Myanmar (Burma) is a Buddhist majority country with a significant minority of Christians and other groups residing in the country.

Buddhism is a part of Myanmar culture. Section 361 of the Constitution states that "The Union recognizes the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union."[1] According to both the 2014 census of the Burmese government Buddhism is the dominant religion, of 89.8% of the population, practiced especially by the Bamar, Rakhine, Shan, Mon and Chinese ethnic groups. Bamar people also practice the Burmese folk religion under the name of Buddhism. The 2008 constitution provides for the freedom of religion; [2] however, it also grants broad exceptions that allow the regime to restrict these rights at will.[3]

Ethnic minorities practice Christianity (6.3%, particularly the Chin, Kachin and Karen people), Islam (2.3%, particularly the Rohingya, Malay, Burmese Chinese and Burmese Indian), and Hinduism (0.5%, particularly by Burmese Indians).[4]

Nat worship is common in Myanmar. Nats are named spirits and shrines can be seen around the country, either standing alone, or as part of Buddhist temples. Nat worship has a relationship with Myanmar Buddhism and there is a recognised pantheon of 37 nats.

Census statistics

Note: the figures of Burma's Muslim population is divided into two. One that ignores the people who are believed to be not citizens of Burma and the other that includes them. Without these people in the demographics, the Muslim population will only be as low as 2.3% of the whole population of Burma, according to the census conducted by the Burmese Government.

Religious group % 1973[4] % 1983[4] % 2014[4]
Buddhism 88.8% 89.4% 89.8%
Christianity 4.6% 4.9% 6.2%
Islam 3.9% 3.9% 2.3%
Hinduism 0.4% 0.5% 0.5%
Tribal religions 2.2% 1.2% 0.8%
Other religions 0.1% 0.1% 0.2%
Not religious n/a n/a 0.1%

Religion by State/Region

Religion in Myanmar (2014 Myanmar Census)[4][dead link][note 1]

  Buddhism (88.7%)
  Christianity (6.2%)
  Islam (2.3%)
  Hinduism (0.5%)
  Tribal religions (0.8%)
  Other (0.2%)
  No religion (0.1%)

Buddhism is the majority religion in all Regions and Kayin State, Kachin State, Mon State, Shan State and Kayah State.[5] Most Bamar, Shan, Mon, Rakhine, Karen and many ethnic groups of Myanmar follow Theravada Buddhism. Some Chinese people people follow Mahayana Buddhism. Christianity is the majority religion in Chin State. And There's a significant Christian population in Kachin State and Kayah State.[5] Most Chin, Kachin and Karenni people follow Christianity.

Religion by State/Region in Myanmar[5]
State/Region Buddhism % Christianity % Islam % Animism % Hinduism % Other religions % No religion % Not stated % Total
Ayeyarwady Region 5,699,665 92.2% 388,348 6.3% 84,073 1.4% 459 0% 5,440 0.1% 6,600 0.1% 244 0% 0 0% 6,184,829
Bago Region 4,550,698 93.5% 142,528 2.9% 56,753 1.2% 4,296 0.1% 100,166 2.1% 12,687 0.3% 245 0% 0 0% 4,867,373
Chin State 62,079 13% 408,730 85.4% 690 0.1% 1,830 0.4% 106 0% 5,292 1.1% 74 0% 0 0% 478,801
Kachin State 1,050,610 62.2% 555,037 32.9% 26,789 1.6% 3,972 0.2% 5,738 0.3% 474 0% 221 0% 46,600 2.8% 1,689,441
Kayah State 142,896 49.9% 131,237 45.8% 3,197 1.1% 5,518 1.9% 269 0.1% 3,451 1.2% 59 0% 0 0% 286,627
Kayin State 1,271,766 80.8% 142,875 9.1% 68,459 4.3% 1,340 0.1% 9,585 0.6% 10,194 0.6% 107 0% 69,753 4.4% 1,574,079
Magway Region 3,870,316 98.8% 27,015 0.7% 12,311 0.3% 3,353 0.1% 2,318 0.1% 1,467 0% 275 0% 0 0% 3,917,055
Mandalay Region 5,898,160 95.7% 65,061 1.1% 187,785 3% 188 0% 11,689 0.2% 2,301 0% 539 0% 0 0% 6,165,723
Mon State 1,901,667 92.6% 10,791 0.5% 119,086 5.8% 109 0% 21,076 1% 1,523 0.1% 141 0% 0 0% 2,054,393
Nay Pyi Taw 1,123,036 96.8% 12,293 1.1% 24,030 2.1% 20 0% 516 0% 286 0% 61 0% 0 0% 1,160,242
Rakhine State 2,019,370 63.3% 36,791 1.2% 1,118,731 35.1% 2,711 0.1% 9,791 0.3% 759 0% 654 0% 0 0% 3,188,807
Sagaing Region 4,909,960 92.2% 349,377 6.6% 58,987 1.1% 89 0% 2,793 0.1% 2,928 0.1% 1,213 0% 0 0% 5,325,347
Shan State 4,755,834 81.7% 569,389 9.8% 58,918 1% 383,072 6.6% 5,416 0.1% 27,036 0.5% 24,767 0.4% 0 0% 5,824,432
Tanintharyi Region 1,231,719 87.5% 100,758 7.2% 72,074 5.1% 576 0% 2,386 0.2% 567 0% 321 0% 0 0% 1,408,401
Yangon Region 6,697,673 91% 232,249 3.2% 345,612 4.7% 512 0% 75,474 1% 7,260 0.1% 1,923 0% 0 0% 7,360,702

Buddhism

Further information: Buddhism in Myanmar and Burmese folk religion § Relationship with Buddhism

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon - the most revered pagoda in Myanmar
The Payathonzu Temple is built in the Mon style.

Buddhism in Myanmar is predominantly of the Theravada tradition, practised by about 90% of the country's population.[4][6][7] It is the most religious Buddhist country in terms of the proportion of monks in the population and proportion of income spent on religion.[8]

Adherents are most likely found among the dominant ethnic Bamar, Shan, Rakhine, Mon, Karen, and Chinese who are well integrated into Burmese society. Monks, collectively known as the Sangha, are venerated members of Burmese society. Among many ethnic groups in Myanmar, including the Bamar and Shan, Theravada Buddhism is practised in conjunction monastic orders (not to be confused with Nikaya Buddhism) with the most notable being the Thudhamma Nikaya accounting for 87% of Theravada monks.[9] Mahayana Buddhism is practiced less commonly today, often among Chinese. However, Ari Buddhism, a form of Buddhism more related to the Mahayana or tantric traditions, was the dominant Buddhist tradition prior to the 11th century in Upper Myanmar.[10]

Buddhism in Myanmar dates back to at least the third century from contact between what is believed to be the Mon people of Lower Myanmar and Southern Indian kings in Nagarjunakonda.[11] and Tambapamnidipa".[12] Legends and historical accounts written centuries after the fact claim contact as far back as the lifetime of the Buddha, particularly in the traditional account of the construction of Shwedagon Pagoda 2500 years ago.[13] The early Mon and Pyu became flourishing centers of Buddhism in contact with Southern India and Sri Lanka[14] In the 11th century, the Bagan king Anawrahta converted to Theravada Buddhism after his conquests of the region driving out Ari Buddhism and incorporating traditional nats into the new Theravada sect that would become a solid part of Burmese history and culture.

Buddhists, although clearly professed by the majority of people in Myanmar, have their complaints regarding religious freedom. In 1961, Prime Minister U Nu made Buddhism the state religion and caused dissent amongst Christian Kachin nationalists and was one of the main factors for the Kachin conflict.[15] In 1962, following Ne Win's coup d'état, this policy and other policies promoting Buddhism were reversed.[16]

A political party, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, split from the main Karen nationalist movement, the Karen National Union (KNU), after the Buddhists were denied to rebuild and repair the stupas at Manerplaw. The top leadership of the KNU were also dominated by Christians, although roughly 65% of the Karen are Buddhist.

Many monks took part in the 2007 Saffron Revolution and were reportedly arrested by government security forces.[17]

Buddhism is the fastest growing religion and majority religion in Myanmar.[citation needed] However, all data about religious demographics is difficult. Although many must list their religion on government forms and identification documents, the number of adherents varies widely from source to source. The constitution provides for freedom of religion but the government imposes restrictions on other religions and grants special preferences towards Buddhism. The Department for the Perpetuation and Propagation of the Sasana and state-sponsored State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee support and regulate Buddhism in the country.[18] The Committee has the power to disrobe monks who have violated its decrees and edicts as well as Vinaya regulations and laws, and expel monks from their resident monasteries.[19] There is also a deep, mutually legitimising historical relationship between the state and the Sangha (monkhood) with long held inseparability of Buddhism and politics within the country.[20]

Christianity

Further information: Christianity in Myanmar

Christianity is practised by 6.2% of the population,[4][21] primarily among the Kachin, Chin and Karen people, and Eurasians because of missionary work in their respective areas.[22] About four-fifths of the country's Christians are Protestants, in particular Baptists of the Myanmar Baptist Convention; Roman Catholics make up the remainder.

Hinduism

Further information: Hinduism in Myanmar

A Hindu procession in Yangon, Myanmar
Shri Kali Temple in Yangon

Hinduism is practised by 0.5% of the population.[4][23] Most Hindus in Myanmar are Burmese Indians.

Hinduism was predominantly pervasive in Burma during ancient times. Hinduism declined after Buddhism was introduced, although some practices and festivals remain part of Burmese culture. Both names of the country are rooted in Hinduism; Burma is the British colonial officials' phonetic equivalent for the first half of Brahma Desha the ancient name of the region.[24] Brahma is part of Hindu trinity, a deity with four heads. The name Myanmar is regional language[25] transliteration of Brahma, where b and m are interchangeable.[24]

Arakan (Rakhine) Yoma is a significant natural mountainous barrier between Burma and India, and the migration of Hinduism and Buddhism into Burma occurred slowly through Manipur and by South Asian seaborne traders. Hinduism greatly influenced the royal court of Burmese kings in pre-colonial times, as seen in the architecture of cities such as Bagan. Likewise, the Burmese language adopted many words from Sanskrit and Pali, many of which relate to religion. While ancient and medieval arrival of ideas and culture fusion transformed Burma over time, it is in 19th and 20th century that over a million Hindu workers were brought in by British colonial government to serve in plantations and mines. The British also felt that surrounding the European residential centre with Indian immigrants provided a buffer and a degree of security from tribal theft and raids. According to 1931 census, 55% of Rangoon's (Yangon) population were Indian migrants, mostly Hindus.[26] After independence from Britain, Burma Socialist Programme Party under Ne Win adopted xenophobic policies and expelled 300,000 Indian ethnic people (Hindus and Buddhists), along with 100,000 Chinese, from Burma between 1963 and 1967. The Indian policy of encouraging democratic protests in Burma increased persecution of Hindus, as well as led to Burmese retaliatory support of left-leaning rebel groups in northeastern states of India.[26] Since the 1990s, the opening of Burma and its greater economic engagement has led to general improvement in the acceptance of Hindus and other minority religions in Myanmar.

Aspects of Hinduism continue in Burma today, even in the majority Buddhist culture. For example, Thagyamin is worshipped whose origins are in the Hindu god Indra. Burmese literature has also been enriched by Hinduism, including the Burmese adaptation of the Ramayana, called Yama Zatdaw. Many Hindu gods are likewise worshipped by many Burmese people, such as Saraswati (known as Thuyathadi in Burmese), the goddess of knowledge, who is often worshipped before examinations; Shiva is called Paramizwa; Vishnu is called Withano, and others. Many of these ideas are part of thirty seven Nat or deities found in Burmese culture.[27]

In modern Myanmar, most Hindus are found in the urban centres of Yangon and Mandalay. Ancient Hindu temples are present in other parts of Burma, such as the 11th-century Nathlaung Kyaung Temple dedicated to Vishnu in Bagan.

Judaism

Although Burma's Jews once numbered in the thousands, there are currently only approximately twenty Jews [citation needed] in Yangon (Rangoon), where the country's only synagogue is located. The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue serves the dozen families left as well as Jewish tourists and foreign workers, but not many show up for daily minyan. Most Jews left Myanmar at the commencement of the Second World War, and most of the Jews who still remained in Myanmar after World War II ended in 1945 left the country after General Ne Win took it over in 1962.[28]

Islam

Further information: Islam in Myanmar

A rural mosque in Yinmabin, Sagaing Region

Islam, mainly of the Sunni sect, is practised by 2.3% of the population according to the government census of latest 2014.[29][4] The Muslim population faces religious persecution in Myanmar.

Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Burma with around 80% living in the Western state of Rakhine. The Military of Myanmar has been killing and driving the Rohingyas out of the country as part of their on and off attempt since the 1940s to create a Muslim-free land in Western Burma.[30]

In the 1970s, uprisings appeared again during the period of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Recently, groups in the area, according to various media reports, aimed to create northern part of Arakan as an independent or autonomous state.[31][32]

Successive governments, both democratic and military, did not grant the citizenship of the Muslim Rohingya people of Northern Rakhine (Arakan) state. Their claim to citizenship has been marred by disputes with the ethnic Arakanese, who are mainly Buddhists. In 2017, the military carried out a crackdown on Rohingya people in Rakhine State; in 2022, the US Secretary of State determined that members of the Burmese military had committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya people.[3] An estimated 1.6 million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, Thailand and India; by the end of 2022, the UNHCR reported that approximately 148,000 Rohingya were being held in displacement camps in the country.[3]

According to the US State Department's 2022 international religious freedom report, the country's Muslim population is approximately 4% of the total populace.[3]

Muslims are spread across the country in small communities.

Main groups

Freedom of religion

Main article: Freedom of religion in Myanmar

In 2022, the country was scored 1 out of 4 for religious freedom- while the constitution provides for freedom of religion, the government, in practice, interferes with religious groups and discriminates against minority groups through actions such as refusing permission for gatherings, restricting proselytisation and allowing the Anti-Muslim Ma Ba Tha organisation to establish "Muslim-free" villages.[34]

In 2023, the country was ranked as the 14th worst place in the world to be a Christian. Christian minorities are targeted and disproportionately affected by the ongoing 2021 Myanmar civil war.[35] Particularly, this targeted violence is worst in Christian-majority Chin State where many Christians are forced to flee into neighboring countries, particularly to Northeastern India.[36]

In March 2023, Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted the arrests of 20,000 people since the coup, the displacement of 1.3 million people and the destruction of churches, temples and mosques.[37]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Based on the estimated overall population, including both the enumerated and non-enumerated population (51,486,253), and on the assumption that the non-enumerated population in Rakhine State affiliate with the Islamic faith.

References

  1. ^ "Myanmar's Constitution of 2008" (PDF). constituteproject.org. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  2. ^ "2008 Human Rights Report: Burma". State.gov. 25 February 2009. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d US State Dept 2022 report
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Department of Population Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population MYANMAR (July 2016). The 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census Census Report Volume 2-C. Department of Population Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population MYANMAR. pp. 12–15.
  5. ^ a b c "The 2014 Myanmar Population Housing census" (PDF). Department of Population Ministry of Labor, Immigrantion and Population with technical assistance from UNFPA.
  6. ^ "The World Factbook". Cia.gov. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  7. ^ "Burma - International Religious Freedom Report 2009". U.S. Department of State. 26 October 2009. Archived from the original on 30 November 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2009.
  8. ^ Cone & Gombrich, Perfect Generosity of Prince Vessantara, Oxford University Press, 1977, page xxii
  9. ^ "Thuddama Nikaya". Department of Religion and Ethics, University of Cumbria. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  10. ^ Buswell, Robert E. Jr., ed. (2013). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0691157863.
  11. ^ Longhurst, A. H. (1932). The Great Stupa at Nagarjunakonda in Southern India. The Indian Antiquary. p. 186.
  12. ^ Singh, Upinder (2016). The Idea of Ancient India: Essays on Religion, Politics, and Archaeology. SAGE Publications India. pp. 45–55. ISBN 9789351506478.
  13. ^ Hmannan Yazawin. Royal Historical Commission of Burma. 1832.
  14. ^ Skilling, Peter. The Advent of Theravada Buddhism to Mainland South-east Asia, Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Volume 20, Number 1, Summer 1997
  15. ^ Smith, Martin (1 June 1999). Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-85649-660-5.
  16. ^ "Buddhism in Myanmar". Havard Divinity School.
  17. ^ "Burma - International Religious Freedom Report 2009". U.S. Department of State. 26 October 2009. Archived from the original on 30 November 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2009.
  18. ^ Larkin, Emma (28 June 2011). No Bad News for the King: The True Story of Cyclone Nargis and Its Aftermath in Burma. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-311961-6.
  19. ^ The Resistance of the Monks: Buddhism and Activism in Burma (PDF). Human Rights Watch. September 2009. ISBN 978-1-56432-544-0.
  20. ^ International Crisis Group (September 2017). Buddhism and State Power in Myanmar (Report).
  21. ^ "The World Factbook". Cia.gov. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  22. ^ Mang, Pum Za (August 2016). "Buddhist Nationalism and Burmese Christianity". Studies in World Christianity. 22 (2): 148–167. doi:10.3366/swc.2016.0147. ISSN 1354-9901.
  23. ^ "Table: Religious Composition by Country, in Numbers | Pew Research Center". Pewforum.org. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  24. ^ a b Toʻ Cinʻ Khu, Elementary Hand-book of the Burmese Language, p. 4, at Google Books, pp. iv-v
  25. ^ in both Talaing and Burmese languages; Prome is similarly derived from Brohm or Brahma.
  26. ^ a b Donald M. Seekins (2006), Historical Dictionary of Burma, ISBN 978-0810854765, pp. 216-220
  27. ^ Thant Myint-U (2001), The Making of Modern Burma, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521799140, pp. 27-47
  28. ^ Frank, Ben (5 February 2021). "Myanmar's tiny Jewish community is rattled after military coup". Times of Israel.
  29. ^ "Census data shows Myanmar Muslim population has fallen".
  30. ^ "Myanmar, Bangladesh leaders 'to discuss Rohingya'". Agence France-Presse. 29 June 2012.
  31. ^ "টার্গেট আরাকান ও বাংলাদেশের কয়েকটি জেলা স্বাধীন রাষ্ট্রের স্বপ্ন জঙ্গিদের (Some Arakan and Bangladeshi militants target of Independent State)". Dainik Purbokone Bangladesh. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  32. ^ "নতুন রাষ্ট্র গঠনে মিয়ানমারের ১১ টি বিচ্ছিন্নতাবাদী গ্রুপ সংগঠিত হচ্ছে (11 secessionist group is organizing to create a new state in Burma)". The Editor, Bangladesh. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  33. ^ Hooker, Michael Barry (January 1983). Islam in South-East Asia. Brill Archive. ISBN 9004068449. Retrieved 29 May 2015 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ Freedom House website, retrieved 2023-08-08
  35. ^ Open Doors website, retrieved 2023-08-08
  36. ^ Zo Tum Hmung (19 April 2023). "The Latest @ USIP: Protecting Myanmar's Christian Minority". United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  37. ^ CSW 2023 report

US State Dept 2022 report