Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2015
Bringing to light the first known Urdu primary source on Islam in colonial Burma, this essay examines the polemical encounter with Buddhism in the years surrounding the Third Anglo–Burmese War. Using the model of religious economy, the Urdu Sayr-e Barhma is contextualised amid the religious pluralisation and competition that accompanied colonisation as a multitude of religious ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘firms’ rapidly entered the colony. Among them was the Indian Muslim author of Sayr-e Barhma, which provided a detailed account of the history, language and theology of Burman Buddhists and included an account of a public debate which, it claimed, culminated in the conversion of the Thathanabaing (Primate). Against the long-standing historiographical emphasis on the economic roots of anti-Indian sentiments in colonial Burma, this essay points to the religious dimensions of these enduring antagonisms.
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28 Seekins, Donald M., ‘Sacred site or public space? The Shwedagon pagoda in colonial Rangoon’, in Buddhism, modernity and the state in Asia: Forms of engagement, ed. Whalen-Bridge, John and Kitiarsa, Pattana (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp. 139–60Google Scholar.
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31 Census data cited in Pearn, History of Rangoon, pp. 234, 254.
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50 On Baha'i printing and propagation in Bombay, see Green, Bombay Islam, pp. 121–4.
51 Rose Ong and Foo Chek Woo, Myanmar: History of the Bahá'í faith (2008), http://bahai-library.com/history_bahai_faith_myanmar (accessed 30 July 2014).
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53 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 1. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for identifying Minbu from the transliteration of Muhawid's ‘Mambu’. Muwahid also mentions having lived in the unidentified town of ‘Parum’.
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60 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 1.
63 Sayyid A‘zam ‘Ali ‘Azimabadi, Jada-e Haqq (1879), repr. in Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal 81–83 (1992); see pp. 264–9 for train and steamship details. Nadwi, Sayyid Sulayman, Sayr-e Afghanistan (Lahore: Sang-e Mil, 2008 )Google Scholar; see pp. 8–19 for practical details of travel.
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66 Yegar, Muslims of Burma, p. 130.
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69 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 13. Note that the term used for ‘guide’ (hadi) denoted a specifically Islamic type of guide.
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72 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, pp. 1, 3–4, 6, 9, 13, 17–18, 28, 33–5. From the contexts of its use in the text, Pahasya clearly refers to part or all of the Tipitaka (Buddhist scriptures). The word itself may derive from local usage of the Sanskrit bhāṣya (‘words’, ‘speech’), often used in the compound form Buddhabhāṣya (‘words/teachings of the Buddha’), which via the Pali Buddha-bhāsā Burmese renders the common Burmese word for Buddhism boda-batha. Alternatively, ‘Abd al-Khaliq's term Pahasya may be his Urdu rendering of the Burmese word peza (‘palm-leaf manuscript’, ‘[physical] text’). I am grateful to Robert Buswell and Patrick Pranke for advice on this matter.
73 Myint-U, Making, p. 252.
74 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 33.
76 Judson, Adoniram, Judson's English and Burmese dictionary (Rangoon: W.H. Sloan for the American Baptist Mission Press, 1877)Google Scholar. It is also possible that ‘Abd al-Khaliq was referring to Sloan, W.H., A practical method with the Burmese language (Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1887)Google Scholar. In either case, the argument regarding the use of Christian missionary material remains the same.
77 Cf. the cases of Indian Muslim missionaries operating in Iran and South Africa in Green, Bombay Islam, chaps. 4 and 7.
78 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 2.
79 Pahya, the term ‘Abd al-Khaliq used here, is a common Burmese epithet of the Buddha meaning ‘Lord’ (often romanised as ‘paya’ or ‘hpaya’). The epithet is also given to monks, pagodas and kings. I am deeply grateful to Patrick Pranke for identifying the Burmese terms and text names in this section of the essay.
80 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 2. Here ‘Abd al-Khaliq was referring to: Gaguthan (Pali: Kakusandha); Gonagon (Pali: Koṇāgamana); Kathapa (Pali: Kassapa); Shin Godama (Pali: Gotama), the historical Buddha; and Ayi Medaya (Pali: Ariya Metteyya) the fifth and final Buddha of the present cosmic aeon.
81 A'yi Madi was a reference to Ayi Medaya or Maitreya (Pali: Metteyya).
82 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 4. The Burmese term Sulamani (Pali: Culamaṇi) means ‘crest jewel’. It is not commonly associated with a particular Buddha, but is the name of an important pagoda at Pagan. This seems to be echoed in ‘Abd al-Khaliq's uncertainty as to whether Sulamani was a king or a pahya. My thanks again to Patrick Pranke for his generous advice.
83 Ibid. The Burmese referents for the names ‘Abd al-Khaliq gave as Dajalla and Ma Daniga are unclear. The name of the Burmese text cited here might be romanised as Niyatadāna Kyam, literally Niyatadāna (Pali: ‘perpetual donation’) + Kyam (Burmese: ‘book’ [pronounced jan/jhan]).
84 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 5.
94 Nijhawan, ‘At the margins’. On colonial stereotypes of Burman women, see also Myint-U, Making, pp. 34, 244.
95 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 26.
98 Although Phayre's History of Burmah first appeared, in two parts, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1868, it did not appear in book form until 1883. On his research and manuscripts, see Patricia Herbert, ‘The making of a collection: Burmese manuscripts in the British Library’, British Library Journal 15, 1 (1989): 64.
99 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, pp. 21–2.
102 Ibid., pp. 22–3. On the parallel concerns in Burmese historiography, see Candier, Aurore, ‘Conjuncture and reform in the Late Konbaung period: How prophecies, omens and rumors motivated political action from 1866 to 1869’, Journal of Burma Studies 15, 3 (2011): 231–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Aung-Thwin, Michael, ‘Prophecies, omens and dialogue: Tools of the trade in Burmese historiography’, in Historical essays in Honour of Kenneth R. Rossman, ed. Newmyer, Kent (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980)Google Scholar.
103 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 25.
107 Ibid., pp. 36–9. It is worth noting here the simultaneity of ‘Abd al-Khaliq's research on reckoning systems with that of colonial ethnographers. See Temple, Richard Carnac, ‘Notes on the Burmese system of arithmetic’, Indian Antiquary 20 (1891): 53–69Google Scholar.
108 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 28.
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114 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 1.
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118 Woodward, ‘When one wheel stops’, pp. 65–6.
120 The statistics and their sources are cited in Myint-U, Making, p. 208.
121 Woodward, ‘When one wheel stops’, p. 68.
123 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 13.
124 Maung Maung Lay, ‘The emergence of the Panthay community at Mandalay’, in Studies in Myanma history, vol. 1; Yegar, Moshe, ‘The Panthay (Chinese Muslims) of Burma and Yunnan’, Journal of Southeast Asian History 7, 1 (1966): 73–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Unfortunately, I have been unable to trace a copy of the widely-cited Ba, U, Mandalay centenary: History of Burmese Muslims (Mandalay, 1959)Google Scholar. However, even though the Muslim presence in Burma at large dated back centuries, the first two mosques in Mandalay itself were only built in the late 1860s. See Lay, ‘Emergence’, p. 98.
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129 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 12.
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131 The circumstances and details are given in Scott, Gazetteer, pt. 1, vol. 2, pp. 8–15.
132 Muwahid, Sayr-e Barhma, p. 13.
134 Ibid., p. 13. In a footnote, the author or publisher added that these conversions were due to Christian missionaries giving the Burmans money, legal redress or employment.
144 Tereen, ‘The polemic’, p. 63.
145 Schober, Modern Buddhist conjunctures, p. 64.
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147 Sayadaw, Ledi, Thathanawithodani (Sāsanavisodhanī), vol. 1 (Yangon: Hanthawaddi Pitakat Pon-hneik Taik, 1954 ), pp. 118–90Google Scholar; the section on Islam is on pp. 126–7. Thanks to Patrick Pranke for bringing this text and its contents to my attention.
148 Colbeck, James Alfred, Letters from Mandalay: A series of letters for the most part written from the Royal City of Mandalay during the troublous years of 1878–79 (Knavesborough: Alfred W. Lowe, 1892)Google Scholar and Yoe, Shway [Sir James George Scott], The Burman (London: Macmillan & Co., 1882)Google Scholar.
149 Thus, see Revd Armstrong, W.F., ‘Missions to the Muslims of Burma’, Baptist Missionary Magazine 89 (1909), pp. 60–62Google Scholar.
150 The text and circumstances are described in Chakravarti, Indian minority, pp. 157–9, and restated in Berlie, Burmanization, pp. 14–15. The use of the term yogi in the title for Buddhists may be a reference to the lay meditation practitioners led by the highly popular and influential Ledi Sayadaw. Thanks to Patrick Pranke for this suggestion.
151 On the monk as a contemporary socio-political actor, see Tosa, Keiko, ‘The chicken and the scorpion: Rumor, counternarratives and the political uses of Buddhism’, in Burma at the turn of the twenty-first century, ed. Skidmore, Monique (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2005), pp. 154–72Google Scholar, and Zin, Min, ‘Burmese Buddhism and its impact on social change’, in Burma's modern tragedy, ed. Metraux, Daniel A. and Oo, Khin (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2004)Google Scholar.
152 Razvi, Mujtaba, ‘The problem of the Burmese Muslims’, Pakistan Horizon 31, 4 (1978)Google Scholar, p. 88, citing the Indian Asian Recorder news digest.