YANGON: With elections over in Myanmar, religious leaders believe it is time to enhance the law to ensure fringe groups do not use religion to incite violence and hatred.
Myanmar’s Sitagu International Buddhist Academy and the Institute for Global Engagement, a US-based NGO that works to promote religious freedom, have introduced a 10-day Religion and Rule of Law certificate programme to promote peace building efforts in Myanmar. It is believed to be the first programme of its kind in the country.
Prominent religious leaders in Myanmar have urged people and political parties to stop targeting groups of people solely on the account of their religion.
“Burmese society and religion are mostly intertwined,” said Ashin Dhammapiya, Professor, International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University. “So it's difficult for citizens to distinguish and separate religion from politics. And that's why it's easy to manipulate religion to influence citizens.”
He added: “When you talk about politics alone or social issues alone, the impact may not be as great. But when you weave religion into an issue, it'll be more powerful and will generate more emotions. That's why there's a tendency for people to misuse religion for their own causes.”
Yangon’s Archbishop Cardinal Charles Bo said the gathering of people of various religions in Myanmar is historic, and shows how diversity can be celebrated. Without directly identifying the plight of Rohingyas, he blames a fringe group for tainting the nation's reputation by claiming the right to decide who should live here.
"WE REALLY HAVE TO BE CAREFUL NOT TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST ANYONE"
He said there is no place for such attitudes. "The Paris attacks can happen anywhere in the world, so we have to be really careful that we try to treat others as brothers and sisters and do not discriminate against anyone,” he said. “The monks, religious leaders, the pastors or even the leaders of the Muslim and Hindu communities ought to teach their followers to build this nation into one big loving family.”
Addressing participants from different faiths earlier, one religious leader said blood has no religion and tears have no colour. He added that now is the time for Myanmar to take on the responsibility to redefine the role of religion in the country, and this programme is just the start of achieving greater cohesion in this society.
As Myanmar embarks on a future with new leaders, it is hoped that citizens will embrace the renewed message of harmony and religious tolerance.
"In Myanmar, many people have little awareness of other religions,” Khin Mar Yar Htwe, a trainer at the Islamic Centre of Myanmar. “So conflict tends to arise. I joined this course to help the other religious people reduce the chances of conflict and also to understand other people’s faiths.”
In the 10-day certificate programme, 30 participants of different faiths discuss topics like the connection between religion and the rule of law, and international human rights in relation to religions.