whose wife Hartati Murdaya has an education in Buddhist studies, is successfully becoming one of the 10 richest people in Indonesia, with more than US$ 2 Billion net worth. At a time when Muslims are maliciously accused of terrorism and intolerance, the ability of a Buddhist to successfully growing his business empire into Billions of Dollars in the middle of hundreds of millions of Muslims is a testament of how tolerant and peaceful Muslims really are.

Buddhist minority is having no problem with the security forces. In the event of any rare incident of a communal disturbance, the Indonesian security forces never fail in protecting the Buddhist minority of Indonesia. Even in the Army services, Buddhist people are able to get the high-rank position. Gatot Subroto is not only a devout Buddhist, but he is also one of Indonesia’s National hero who was entrusted to become a Deputy Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Land Forces, and previously a Military Governor of Central Java. This is yet to mention the minority Buddhists’ role in the media, where many of them held important positions. In Kompas Gramedia Group and Media Group, the most influential news groups in Indonesia. Indonesian observers would notice the heavy amount of so-called two side reports of Muslim genocide in Myanmar or even outright defense of Myanmar state on both media. As a comparison, it is impossible to imagine that any Myanmar local media would ever come forward to defend Turkish role in Rohingya issue or reporting Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan’s humanitarian visit into Rohingya refugee camps for relief purpose.

Even in a small Monarchy of Brunei, Buddhist minority enjoys the religious freedom and not a single major incident of repression or persecution was ever recorded. With a population of only about 400,000, of whom 67% are Muslims and 13% Buddhists, that makes Buddhism the second largest religion in Brunei. There are some reports from the South Asian country Bangladesh that the Rohingya issue was used in local politics and few incidents of attacks on Buddhist minority took place but the Bangladesh government and Security forces effectively handled the situation without any discrimination and did not allow situation to get out of control.

Some may argue that the 2001 destruction of the millennia old Buddha statues by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan had amplified the anti-Muslim feelings among the Buddhist people though the UNESCO and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) experts are jointly working to restore the Buddha statues on the same site. With this argument, the genocide of Muslims in Myanmar and destruction of many Mosques would have created the equal anti-Buddhist feelings in the minds of Muslims of the world in general and the Muslims of the countries where Buddhists are in minority in particular.

Despite the distorted image being presented in the international media, Muslims of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Bangladesh have proved the Muslims to be one of the most tolerant majority communities on the planet at a time when we see atrocities on Muslims are being committed in the Buddhist majority countries led by their Monks and security forces. Suffice it to say that tolerant and exonerating Muslim response against the carnage of their co-believers in Buddhist Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka has set an example. The question now arising is whether Buddhism with its paradoxes as being displayed blatantly by its adherents against the ethnic minorities, particularly in the said predominantly Buddhist countries, at all deserves to be known as the “Religion of Peace”.



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