msa August 27, 2014

The Rohingya: Who are they?

By Saif Ali Khan ׀

Rohingya is an indigenous ethnic minority group in Western State, Arakan, of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). They are Muslims by creed and Indo-Aryans by genealogical lineage with racial admixture of early Arabs Seafarers, Persians, Pathan and others. The Myanmar Regime discriminates the Muslims because they are of different ethnic origin among overwhelming population of the Tibeto-Burman origin and Muslims in the Buddhist dominated nation. Consequently, the Rohingyas today are subjected to wide scale of slow-burning genocide, whereas International Community and Muslim Nations are not doing to enough to prevent the genocide.

Similarly, Rohingyas face an identity crisis. They are forced to accept an identity ‘Bengali’ which is not theirs and abandon their own identity ‘Rohingya’ under the pretext of the ongoing population survey as a part of the ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar Regime. So, what is Rohingya and how has it come into existence?

1- The first version stated regarding the origin of the name is as follows. “Rohingya” was derived from the Burmese word: Rwahong Ga Kyar (ရြာေဟာင္းကက်ား in Rakhinese pronunciation meaning Tigers from the Old Village).

According to that statement, in 1429 C.E., Sultan Nadir Shah of Bengal sent Gen. Wali Khan as the head of 20,000 Pathan Army with Rakhine King Naramiekhla to reinstate him to the throne of Arakan. The Pathan Army conquered Arakan from the control of Mon and Narameikh Hla ascended the throne. These Pathan Military settled in Arakan and the village in which they settled was called Rwahong. They were frequently used in the service of the king. And they served in the military of the king as brave warriors. Hence, the Tigers from the Old Village! They were also forefathers of Rohingyas.

2- The second version is that the word Rohingya came from the Burmese word: ရိုး၀န္းညွာ meaning the whole race was favoured and received mercy from the king.

There were several shipwrecks the Arab seafarers throughout the history. They served as Muslim mercenaries in the courts of Arakan. They were favoured by the king of Arakan because they were honest. So the king gave them the name.

 ရိုး၀န္းညွာ is a short form of ရိုးသားျပီး မိမိအသိုင္းအ၀ိုင္းႏွင့္ ေနတတ္ျပီး ညွာတာတတ္သူမ်ား which can roughly be translated into “the people who are honest, kind and live in their own society.”

 3. The third version stated that there was once a Muslim prince called Abdul Rahim who had to take refuge in Arakan during the Mrauk U dynasty. Mohammed Rahim and his followers were defeated by his father the Mogul emperor in a “Palace Revolution “. The Arakanese king granted them asylum and their descendants were called ရဟင္က် (Rahingya) meaning descendants of Rahim. Therefore the term “Rohingya” is a corrupted word from “Rahingya.”

The same version interprets: according to history, Prince Shah Shujah, the youngest brother of Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb, after he lost his attempt to get the Mogul throne, came as a refugee to Arakan in 1660 AD to Maungdaw. The place where he temporarily took shelter was called Shuja Fara and it is still in Maungdaw. The Arakanese king, Sanda Thudhamma, granted him political asylum but later wanted to take a daughter of Shuja as his wife. But Shah Shuja said his daughter should better die than marry the spoilt king, a Magh Buddhist. He ordered to kill all the Moghul refugees. This was the main cause of war between Maghs (now Rakhines) and Mughals and other Muslims in 1666. The Moghul annexed Chittagong district from Magh Rule and never again belonged to Magh Buddhistrulers anymore. It was the beginning of the fall of Mrauk-U Dynasty.

4- The fourth version stated that there was a Sultanate called Roang, a feudatory to the Kingdom of Mrauk U. The king sent his son Shah Ali and one thousand followers to the court of Mrauk U to study the Arakanese language, literature and culture. After finishing their studies they settled in Arakan. Their descendants called ရုံအိမ္က် meaning the Descendants of Roang. 

5- The fifth version stated that in the seventh century A.D. after the shipwreck near Ramree Island (ရမ္းျပဲက်ြန္း) some Arab Seafarers were brought to the local court (of the then Indian Dynasties during the era of Vaisali). The king asked them about their whereabouts. The Arabs thought they were ordered to be killed. So they shouted “Raham” meaning Mercy. The Arakanese king thought they are saying they come from, Rahm. Later this word changed into Rohang and the people called, Rohingya. The king allowed them to stay in his country as his subjects. They married Arakanese women of the era and lived there peacefully as Rohingyas forever.

မွတ္ခ်က္။ ဤေဆာင္းပါးတြင္ပါေသာ သမိုင္းအခ်က္အလက္မ်ားကို ရိုဟင္ဂ်ာ သမိုင္းႏွင္ ဆီေလ်ာ္ေအာင္ ေရြးခ်ယ္တင္ျပထား ပါသည္။ 

Saif Ali Khan is a veteran Rohingya Activist with vast experience of knowledge. He is currently residing in Thailand. He can be reached at:

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