Myanmar bans Muslims from celebrating mosque’s jubilee

Authorities ban celebrations of mosque’s centennial jubilee after nationalist monk makes complaint

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Muslims perform the Eid al-Adha prayer at Sunni Jameh Mosque in Yangon, Myanmar September 25, 2015.

Authorities have banned a mosque on the outskirts of commercial capital Yangon from celebrating its centennial jubilee on Monday, following complaints from the country's firebrand nationalist monk Wirathu.

A caretaker at the mosque told Anadolu Agency by phone that Muslim followers had planned to celebrate the Sunni Jameh Mosque's 100th birthday on the Jan. 4 anniversary of the country’s Independence Day.

However, local authorities denied permission Sunday.

“We planned the celebration on Independence Day so many people can join the event because it is a holiday,” said the caretaker, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal.

“However local authorities replied that we can’t have a celebration tomorrow. They said any other celebration, especially a religious ceremony at a mosque, should not happen on Independence Day."

Anadolu Agency was unable to reach the local authority for comment as Monday is a national holiday.

On Sunday night, firebrand monk Wirathu posted on Facebook that local members of Ma Ba Tha, a Buddhist nationalist group, have complained that such celebration should not be allowed at the mosque in Teikgyi Township.

“Because we heard that they are planning to preach about the Rohingya [a Muslim ethnic minority] at the centennial jubilee at the mosque,” Wirathu said in his post, accusing Muslims of "testing the water" prior to the National League for Democracy (NLD) -- the winner of historic Nov. 8 general elections -- taking power in March.

Although the NLD's leader -- Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi -- has distanced herself from Muslim causes, many analysts suspect pressure from human rights groups and outside investors will encourage the party to clamp down on religious persecution.

Wirathu has led a ferocious anti-Muslim campaign in the country, which has stirred up violence that many people hold responsible for numerous deaths, particularly in Myanmar's western Rakhine State -- home to a large community of Rohingya.

He has warned Muslims -- whom many human rights groups have claimed are victims of state persecution -- to stay peaceful, or "just leave."

On Monday, the caretaker denied that the mosque had any plan to discuss or pursue Rohingya rights.

"We just want more people join the event on the national holiday," he said.

The Jan. 4 Independence Day celebrations commemorate Myanmar's 1948 Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom.