Islam has been abstractly recognized as one of the five religions recognized by all the three constitutions of Myanmar although Buddhism is constitutionally revered as the majority religion. This constitutional recognition of Islam does not always mean that its followers or Muslims are also given the equal constitutional footing as followers of other religions, especially the Buddhist majority, are. Islam and its followers have been othered and rendered lesser in three main ways: by history; by ethnicity; and by law. I will trace how Islam and Muslims have been rendered lesser by a reading of Myanmar history into which most, if not all, of present-day Myanmar Muslims entered as colonial-era migrants. Likewise, Muslims have also been constructed as the ethnic or racial other foreign or alien to Myanmar since Islam arrived in Myanmar later than Buddhism did and many of them only came in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Finally, this othering has been written into law by the Myanmar Citizenship Law (1982) that categorizes Muslims as non-native citizens who shall never be legal equals as their fellow native citizens are.
About the Speaker
Nyi Nyi Kyaw is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Asian Legal Studies at the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore. He works on Myanmar and his areas of interest are law and social movements, religion, nationalism, constitutionalism, and human rights.