The first Muslims landed in Myanmar / Burma’s Ayeyarwady River delta, Tanintharyi coast and Rakhine as seamen in the ninth century, prior to the establishment of the first Myanmar (Burmese) empire in 1055 AD by King Anawrahta of Bagan (or Pagan).The dawn of the Muslim settlements and the propagation of Islam was widely documented by the Arab, Persian, European and Chinese travelers of ninth century.The current population of Myanmar Muslims are the descendants of Arabs, Persians, Turks, Moors, Indian-Muslims, Pakistanis, Pathans, Bengalis, Chinese Muslims and Malays who settled and intermarried with local Burmese and many ethnic Myanmar groups such as the Rakhine, Shan, Karen, and Mon.
The population of Muslims in Myanmar increased during the British rule of Burma because of new waves of Indian Muslim immigration.This sharply declined in the years following 1941 as a result of the Indo-Burman Immigration agreement, and was officially stopped following Burma's (Myanmar) independence on 4th January, 1948.
Muslims arrived in Burma as travelers, adventurers, pioneers, sailors, traders, military personnel (voluntary and mercenary), and prisoners of war. Some were reported to have taken refuge from wars, Monsoon storms, shipwreck, and other circumstances. Some were victims of slaverybut many early Muslims were professionals and skilled personnel such as royal advisers and administrators. Still others were port authorities, mayors, and traditional medicine men.
Persian Muslims traveled over land in search of China and arrived in northern Burma at the (Chinese) border. Their colonies were recorded in the Chronicles of China in 860 AD. Myanmar Muslims were sometimes called Pathi., a name widely believed to be derived from Persian. Bago / Pegu, Dala, Thanlyin / Syriam, Taninthayi /Tenasserim, Mottama / Martaban, Myeik / Mergui and Pathein /Bassein were full of Burmese Muslim settlers and Muslims often outnumbered the local Burmese by large margins. In one record, Pathein was said to be populated with Pathis. In Kawzar 583 (13th Century), Bassein or Pathein was known as Pathi town under the three Indian Muslim Kings. Arab merchants arrived Martaban, Margue. Arab settlement in the present Meik’s mid-western quarters.
During the reign of Bagan King, Narathihapate, 1255-1286, in the first Sino Burman war, Kublaikhan’s Muslim Tatars attacked and occupied up to Nga Saung Chan. Mongols under Kublai Khan invaded the Pagan Kingdom. During this first Sino Burman war in 1283, Colonel Nasruddin’s Turks occupied up to Bamaw. (Kaungsin) (Tarek) Turk were called, Mongol, Manchuria, Mahamaden or Panthays.
Muslims in Bagan (Pagan) Period
Byat Wi and Byat Ta
The first evidence of Muslim landing in Burma’s chronicle was recorded in the era of the first Burmese Empire of Pagan (Bagan) 1044 AD. Two Arab Muslim sailors of the Byat family, Byat Wi and Byat Ta, arrived at Burmese shores, near Thaton.(There are people in Iraq, Arabia and some Surthi Northern Indian Muslims with the same surname even at present. See Byat and Bayt) After their ship was wrecked, they managed to use a plank to swim to the shores. They took refuge and stayed at the monastery of the monk in Thaton. The Thaton king became afraid of them and killed the elder brother. The younger brother managed to escape to Bagan and took refuge to King Anawratha. He married a girl from Popa and got two sons, Shwe Byin brothers.
Shwe Byin brothers
Later they also served the king as worriers, even as the special agents to infiltrate the enemy’s inner circle. They were famous after they successfully infiltrated the Chinese King Utibua’s bodyguards. That event forced the Chinese to sign a peace agreement with the Burmese.
After the war, on the way back home, they refused to contribute in the building of a pagoda at Taung Byone, just north of Mandalay. The brothers’ enemies left vacant the spaces for the two bricks so that the king could notice. After a brief inquiry the king ordered to punish the brothers for disobedience but they were later given the death sentence.
The royal raft could not move after that. Brahmans, royal consultants, interpreted that the two brothers were loyal faithful servants but unjustly punished, became Nat (spirit) and they pulled the rudder of the royal boat to show their displeasure. Then only, Anawratha ordered the building of the spirit-palace at Taung Byone and ordered the people to worship the two brothers.
For five days each year Taung Byone village becomes a fairground. Taung Byone, 14 km north of Mandalay, has about 7,000 nat shrines, nearly 2,000 of them elaborate ones dedicated to those two brothers.
King Anawratha (1044-1077 AD) also had Myanmar Muslim army units and body guards. When King Anawrahta attacked Martaban, capital of Mon (Talaing) King, Mingyi Swa Saw Kae’, two Muslim officers’ army unit fiercely defended against his attack.
Nga Yaman Kan
The King Anawrahta appointed a Muslim Arab as a Royal teacher for his son, Prince Sawlu. That teacher’s son later became the Governor of Bago (Pegu) known as Ussa City. His name was Raman Khan. (Known as Nga Yaman Kan in Burmese). King Sawlu himself had given the town to his childhood friend, also an adopted brother because they were fed from the same breast as Raman Khan’s mother was the wet nurse of Prince Sawlu.
Once Raman Khan won the game of dice, jumped with joy and clapped the elbows. King Sawlu was angry and challenged Rahman Khan to rebel against him with the Bago province. Raman Khan accepted the challenge and successfully trapped King Sawlu and his army in the swamps.Kyanzittha tried to rescue but Sawlu refused to be rescued and was later killed by Raman Khan. Rahman Khan himself was ambushed by the sniper bow-shot of Nga Sin the hunter and died.
Kyanzittha became the third king of the Bagan Dynasty. While expending the empire he brought back many Indian-Muslim captives. They were settled in central Burma.
Muslim sailors and traders
In the chronicles of Malaysia, during the first Melacca Empire of Parameswara in the early fifteenth century, it was recorded that the Burmese (Muslims) sailors and traders were regularly arriving there. Those Bago (Pegu) seamen, likely to be Muslims, were also recorded by the Arab historians of the Tenth Century. During the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries, there were a lot of records of Burmese Muslim traders, sailors and settlers on the whole coast of Burma. That was from the Arakan coast, (Rakhine), Ayeyarwady delta and Tanintharyi coast (Including all the islands along the whole coast).
During the reign of Peik Thaung Min of the early Bagan Dynasty (652-660 AD), Arab travelers from Madagascar to China through the East Indian Islands, visited Thaton and Martaban ports. It was recorded in Arab chronicles in 800 AD.
In the Seventeenth Century, those Muslims controlled the business and became so powerful because of their wealth. They were even appointed as Governors of Mergui, the Viceroys of the Province of Tenasserim, Port Authorities, Port Governors and Shah-bandars (senior port officials).
Muslim sailors built many mosques, but those should be more appropriately called Temples as they were equally holy to Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Chinese. They were called Buddermokan, The so called Buddermokan on Sittway island is claimed by believers of different faiths. ‘Buddermokan’ in memory to Badral-Din Awliya, a saint. They are found in Akyab, Sandoway and on a small island off Mergyi.
Sa Nay Min Gyi King (King Sane) had two flotillas of Steam-ships, named Alarhee and Selamat, both are Arabic Islamic names. In 1711, Myanmar Missionary was sent to Mogul King Shah Alam. They used the Alarhee Ship and the captain was an Arab.
Muslim prisoners of war
When Tabinshwehti, TaungooKing (1530-50 AD) attacked Hanthawaddy, Muslim soldiers were helping Mons with artillery.
Ava king Anaukpetlun captured Thanlyin or Syriam in 1613 and crucified the rebel Nat Shin Naung, and Portuguese mercenary Philip de Brito. The Indian Muslim mercenaries and five battle ships were captured. Muslim prisoners of wars were settled at the north of Shwebo in Myedu, Sagaing, Yamethin and Kyaukse.
King Thalun (1629-1648), the successor of Anaukpetlun, settled those Muslims at Shwebo, Sagaing and Kyaukse. Muslim prisoners of war were settled in upper Myanmar by successive Burmese kings. Myae Du near Shwebo was one of the sites. Muslim prisoners from Bago during 1539-1599 AD were the first settlers. Tabinshwehti brought back the Muslim prisoners, after attacking Arakan in 1546 and 1549 AD.
King Alaungpaya attacked Assam and Manipur of India and brought back more Muslims to settle in Burma. These Muslims later assimilated to form the core of Burmese Muslims.
King Sane (Sa Nay Min Gyi) brought back several thousand Muslim prisoners of war from Sandoway and settled in Myedu in 1707 AD. Next year few thousands more were settled in those places and Taungoo. 3000 Muslims from Arakan took refuge under King Sane in 1698-1714. They were divided and settled in Taungoo, Yamethin , Nyaung Yan, Yin Taw, Meiktila, Pin Tale, Tabet Swe, Bawdi, Syi Tha, Syi Puttra, Myae du and Depayin. This Royal decree was copied from the Amarapura Royal Library in 1801 by Kyauk Ta Lone Bo.
During the rule of King Bagyidaw (1819-37), Maha Bandula conquered Assam and brought back 40,000 prisoners of war. About half of them were likely to be Muslims. Maha Bandula and Burmese Army’s war at Ramu and Pan War were famous. Burmese captured one big cannon, 200 firearms, mixed Sepoy Indians. 200 Muslims amongst them were relocated at the south of Amarapura, that is Myittha River’s south.
When the famous Raza Dirit attacked and conquered Dagon (Yangon), Muslim soldiers defended from the Burmese side and Raza Dirit also had to use the help of Muslim sailors.
The army of King Anawratha (eleven century) already boasted Indian units and bodyguards, Muslims apparently among them.
When Tabinshwehti attacked Martaban in 1541 AD, many Muslims resisted strongly.
When Bayinnaung successfully conquered Ayuthaya (Thailand) in 1568-1569 AD, he used the help of Muslim artillerymen. King Alaungpaya 1752-1760 AD conquered Syrim. Muslim prisoners of war were forced to serve in his army.
Pagan Min (1846-1853 AD) appointed U Shwe Oh, a Burmese Muslim, as the Governor of the Capital city, Amarapura. His personal secretary U Paing (also a Burmese Muslim) donated a two mile long bridge, made of teakwood across the Taung Tha Man Lake. In 1850, the Governor of Bagan was also said to be a Muslim.
Burmese kings employed a lot of Muslims in his inner circle: Royal bodyguards, eunuchs, couriers, interpreters and advisers.
Muslims in Konbaung Dynasty
Muslims in Amarapura
Muslims in Amarapura were about 20,000 families, at the time of Innwa (Ava) kingdom (1855 AD). Most of them were Sunni Muslims.
During the Konbaung dynasty Alaungpaya’s attack of Mons near Pyay, the Mon warrior Talapan was assisted by Muslim soldiers. Because of their artillery fire, a lot of Burmese soldiers were wounded and died.
In 1755 Alaungpaya conquered Dagon and renamed it Yangon (meaning 'The End of Strife'). The Mon soldiers surrendered and four Muslim rich men also surrendered with the expensive presents, ammunitions and four warships. Although Yangon was conquered, there were more battles to fight with the Mons. So Alaungpaya rearranged the army. Pyre Mamet was one of the “Thwe Thauk Gyi” assigned to serve as the Royal Bodyguard.Alaungpaya attacked Thanlyin or Syriam, and many Muslim artillery men were captured.Alaungpaya captured four warships and Muslim soldiers. They were later allowed to serve him. On the page 203 of the Twin Thin Teik Win’s Chronicles of Alaungpaya’s battles, it was recorded as only three warships.
After Alaungpaya captured Pegu, and at the parade, those Pathi Muslim soldiers were allowed to march with their traditional uniforms. Four hundred Pathi Indian soldiers participated in the Royal Salute March.
King Bodawpaya Bodaw U Wine (Padon Mayor, Padon Min) (1781-1819) of the Konbaung Dynasty founded Amarapura as his new capital in 1783. He was the first Burmese King who recognized his Muslim subjects officially by the following Royal decree. He appointed Abid Shah Hussaini and assistants, Nga Shwe Lu and Nga Shwe Aye to decide and give judgment regarding the conflicts and problems amongst his Burmese Muslim subjects. Abid Shah Hussaini burial place was well known as a shrine in Amarapura Lin Zin Gone Darga.
Before the Ramu and Pan War battles, Captain Nay Myo Gone Narrat Khan Sab Bo’s 70 Cavalry (horse) Regiment's marching among the Burmese army, was watched by Maha Bandula.Burmese Muslim Horsemen were famous in that Khan Sab Bo’s 70 Cavalry (horse) Regiment. Khan Sab Bo’s name was Abdul Karim Khan and was the father of the Captain Wali Khan, who lead the famous Wali Khan Cavalry Regiment during King Mindon and King Thibaw.
Khan Sab Bo was sent as an Ambassador to Indo China by Bagyidaw. During Bagyidaw’s reign, in 1824, Gaw Taut Pallin battle was famous. British used 10,000 soldiers but were defeated. During that battle Khan Sab Bo’s 100 horsemen fought vigorously and bravely.More than 1300 loyal brave Kala Pyo Muslims (means young Indian soldiers) were awarded with colourful velvety uniforms.
When the Konbaung Dynasty’s 8th Tharrawaddy Min (King) marched on Okkalapa, more than 100 Pathi Muslim Indian cannoneers took part. There are also a lot of Muslim soldiers in other parts of the Tharrawaddy Min’s army.
-- King Mindon
During the Pagan Min reign, the Mindon Prince and brother Prince Ka Naung ran away with their servants to Shwebo and started a rebellion. U Bo and U Yuet were the two Muslims who accompanied the princes. Some Kala Pyo Burmese Muslim artillery soldiers followed them.U Boe later built and donated the June Mosque, which is still maintained in 27th Street, Mandalay. U Yuet became the Royal Chief Chef.
Regent Prince Ka Naung sent scholars to study abroad. Malar Mon U Pwint was a Burmese Muslim sent to study explosives. He became the Yan Chet won or Minister of explosives.
In the Royal Defence Army, many cannoneers were Kindar Kala Pyos and Myedu Muslims.
In 1853 King Mindon held a donation ceremony. He ordered to prepare halal food for his Muslim soldiers from Akbart Horse Cavalry, Wali Khan Horse Cavalry, Manipur Horse Cavalry and Sar Tho Horse Cavalry, altogether about 700 of them.
U Soe was the Royal tailor of King Mindon .
Kabul Maulavi was appointed an Islamic Judge by King Mindon to decide according to the Islamic rules and customs on Muslim affairs.
Captain Min Htin Min Yazar’s 400 Muslims participated to clear the land for building a new Mandalay city.
Burmese Muslims were given specific quarters to settle in the new city of Mandalay
Kone Yoe dan
June Amoke Tan
Wali Khan Quarter
Taik Tan Qr
Koyandaw Qr (Royal Bodyguards’ Qr)
Ah Choke Tan
Kala Pyo Qr
Panthay dan for the Burmese Chinese Muslims.
West Kone Yoe Central Mosque in Mandalay
In those quarters, lands for 20 Mosques were allocated outside the Palace wall.
Sigaing dan Mosque
Kone Yoe Mosque
Taung Balu Mosque
Wali Khan Mosque
Kala Pyo Mosque
Seven lots of lands for Setkyer Ngwezin
King Mindon donated his palace teak pillars to build a mosque at North Obo in central Mandalay. (The pillars which failed to place properly at the exact time given by astrologers.)
The broadminded King Mindon also permitted a mosque to be built on the granted site for the Panthays (Burmese Chinese Muslims) Photos of Mandalay Panthay mosque.
Inside the Palace wall, for the Royal Body Guards, King Mindon himself donated and started the building of the Mosque by laying the Gold foundation at the South-eastern part of the Palace located near the present Independent Monument. This Mosque was called the Shwe Pannet Mosque. That mosque was destroyed by the British to build the Polo playground.
King Mindon (1853-78) donated the rest house in Mecca for his Muslim subjects performing Hajj. Nay Myo Gonna Khalifa U Pho Mya and Haji U Swe Baw were ordered to supervise the building. The Kind donated the balance needed to complete the building which was started with the donations from the Burmese Muslims. This was recorded in the Myaedu Mosque Imam U Shwe Taung’s poems.
-- King Thibaw
Muslim soldiers who participated in the Royal Parade during King Thibaw’s reign were_
Captain Bo Min Htin Kyaw and his 350 Kindar Kala Pyo artillery soldiers.
Setkyer Cannon Regiment Captain Hashim and 113 Cannoneers
Mingalar Cannon Regiment Captain U Kye and 113 Cannoneers
Mingalar Amyoke Sulay Kone Captain U Maung and 113 Cannoneers
Mingalar Amyoke Bone Oh Captain U Yauk and 113 Cannoneers.
After King Thibaw’s declaration of war on the British, the Burmese Army formed three groups to descend and defend against the British attack. One of those, the Taung Twingyi defence chief, was Akhbat, Horse Cavalry Chief, Mayor of Pin Lae Town, Minister Maha Min Htin Yar Zar. His name was U Chone when he was the Chief Clerk of Kala Pyo Army. During the Myin Kun Myin Khone Tain revolt, he carried the Chief Queen of Mindon on his back to safety. So he was rewarded with the Mayor position of Pin Lae Myo which was located 12 miles south of Myittha.
Under Maha Min Htin Yar Zar there were 1629 soldiers:
Kindar Captain Bo Min Hla Min Htin Kyaw Thu’s 335 Kindar soldiers two cannon and Sein let Yae 3 regiments
Shwe Pyi Captain Bo Min Hla Min Htin Thamain Than Like and Shwe Pyi 100 soldiers, one cannon and Sein let Yae 2 regiments
Wali Khan’s 990 Akhbat Horse Cavalry and Sein let Yae 20 regiments
Specially trained 200 soldiers.
On 28 November 1885, after the British took over the administration, the British revamped the new administration with Kin Won Min Gyi, Tai Tar Min Gyi, and the Minister Maha Min Htin Yar Zar. U Chone was included as the representative of the Parliament.