Introduction / History In historical perspective Arakan is more a frontier province of Eastern India than a province of Burma (now Myanmar). From the very early days till the arrival of the Mongolians and Tibeto-Burmans in the 10th century, Arakan was an Indian land with a population similar to Bengal, belonging to Aryan stock. The spread of Islam in Arakan during those early times and the impact of Islamic civilization on Arakan particularly after Bengal became Muslim in 1203 A.D is well known.
According to history, Islam reached Arakan in the late 8th century AD and attracted the local people to come to Islam en masse. Since then Islam played an important role towards the advancement of civilization in Arakan. From 1430 to 1638, for more than two hundred years Arakan was ruled by the Muslims. The system of government (Muslim Sultanates) was common in those days. It was an independent Muslim kingdom in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Where are they located? Arakan, once a sovereign and independent state, is now one of the states of the Union of Burma (now Myanmar). The Arakan State comprises a strip of land along the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal from the Naf River to Cape Negaris, and stretches north and south touching Bangladesh on the northwest. The river Naf separates it from Chittagong region of Bangladesh. It is cut off from Burma by a range of nearly impassable mountains known as Arakan Yomas running north to south, which was an obstacle against permanent Muslim conquest. The northern part of Arakan, today called the "North Arakan", was a point of contact with East Bengal. These geographical facts explain the separate historical development of that area both generally and in terms of its Muslim population until the Burmese king Bodaw Paya conquered it in 1784 AD. Under different periods of history Arakan had been an independent sovereign monarchy ruled by Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims.
Arakan is blessed with geographical diversity. These are high mountains in the far north, lush green forest in the east with many kinds of flora and fauna, giant rivers, large natural waterfalls, a long coast line with unspoiled beaches and archipelagos and the majestic Bay of Bengal in the west. It is bounded in the Northwest by Bangladesh with maritime and land boundary and in the north by Chin Hills and India.
What are their lives like? Most of the elderly Rohingya grow beards and the women wear hijab. All Rohingya houses are surrounded by high bamboo walls. There is still in existence of a social bond in every village called "Samaj". All social welfare activities like Adhahi meat distribution, helping the poor, widows, orphans and needy, marriage and funereal functions are done collectively by the Samaj. The Ulema play a very prominent role particularly in matters relating to personal laws, like family affairs of the Rohingyas. Unfortunately, today the cultural problem becomes one of the most important problems of the Rohingyas in Burma. The Muslims have to encounter strong pressure of the Buddhist culture. Particularly the Rohingyas have to confront ideological assault from all directions. The Rohingyas are considered practicing the foreign way of life having no origin in Burma. According to the ruling military the Rohingyas are to adopt and entertain no ideas but those of Burmese race and culture and Buddhism.
What are their beliefs? Rohingyas are staunch followers of Islam. There are mosques and Madrassahs (religious schools) in every quarter and village. The men pray in congregation, whereas the female pray at home.