(RNS) A radical Buddhist monk in Myanmar said a bomb that exploded near him, wounding five devotees, came after a death threat by a “Muslim religious leader” who wanted to silence his campaign to prevent Buddhist women from marrying Muslim men.
Ashin Wirathu’s portrait appeared on the July 1 cover of Time magazine’s Asia edition, above the headline, “The Face of Buddhist Terror: How Militant Monks are Fueling Anti-Muslim Violence in Asia.”
“Since their plan to fight me via Time Magazine has failed, they are now targeting my ‘dharma’ (Buddhist teaching) events, and the devotees, with explosive devices,” Wirathu told the respected Irrawaddy magazine.
Wirathu is widely described as Southeast Asia’s “Buddhist bin Laden” for his harsh denunciations of anyone who doesn’t support his religious ideas.
Critics say he is fueling clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that have claimed at least 240 lives — mostly Muslims — during the past year in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
No one claimed responsibility for the small, hand-made bomb which exploded near Wirathu on Sunday (July 21) night at a Buddhist temple in the central city of Mandalay.
“I think the culprit might be the Islamic extremists and the terrorists,” Wirathu, 46, told Irrawaddy.
In a digital disc being passed around Mandalay, a “Muslim religious leader says that the Prophet Muhammad is asking for the heads of Wirathu and (fellow monk) Pyinnya Tharmi,” Wirathu, 45, told Radio Free Asia’s Myanmar Service.
“It was an effort to shut my mouth,” Wirathu said.
Wirathu leads the “969″ anti-Muslim movement, which supporters hail as a nationalist effort to protect Myanmar’s Buddhist majority.
It includes countless followers who paste the group’s logo onto their shops, often to show that they support 969′s call for Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses and shun them as customers.
In mid-June, Wirathu demanded the government enact legislation to prevent Muslim men from marrying Buddhist women.
“It is important to have this law to protect our Buddhist women’s freedom,” he said.
He insisted Muslims were forcing Buddhist brides to convert to Islam and plotting to multiply Islam’s 4 percent of the population into a larger, financially dominating demographic.
Wirathu wants Muslim men to be legally required to convert to Buddhism if they marry a Buddhist woman.
Divisiveness between the two religions includes racial animosity against mostly darker-skinned Muslims, whose ancestors are often ethnic Bengalis, compared to Buddhists who are Burman and other ethnic groups.
—Richard S. Ehrlich
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