The celebrations began shortly after dawn. A cluster of monks in saffron robes gathered beneath this city’s historic golden Shwedagon Pagoda to murmur prayers and chants. A procession of vans then took the men to a monastery on the outskirts of Yangon, where groups of monks, nuns and civilians huddled under umbrellas before a large stage lined with senior abbots and emblazoned with Buddhist insignia. This was no ordinary religious festival. The Sept. 14 gathering was the start of a two-week nationwide anti-Muslim event organized by Myanmar’s powerful Buddhist nationalist group, known locally as the Ma Ba Tha. The cause for celebration was the recent adoption of a package of laws to “protect race and religion” in the Buddhist-majority country, further marginalizing its beleaguered Muslim minority. “Victorious! Victorious!” the crowd bellowed as a soft-spoken monk took to the stage.
The four bills, sponsored by the Ma Ba Tha and signed into law last month by President Thein Sein, restrict interfaith marriages and religious conversions, criminalize polygamy and adultery and demand that women wait three years between the birth of each child. The legislation is broadly viewed as an attack on the country’s Muslims. A Muslim man recently became the first target of the new monogamy law, facing seven years in prison for living with a Buddhist woman after separating from his wife.
This comes at a time of high religious tensions in Myanmar, which has been gripped by bouts of anti-Muslim violence since emerging from decades of military dictatorship in 2011. Ma Ba Tha’s celebrations coincide with the launch of campaign season in Myanmar, which is preparing for a landmark general election on Nov. 8. A rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric raises concerns that religious nationalism will be used for political goals.
Full Article: Muslim Minority Cut Out of Myanmar Vote | Al Jazeera America.