Singapore and Malaysia have long-standing restrictions on interfaith marriage between Muslims and people from other religions
About 200 senior Buddhist monks convening in Rangoon on Thursday have begun drafting a religious law that would put restrictions on marriages Buddhist women and Muslim men.
Ahead of the two-day conference, the monks — who are highly revered in Burma — had said that they would meet to discuss how to resolve ongoing tensions between Buddhists and the country’s Muslim minority.
On Thursday, the monks announced that preventing interfaith marriage would help improve inter-communal relations in Burma, and much of their time was spent discussing a 15-page draft law that would introduce the restriction.
“We hold this meeting with the intention of protecting our Buddhist race and our religion, and also to have peace and harmony in our community,” said U Dhammapiya, a senior monk and a spokesman for the convention.
U Wirathu, a well-known nationalist monk, said he was delighted with the plans to try to stop any Buddhist woman from marrying a Muslim man. “I have dreamed of this law for a long time. It is important to have this law to protect our Buddhist women’s freedom,” he said during a press conference.
U Wirathu leads the controversial 969 campaign that is being implemented all over Burma. It encourages Buddhists not to do business with Muslims and only support fellow Buddhists’ shops.
The event is being organized under the auspices of the Sangha Maha Nayaka, Burma’s supreme monastic council, a body that is considered to be under state control. Its participants came from townships across Burma to convene at a monastery in Rangoon’s Hmawbi Township.
The monks said they would collect signatures to pressure Burma’s Parliament to adopt the law, adding that they would send letters to President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all other lawmakers.
They said the law would follow other examples of restrictions on interfaith marriage, such as those that are in place in Singapore and in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
“We found that there was peace and harmony in Singapore after they ratify this law in their country. This is why we should not have a problem [passing a similar law] in our country,” U Dhammapiya told reporters.
Singapore and Malaysia both have long-standing restrictions on interfaith marriage between Muslims and people from other religions. The rules require that non-Muslims convert to Islam in order to register their marriage.
A copy of the law proposed by the monks would require any Buddhist woman seeking to marry a Muslim man to first gain permission from her parents and local government officials. It also requires any Muslim man who marries a Buddhist woman to convert to Buddhism.
Those who do not follow these rules could face up to 10 years in prison and have their property confiscated, according to the draft law.