Random as it may sound, I would find it very interesting to toy around with the idea of Myanmar/Burma converting to Islam. In our modern day, Myanmar is considered to be a Buddhist stronghold, but back in the day, the circumstances for it to adopt Islam were certainly there: To its west were the Bengal sultanate (later the Delhi sultanate and Mughal empire) and Kingdom of Mrauk-U, and not too far off in the south were the various sultanates of Malaysia and Indonesia. These states all had several things in common:
  1. They were very close to Myanmar (to the point of essentially surrounding it);
  2. They were filthy rich;
  3. They were trading hubs;
  4. (Apart from Mrauk-U) They were Muslim
With this in mind, I'm rather curious what it would take for Myanmar (and by extension Mrauk-U) to convert to Islam as well. How could this be done? And would there be any major consequences?

I'm inclined to believe that a surviving Bengal sultanate (one that isn't eaten up by the Mughals) will absolutely help, but having tried to find a PoD for that extensively, it seems like there really just isn't a reliable way of keeping Bengal around; seems like no matter what, the Mughals will seize it one day. I'm also not sure to what extent, if at all, Malay traders interacted with Myanmar; seems like making the area more attractive to Muslim merchants could be a good start.

Any ideas?
 
Mrauk-U wasn't really Muslim. Islam was present in Mrauk-U, and they were certainly influenced by Bengal, but they were majority Buddhist.

It took a long time for modern day Bangladesh to gain a sizeable Muslim population*, even after its conquest by the Delhi Sultanate and under the Bengal Sultanate.


*IIRC, part of that was because a large number of Muslims were brought in to settle the area after a period of deforestation. I may be mistaken, however
 
The biggest barrier to this seems to be the Arakan Mountains and Islam's lack of success in converting Theravada Buddhist countries.

The Arakan Mountains really divides the region between Asian-South Asian features, Buddhist-Hindu, China-India. If anthropology has shown that there is a lot of problems with cross-mountain intermingling then much more recent historical religious conversions should apply to that as well.

On the other hand, Islam seems to be particularily good at converting people via trading routes. In the case of Mainland Southeast Asia, there were sometimes powerful Muslim noble families in the capitals of the region: the Bunnang family in Ayutthaya/Rattanakosin Siam, in Mrauk-U, and in Cambodia. You also have to remember that a large aspect of why countries converted historically is because the rulers of their countries rejected their old religion for a major religion and encouraged everyone else to do the same (although syncreting much of their old beliefs into their new beliefs). Vladmir the Great converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and many of the Indonesian rajas converted to Islam before converting the rest of their country. By the 1400s, Therevada Buddhism was heavily entrenched into the societies of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. A Cambodian monarch did convert to Islam in the 17th century, but his subjects very quickly deposed him. Even Christian missionaries had very hard difficulties converting Theravada Buddhist countries when they arrived there in the Early Modern Period.

I think one last factor is that nobody (outside of East Asia and Europe during the 17th century) payed much attention to Mainland Southeast Asia. Mainland Southeast Asia had very few spices compared to Indonesia and were much more connected to the "up country trade", according to Baker and Phongpaichit, hunting deer skins and aromatic woods and selling it to China, and being entrepot centers of trade that the Muslims and Europeans didn't really pay much attention too. This + geography + the entrenchment of a major religion supported by the elites, the church, and by the peasants, meant that converting Mainland Southeast Asia would have been very hard, if not unprofitable.

Could a 17th century Mughal ruler decide to invade Myanmar? Sure, with the caveat being that these Theravada Buddhist MSA countries can take quite a militant response against foreign invaders. Invading foreign cultures are never popular among commoners and local elites alike. Could Theravada Buddhism failed to expand into Southeast Asia in the 1st millennium CE, thus perhaps allowing Islam to become popular later on? Perhaps, but this is just a hypothetical row of the dice (which might be unlikely but still possible as long as you have a dice!).

References:
Baker, Chris. Phongpaichit, Pasuk. A History of Ayutthaya: Siam in the Early Modern World.
Wikipedia
 
Pretty insightful responses thus far, for which I thank the both of you ; )

A random spitball idea of mine: could it help if the Burmese attempted conquest of Mrauk-U in 1580/81 succeeded? Only two decades after this, Mrauk-U seems to have controlled the whole coast of the Bay of Bengal, from the Sundarbans to the Gulf of Martaban.

I'm aware that Mrauk-U was mainly Buddhist, but its society was noted to be highly diverse:
It was home to a multiethnic population with the city of Mrauk U being home to mosques, temples, shrines, seminaries and libraries. The kingdom was also a center of piracy and the slave trade. It was frequented by Arab, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese traders.
Perhaps a larger Myanmar that expands more into Bangladesh or northeast India could come into more contact with Muslims?
 
Hmm, this is interesting:
The war's origins can be traced back to 1542 when King Min Bin of Mrauk U provided military support on the side of the Kingdom of Ava in the Toungoo–Ava War (1538–45). Although Min Bin left the alliance in the same year, King Tabinshwehti of Toungoo was determined to repay the favor. In 1545, Tabinshwehti agreed to aid Min Aung Hla, the former Viceroy of Thandwe, who had been removed from office by Min Bin. In October 1545, Tabinshwehti sent a 4000-strong army but it was promptly driven back. A much larger naval and land forces (combined 19,000 troops) of Toungoo tried again in the following dry season. The invasion forces overran southern Arakan, and were about to breach the defenses of the capital of Mrauk U when Mrauk U forces opened the sluices of the city's reservoirs, flooding the invaders out.
Seems like Toungoo Burma was pretty close to actually capturing Mrauk-U as a whole (capital included). What if they succeed, and gobble up Mrauk-U? Could they commence further expansion into India from there, and develop greater trade links with Bengal and the Mughals?
 

kholieken

Banned
I think Bengals / Mrauk U conquest and conversion is best way. That how Muslims polity develop in island SE Asia. Gunpowder weapon could help coastal Mon to win against upper Burma.
 
I think Bengals / Mrauk U conquest and conversion is best way. That how Muslims polity develop in island SE Asia. Gunpowder weapon could help coastal Mon to win against upper Burma.
Thank you for the response! By Bengals / Mrauk U conquest, do you mean a Burmese conquest of Bengal and Mrauk-U, or a Bengal conquest of Myanmar? If the latter, how?
 

kholieken

Banned
Thank you for the response! By Bengals / Mrauk U conquest, do you mean a Burmese conquest of Bengal and Mrauk-U, or a Bengal conquest of Myanmar? If the latter, how?
Bengals / Mrauk U conquest of coastal Burma (Mon people), that followed by conversion of Mon to Islam, Mon people can later go upriver to unify Burma.
 
Bengals / Mrauk U conquest of coastal Burma (Mon people), that followed by conversion of Mon to Islam, Mon people can later go upriver to unify Burma.
Hm, I see. The primary problem I see with this is that Bengal is going to be eaten up by the Mughals rather sooner than later. Is there any PoD you know of that would a) allow Bengal to conquer and convert the Mon in due time, and b) allow the Mon to unseat the Toungoo?
 
Crazy idea that flew into my mind just now: after it eats up Mrauk-U, could Myanmar expand into Bengal itself? Would this lead to a conflict with the Mughals?
 
Top