A Plea for the Rohingyas


Running north to south along the border of Bangladesh, one of the truly forgotten ethnic minority groups of the modern world, the Rohingyas are dying by the thousands. According to witnesses, hundreds of Rohingyas have been turned away by authorities in neighboring Bangladesh after attempting to flee the fighting in boats. The Rohingyas never accepted any other religion than Islam and were never granted citizenship or any other rights along their border with the Buddhist Myanmarese, who don’t want them and have always tried to force them to join the Bangladeshis.

Aside from the spiritual clash which marks this among so many other adverse and “bloody” borders (as Samuel Huntington calls them, blaming the blood on Islam and not the deeper, truer spiritual realities), there seems to be no possible reconciliation between the monotheists and the polytheist “idol-worshippers” of the world. And, true to form, the polytheists hold the money while the monotheists suffer untold miseries arising from lack of economic as well as lack of educational equity.

And now, Malaysia is caught in a dilemma, for there is no way Malaysia’s vociferous support of Myanmar‘s ASEAN membership can be considered sincere unless she also brings to bear every possible human and humane effort to give the Rohingyas their religion and their land. There is no way at all that Malaysia can call herself “friend of the monotheists” without solving the Rohingya dilemma.

Will Bangladesh not accept these homeless people as part of her own Islāmic heritage? Evidently not, since the Bangladesh language is Bengali, which has its own literature, laws, and arts, and do not seem to be contiguous with those of the Rohingyas. So the Rohingya dilemma is a dilemma for all Muslims, since they cannot be forcibly disowned without the means to form their own government and polity.

Only the true generosity of the Muslim Ummah could conceivably rescue the Rohingya community, just as the Americans have become much benefactors to the Vietnamese nationhood, or the German, Japanese, European before them. In the back halls of diplomacy, therefore, the Malaysia Government can have no other position than that of urging nationhood upon the Rohingyas, from wherever it may come.

Three actions are urgently needed. The United Nations and the OIC must intervene to immediately end the atrocities and bring the Myanmarese perpetrators to justice. Secondly, ASEAN welcomed Myanmar into its membership at a time of much conflict over the Myanmar governmental system, and the ASEAN ideals of non-intervention cannot now be waived on account of the Rohingya issue. And thirdly, the Malaysian government must boldly remind the Myanmar Ambassador of the very ideals of ASEAN mutual respect and humanitarian solidarity which were offered to Myanmar along with its invitation into ASEAN several years ago.

We do not “excommunicate” in Islam. And yet it is clear to the Islāmic value system that the impoverished Rohingyas cannot be left in the status of “boat people”. They cannot be left without representation among the Muslims of the world, no matter what cost and effort that may entail. The Malaysian Government must offer every human resource at its command to organize and defend the Rohingya people as they may wish to be organized and defended, as must be, without losing them in the politicization of an all-too-common ethnicization where none is needed nor required. The Rohingya must be offered membership in the Muslim Ummah, and that Ummah must henceforth be defined and delineated in ways that all can see and accept.

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