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A Cultural History of Rohingya

 Category: Culture, History  Publisher: AFK Jilani  Published: 1 July 2001  Tags: ArakanRohingyaRohingya CultureRohingya Language |  Download


Culture is an inexplicably meaningful word almost defying any definition. It is the visible manifestation of the entire gamut of human endeavours. As civilisation develops, so is the culture that follows to acquire new dimensions. Art, literature, music, rituals, festivals, folk belief, taboos and countless other forms of versatile human feeling are expression of culture. It is a continuous stream of past and present, tradition and modernity assimilated into an integrated whole in the ever growing panorama of nation’s life.

Islam arrived in Arakan in 788 A.D. From the days of myths and legends, Arakan entered the historical era from the days of the Chandra dynasty. The first group to leave its mark upon the culture and civilisation of Rohingya were the Arabs who came to tradeand settled down permanently in Arakan. They brought Islam, which as a resurgent force vastly influenced and inspired the local people of Arakan to accept Islam. The descendants of these people founded the original nucleus of the Rohingyas in Arakan.

Great literature emancipates and does not enslave. It is noteworthy that Harold Bloom’s “The Western Canon includes literature of the ancient near East, ancient India, and classical Arabic aspart of the Canon”. While we are quite familiar with, and may even have grown accustomed, to, the anti-Islamic rhetoric of the West, the following remarks of Bloom’s bear repetition: “……. once thereader in conversant with the Bible, Homer, Plato,….. the crucialwork is the Koran….. Ignorance of the Koran is foolish and increasingly dangerous.”

Robert Hughes remarked that the religion of Islam has played vast role in enriching world civilisation and culture. He described, “Islam the destroyer is a myth. Without Arab scholars, our mathematics would not exit……. Medieval Rome was a scavengers’ village compared with medieval Baghdad. Without the Arab invasion of southern Spain Europe would be unimaginably poorer.”

In the language of A.K.M. YAQUB Ali of Rajshahi University, education and culture are intimately related to each other. The former is prerequisite for the development of the latter. Islam lays much stress on education. The first revelation that came to the Prophet started with the word ‘iqra’ or ‘read in the name of the Lord’. (Al-Quran, Surah Al-Alau, Vs. 3-4). The Prophet considered the acquiring of knowledge obligatory on every Muslim manand woman. The Prophet preferred his association with a group of learners to that of devotees in the mosque of Madinah (Miskat alMasabib, Kitab al-ilm, p-36). In the early days mosques were main forum for education. In the later periods madarasas sprung up inthe towns, cities and other important places. (Society and Culturein Islam, M. Enamul Hoq P. 117-118).

It has been said that you cannot see other cultures well until through knowing your own. Otherwise you are left with mere in decieve much. To do this, we must restore the cultural position of knowledge and learning in society. The Prophet of Islam said: “The superior rank the ‘alim’ holds in relation to the ‘abid’ is like the superior rank I hold in relation to the least of my companions”. “Seek knowledge from cradle to grave” is also the Hadith of the great Prophet.

Knowledge is the greatest of pleasures just as ignorance is the greatest pain. Men of knowledge played a pivotal role in enabling Islam to produce one of the most dazzling civilisations ever known to humanity. Ali Ibn Abi Talib said: “Ya kamil! Knowledge is better than wealth for knowledge watches over you whilst youhave to watch over your wealth. And knowledge governs while wealth is governed. Wealth diminishes with spending but knowledge increases therewith.”

For Frantz Fanon every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality finds itself face to face with the culture of the mother country… to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. (Black Skin, White Mask, p. 38)

Fanon’s thrust is toward a civilisation of language or aesthetic linguistics, not of social or political norms. He sees languageas emancipation. Culture, which language defines is not aonolithic, or particular to a region in the last analysis, but universal to a large extent, has discontinuities and disruption behind the semblance ofan architectonic exterior.

For culture, which for various lengths of time has been traumatised by the colonial experience, certain similarities should exist in their learned patterns of behaviour and their response to history.

Recent American studies of course- cultural phenomena, engineered by the likes of Richard Sykes, David Kajolan and Leo Marx, have established the claim that the study of literature is, infact, a study of culture, “Culture is the key concept, the unifyingconcept, the root word which suggests both theory and method.”

Hence, cultural enrichment through literature is indeed limitless. Students should be exposed to the great works of world literature. Apart from the value of literature and the arts in the refinement of the human personality, the influence of cultural forces in the shaping a new world order will become more prominent in the years to come.

In our day, the authority to teach is conferred upon the doctoral candidate who has proven his skill with his thesis. This phenomenon of the doctorate’s authority, the dignity of the doctoral degree, first came into being in classical Islam in the guilds for the study of the discipline of the Shariah (Islamic Law). Universities’ graduates who not only excel in their own chosen field of specialisation such as engineering, law, medicine and economics, but also have a firm grasp of diabetics and philosophy, in addition to havinga taste for art and literature. Students must aspire to be multidimensional men of learning, mutafannin, as they were called during the apogee of Islamic civilisation.

A society or a community without a culture of its own is destined to permanent end in no time and there are many instances in the history that once a dominant race was later found to be nowhere as it lost cultural war waged by some others. The poison of cultural adulteration is on in Burma and many races there have already been the victims of such invasion..

Inevitably, it is the prime concern of conscious people to discover their lost cultural heritage. We feel that every conscious Rohingya is indebted to do overall development of Rohingya community under hostile environment to uphold their culture and tradition, which has been eroding under the influence of junta’s Burmanisation policy.

We must therefore, preserve our heritage, culture and traditions, which characterise our identity. To enable us to do so, it is as part of responsibility, the Rohingya’s culture and tradition have been presented.