“This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know.”
This quote from Rudyard Kipling is still true today, 100 years after he first wrote it. Today Burma is known as Myanmar and is indeed an extraordinary, charming and interesting country. It is the largest country on mainland Southeast Asia with an area of 676,000 square kilometers in a highly strategic location between India and China at the Bay of Bengal. Although the population is quite low there are 135 different people groups that create a wide variety of challenges. About 89% are considered to be Buddhist. Among the minorities groups there is a strong Christian presence.
Myanmar is unlike anywhere else
Arab Muslims first arrived as seamen and traders over 1000 years ago. They settled in coastal cities and lived peacefully with their Buddhist neighbours. In the time of the Myanmar monarchy they gained some influence economically and politically. During the British colonial time the influx of Muslims from neighboring India increased dramatically. This laid the foundation for considerable alienation and ethnic tensions between Buddhists and Muslims that is still happening today. Normally they avoid close contact with each other and view their cultural differences as a strong dividing factor. For example, when the Muslims celebrate the yearly Feast of Sacrifice they usually slaughter cows. Buddhists, from their Hindu roots holding cows in high esteem, see this as cruel and barbaric.
Cultural Differences in Myanmar
In all the major cities in Mayanmar you can see many Muslims. They are easy to recognize as most men wear a long shirt over the traditional longyi (an ankle length garment similar to a sarong). The more religious Muslims wear a white cap and grow a beard unlike the Buddhists who would never do this! Usually women are not veiled, but depending on their ethnic origin some wear a scarf or a kind of embroidered cap. Downtown Yangoon, Mandalay and Mawlamyine you can see several large old mosques, most of them still dating from British occupation. Most Muslims are engaged in businesses ranging from small roadside shops to international trading companies. Muslim families are larger than average, often with 5 or more children. The official number of Muslims is 4% but it may be closer to 6 or 7%. In reality that’s over 3 million people.
There are different groups within the Muslim population. Some are culturally very much adapted to the Buddhist Myanmar people. Only the religion is different.
Pray for the 3 million + Muslims in Myanmar (Burma):
* Pray for the government to have wisdom to rule this ethnically diverse country in justice and in peace.
* Pray for the many Muslim children , that they may get a chance to listen and respond to the gospel.
* Pray that the Lord will call local workers from the churches in Myanmar for the harvest among the Muslims. Pray that the Christians will overcome their fear by love.
Background on Myanmar (Burma) (World Factbook)
Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; independence from the Commonwealth was attained in 1948.
General NE WIN dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. Despite multiparty legislative elections in 1990 that resulted in the main opposition party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) – winning a landslide victory, the ruling junta refused to hand over power. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient AUNG SAN SUU KYI, who was under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and 2000 to 2002, was imprisoned in May 2003 and subsequently transferred to house arrest, where she remains virtually incommunicado. In November 2005, the junta extended her detention for at least another six months. She was finally released in November 2010. As of April 2012 several reforms are helping change the country.
Economy of Burma / Myanmar
Burma, a resource-rich country, suffers from pervasive government controls, inefficient economic policies, and rural poverty. Lacking monetary or fiscal stability, the economy suffers from serious macroeconomic imbalances – including rising inflation, fiscal deficits, multiple official exchange rates that overvalue the Burmese kyat, a distorted interest rate regime, unreliable statistics, and an inability to reconcile national accounts to determine a realistic GDP figure. The most productive sectors will continue to be in extractive industries, especially oil and gas, mining, and timber. A major banking crisis in 2003 shuttered the country’s 20 private banks and disrupted the economy. Published statistics on foreign trade are greatly understated because of the size of the black market and unofficial border trade – often estimated to be as large as the official economy. US imposed sanctions add to Burma’s economic woes.
Statistics on Burma / Myanmar
Population: 54,584,650 – see notes below (July 2012 est.) World rank #24
Life Expectancy at Birth: 65.24 years. World rank #168
Ethnic groups: Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%
Religions: Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%
Languages: Burmese, minority ethnic groups have their own languages
Literacy: 89.9% — Male: 93.9 %, Female: 86.4 %
School life expectancy: 9 years
Note: Population estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (World Factbook)