Buddhist-Muslim Tensions in South Asia and South East Asian Countries

Buddhism and Islam are two of the Asia’s biggest religion especially in South and South-East Asia where they form majority of the population. The tensions between the followers of these two religions have been widespread in most the countries of the region which is threatening the very existence of peaceful reconciliation in the future.

Major Buddhist-Muslim clashes affected countries are Myanmar, Sri-Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia and others. The clashes occurring in one country though seems to be the internal problem of that country, it has actually started affecting the neighbouring states having more or less the same ratio of Buddhist-Muslims population. It will have its consequences on the political and strategic fronts as well.

Myanmar – Rakhine State

Rakhine state of Myanmar has majority of Buddhists and rest Muslims. There have been long standing tensions between the two communities. Most of the Muslims identify themselves as Rohingya, a group that originated in part of Bengal (now Bangladesh). The United Nations describes Rohingya as a religious and linguistic minority from western Burma. It says the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. The Burmese government says they are relatively recent migrants from the Indian sub-continent. As a result, the country’s constitution does not include them among indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship. Historically, the Rakhine majority has resented the presence of Rohingyas, who they view as Muslim people from another country. The Rohingyas, on the other hand, feel they are part of Burma and claim persecution by the state. Neighbouring Bangladesh already hosts several hundred thousand refugees from Burma and says it cannot take any more. This is the basic cause of ethnic clashes in Rakhine region.

The most recent Rohingya-Rakhine clashes were in 2012 when a Buddhist woman was sexually assaulted and later murdered by Rohingyas. This led to widespread rioting and brutal clashes between the two communities.

The Buddhists and Muslims attacked each other and the clash resulted into hundreds of lives lost and thousands displaced primarily Muslims.

The assault on Muslims in one part of Myanmar sparked a wildfire of similar violence across the country which later got spreading to other countries as well. The neighbours such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia etc also had bloody clashes between the same communities. The violence has resulted into mass exodus of people towards the neighbouring states which further increases the administrative and political problems of the states at the receiving end.


Indonesia is also suffering from the woes of religious and ethnic violence between Buddhists and Muslims that have spilled over to Indonesia from neighbouring Myanmar. However, Indonesia, unlike Myanmar is a Muslim majority country and being the largest population of the Muslims in the region, it has its alleged contribution in the clashes occurring in its neighbourhood where Muslims are being victimized. Apart from helping its community in Myanmar through donations, the Indonesian Muslims are said to be also involved in various attacks on diplomatic establishments of Myanmar in the country. The Islamists in Myanmar are also getting lethal bombs and training from their Indonesian counterparts to carry their struggle.

Sri Lanka

Another country which is getting trapped into the same kind of religious conflict is Sri-Lanka. The ethnic Buddhist Sinhalese majority of the country is at loggerhead with the minority Islamic Population. One of the reasons given by the Buddhists for this hostility towards Muslims is their high birth rate which may ultimately capture major resources of the country. The Muslims are also feared to be taken away the local Buddhist culture with the alarmingly high rate of population increase.


Another major hotspot of Buddhist-Muslims clashes is Thailand’s four southern most provinces where Muslims are in majority. The clashes in this case is logically resulting into victimization of minority Buddhists who are being killed and their temples being devastated.  Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country could not keep itself away from the happenings in its neighbourhood. The native Muslim mob attacked the Buddhist homes, temples and businesses in which hundreds of Buddhist artefacts were looted and destroyed.


The developments in the region is matter of great worry which if unchecked, will ultimately result into major regional crisis affecting entire ASEAN along with India, China and other states of South and South-East Asia. The internal clashes will invariably affect the economy of the countries which have its repercussions on foreign investments and trade as well. The vicious cycle if continued, will harm the entire region and ultimately the world.

The solution to the problems lies in countervailing measures on timely basis to prevent the violence at one place from spreading into other parts of the country. Many opinions have also come forwarded from Muslim intelligentsia of not supporting the unduly behaviours and clashes by Muslims in Myanmar and Sri-Lanka whereas the Buddhist monks are also being criticized for their aggressive chauvinism.

The clashes have raised concerns about the fragility of the governments of the concerned countries especially in country like Myanmar which has recently been shifted from authoritarian regime to democratic setup. The growing explosion of violence may also be perceived as the growing religious fundamentalism which if successful will surely have its repercussions in India as well. The Indian Muslims have actively supported their community members in Myanmar and elsewhere and the latest blast at Bodhgaya in the Buddhist temple is also being seen as the manifestation of the growing tension between these two communities.