Cultural blending of the two communities
In most part of the Arakan history, there were close political, economic and cultural inter-dependency and harmonious relationship between Muslim and the Rakhine.
Stone plates of inscriptions in Arabic script were retrieved from inside the pagodas and monasteries. Some are still found in Mrauk-U and Akyab Museums. Emil Forchhammer, director of British time archaeology found Stone Plates in Dwara Wady thyin. (Emil Forchhammer, Arakan, 1891, Plate No. XXXI)
Describing the Boder Mokan (plate XL II, No.88) E. Forchhammer writes “the principal moasque has become the prototype for many Buddhist temples like the one on plate XL III”, the pagoda in the most perfect type of the blending of the Indian mosque and Burmese turreted spire. (Forchhammer, ‘Arakan’ 1891, p-61)
About Pharahla (Zeti) in Sandway, Forchhammer writes, “it represents a combination of the style of the Native image-house and Mahamedan Mosque (Plate XL IV, No. 92, 1891, P-62).”
In the middle of the 15th century coins were inscribed in Persian. By the mid of the 16th century coins were inscribed in Bengali, Persian and Arakanese and from the mid. 17th century only in Arakanese (Pamela, 2001, p-18). In the Persian coins the country’s name is “Rahami”, a term nearer to present day “Rohang”.
After Min Saw Mon’s return (from Bengal) the country remained tributary to the Bengal Sultanate for hundreds of years. The king though Buddhists, used Mahamedan titles in addition to their own names, some minted coins bearing the Kalima, the Muslim declaration of faith, in Persian script ( the writing language of Muslim of Arakan then). (Pamela, 2001, p-18)
Shit-Thaung western face: The arched facades and the dome shape of the roof stupas recall the pre-Moghol Islamic architecture of East Bengal. (Pamela, 2001, p-96)
There was found, a Mihrab decoration from Daingripat in Mrauk-U Museum. This stone sculpture would have been originally ornamented a Mihrab, or a prayer niche of a mosque. The style compares closely with that of the Chota Sena Mosque at Gaur in East Bengal (1493-1519).
Dr. Qanungo says “Although Chittagong was politically subjugated by Arakan (Rakhine), culturally it was Arakan which was greatly influenced by a strong culture and language, a number of competent Bengali were appointed to high Government posts. (Qanungo, 1988, 57). 17th century Arakan kings gave encouraging support to the cultivation of Bengali literature, and Bengali writers flourished there in Arakan. (Ibid-572)
Official names, designations of Arakan court were in Bengali or Persians, such as Shah Bandar, Wazir, Dewan, Rajah, Raya, Parwana, Nazir, Kadi and so on. (See; Arakan around 1830 by J. Leider). When Arakan king, Sanda Thudamma was defeated by Maghul in 1666, Arakan naval fleets were seized by Maghul. The names of the fleets were Persian or Bengali i.e the usages of Rohingya, such as Kalu, Ghurab, Jangyi, Kosa, Jalba and Balam. These Bengali (Muslim) names of the fleets lead us to the thinking that the crews too might comprise of Muslims (Qanungo, 1988, p-384).
Dr. Sukumer Sen rightly says:
“From that time Bengali was accepted at the Arakan court as the chief cultural language mainly because many of the high-ranking officials of Arakan came from Chittagong and other neighboring territories whose mother tongue was Bengali.” (Dr. Sukumer Sen, Islamic Bengali Shahista, p-15, 1958)
Muslim cultural influence on religion in Arakan was remarkable too. Emil Forchammer, director of British time archaeology in describing the Budder Mokan (Mosque) of Akyab writes: The principal mosque has become the prototype for many Buddhist temples like the one on plate XLIII (Andow Ceti in Sandoway).
Again, describing the Phrahla Ceti in Sandoway, he writes it represents the combination of the style of native image house and the Mohammadan Mosque. (See; plate No. XLIV) (Forcharmmer, Arakan 1891, P. 61, 62).
Dr. Pamela, an Arakan history specialist says; in the 15th and 16th centuries, Arakan was the recipient of dynamic cultural influences from the Islamic World and Europe which resulted in the renaissance expressed in the originality of shrines and sculptures. The close proximity of Bengal and its initial dependence of Mrauk-U rulers and their Islamic counterparts saw Muslim influence even in Buddhist architecture — In describing Shitthaung pagoda of Mrauk-U, she writes: The total effect being remarkably similar to the Mosque architecture of “early sixteen century Gaur, then the capital of Bengal. Both Lattan Masjid and Bara Sona Masjid for instance, have multi arched faces and are surrounded by series of domes. (Pamela, 2001, 28,93). Shitthaung temple was built by King Min Ba Gyi, AD1531-52).
Above Lattan Masjid was built in 1475 AD by Sultan Yusoof Shah and Bara Sona Masjid was established by Sultan Nasarat Shah in 1526. (U Khin Maung Saw, “the truth behind the mask”, 2016)
So we can say the Shit Thaung Temple built later would have been copied from above Mosques of Bengal, built earlier.
These above historical findings show us early cultural inter-blending in Arakan. To sum up, Muslim involvement in every sphere of Arakan life is not from colonial period, but it can be traced from time immemorial.
To appraise the whole history, Arakan except the short Myanmar rule (1785-1824) had been under the same rule with Chittagong for a period more than one millennia. So ethnic peoples in Arakan today: Rakhine, Rohingya, Bruwa, Daik Net, Mro, Thek dwelled in both regions freely and independently. When Pakistan and Burma got independence, these ethnic peoples became full citizen of respective countries where they permanently lived. In the context of Rohingya’s citizenship, there was an accord between Aung San and Ali Jinna of Pakistan on 7th of January 1947 in Krachi.
In Myanmar side, all races including Rohingya were accepted as indigenous people by the governments then. But later military government introduce discriminatory policies. For Rohingyas, there were checks after checks, inquiry after inquiry, verification after verification and operation after operation. On the pretext of searching for illegal immigrants. What was the Reason? Because they are Muslims. Bruwas who were in foreign race list in 1973 census have similarity with Bengali, especially with Buddhist Bengali. They now are accepted as indigenous people of Arakan only because they are Buddhists.
Here Dr. Pamela Gutman who wrote her Ph.D dissertation on Arakan history writes in her ‘Burma’s lost kingdoms;
“The region (Arakan) as a whole (due to its geographical location) has a unique history vis-à-vis the land locked central political systems of ancient Burmese Buddhist, and has a history of interdependence with Bengal which was a natural source of cultural, economic and labor exchange.”
Aung Aung Than, in ‘the coexistence of orthodontic and hetero-genetic city culture of ancient Mrauk-U’ says:
“Arakan coastal region was populated by a thriving multi-ethnic and multi-faith people, both transitory commercial communities and more permanent residents, including Armenians, Portuguese, Dutch, Persians, Arabs and Chin.”
In fact, Rakhine State history is one of socioeconomic and demographic interdependence with Bengal, with influence from elsewhere in India, Persia, and the Arab world. (Mushe Yegar, ‘the Muslims of Burma’, 1972)
From above narratives of senior historians and experts, we can draw conclusion that Rakhine State had never been exclusively the land of Rakhine though present day Rakhine politicians adopt an opposite stance. They say Rakhine(Arakan) belong only to them. After independence, there were series of scrutiny operations to ascertain the originality of Muslims in Rakhine (Arakan).
During those verifications and military plus immigration combined operations against Muslims hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were expelled from Burma. The remaining were after strict scrutiny issued Burma nationality cards, NRCs. Later in 1990s military government seized off all these NRCs which still are legally valid as nationality cards. These NRCs were replaced by white cards (Temporary Registration Cards, TRCs) under the same law in Arakan. In 2015 white cards, TRCs were de-legitimized by enacting a law. Now they say, “these Rohingyas who formerly held NRCs are illegal immigrants and document-less people. So, no full citizenship is for them.” Problem is there.
Process of making documentless was introduced deliberately decades ago. Thus, Rohingya are victims of a master conspiracy intended to cleanse the region of them.
Dr J.Leider writes a lot of articles and books on Arakan’s history. He is the favorite writer of Rakhine people. He writes:
During 15th and 16th centuries, Bengali architecture and the refinement of Islamic ceremonial at the court of Bengal Sultans and Mughal governors had an undoubted impact on Arakan’s art and elite culture. (Leider Arakan’s ascent, 2002, P-55)
Note – this is a chapter from my book “Rohingya History: Reality, Devoid of Myth”.