The Rohingya in Pakistan
Posted by Ann Corcoran on May 17, 2008
This is another story to add to our category called “Rohingya Reports” which we created recently as an archive for information about Burmese Muslims known as Rohingya who have an on-going political campaign to be resettled in the West.
The Rohingya are one of the ethnic minorities driven from Burma by the military regime. So far everything we have read about the Rohingya is that they are strict adherents to Islam and this article confirms that those who have migrated to Pakistan are training their children with “proper” Islamic religious instruction.
The Huffington Post article by Derek Flood is long and I encourage you to read it all, here are some highlights:
Aziz, my diminutive driver hired from the Karachi Sheraton who was ferrying me from location to location around the city on an unrelated assignment, one day mentioned off handedly that a community of Muslim refugees from Burma attended the mosque near his home in Korangi. This piqued my curiosity considerably. I’ve had an idea for sometime that by meeting people living on the world’s geopolitical periphery, I can learn the most about both globalization and its attendant wars.
Aziz was a mohajir, an Urdu speaking Muslim whose family migrated from northern India to Karachi, then the capital of a newly created but ill conceived Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The root of the Arabic term mohajir is hijira, symbolizing the Prophet Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina in the 7th century. This term is used to describe what was likely the 20th century’s largest migration that took place in the ashes of the British Raj when the empire abandoned the “jewel of the crown”. Aziz was an enthusiastic member of an evangelical, Islamic revivalist movement called Tablighi Jamaat (“Conveying Group”). One of the Tablighi’s primary aims is to renew religiosity amongst wayward Muslims and other communities at risk in the Muslim world where the movement believes the influence of the faith has lessened due to political and cultural factors. Tablighi Jamaat was busy influencing a new group of mohajirs, the Rohingya of western Burma.
It was here in the warrens of Karachi’s underbelly that the Rohingya founded a settlement after fleeing persecution by the Tatmadaw (the Burmese military). The Rohingya, after suffering acute religious persecution, were a perfect fit for the Tablighi’s proselytizing.
Visit to a Madrassa:
After hearing first hand accounts of hijira from the Rohingya elders, Aziz and I then visited a bare-walled, local Burmese religious school called Madrassa Usmani.
In Pakistan, it was the Islamic charities who provided aid and “proper” religious instruction for the children of the community as per the standards of Pakistani society. It is from just this milieu where students can be cultivated into fighters. I left with only the hope that these vulnerable, young Rohingya would not fall for the siren song of violent radicalism gripping much of modern Pakistan. As we have learned the hard lessons from the militancy spawned in Pakistan’s notorious Afghan refugee camps, it is not terribly difficult for yesterday’s victims to become tomorrow’s aggressors.
The dangerous neighborhood:
As we drove away from the rough neighborhood these former refugees now call home, I naively said to my driver, “I actually felt pretty safe there.” Aziz looked at me skeptically and said in his heavy Pakistani accent, “that is the most dangerous area of Karachi.” Considering Karachi is one of the world’s most violent cities, I would shudder the next day when I read in the nation’s leading English-language daily that five men had been shot dead in Korangi during my brief visit.
As we drove out of the crowded slum into the overwhelming traffic of Karachi proper, I thought it a strange fate that the Rohingya fled an area where they faced state orchestrated violence only to arrive in another area plagued with rampant crime and anti-state and sectarian terrorism. Karachi may have its dreadful shortcomings but at least here in their relative anonymity, the Rohingya are free.
Free? Yes, free to practice Islam in its most virulent form.
Note to State Department, think long and hard about whether this is a group of refugees we wish to resettle in American cities. Our melting pot is pretty good, but it can’t handle religious extremists. A good job in a meatpacking plant will not erase fundamental Islamic training.
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