False flag. Rumour, religious property and the politics of community-making in Myanmar. (Presentation)

Judith Beyer

16.-18. Juni 2017

False flag. Rumour, religious property and the politics of community-making in Myanmar. At: Interdisciplinary Myanmar Conference 2017. University of Bonn, Germany.

The annual mourning period within Shia Islam lasts for two months every year, during which the followers of the Imamiyyah (i.e. Twelver Shia, the largest branch within Shia Islam) commemorate the events of Kerbala 1400 years ago when the maternal grandson of Prophet Mohammad, Imam Hussain, was martyred. During this time period, the small Shia community in Myanmar performs elaborate rituals in their mosques and shrines and carries out processions in the streets of downtown Yangon. In my paper I will focus on a particular incident which I observed in December 2015 at the very end of the annual mourning period. The case centres on the raising and subsequent lowering of a black flag outside of one of the Shia shrines in downtown Yangon. My empirical material allows the interpretation of internal power struggles and fault lines within the Shia community over who rightfully administers religious property. It also exemplifies the outer borders of the Shia community through the invocation of the well-known Shia-Sunni divide. Moreover, it transcends mono-religious boundaries as self-proclaimed defenders of Buddhism were central to how the case unfolded. Finally, it shows how people across religious faiths engage ‘the state’ as a way to enforce their version of truth. I argue in this paper, that what this case centres on is rumour. I further argue that rumour is constitutive of religious community-making in Myanmar and that we need to take ‘rumourous talk’ seriously if we want to understand the ongoing dichotomization of ‘religious communities’ as well as the subsequent invocation of the need for ‘interreligious dialogue’ in contemporary Myanmar.