Hi guys, back again!
I’ve got lots of stories to tell: four days at the Mekong River between Laos and Thailand; touching the Heart of Buddha; half a dozen Thai celebrations and more. But one issue is more pressing: you no doubt heard that the tension between the Thai government and Muslim extremists escalated to dangerous levels. This prompted me to dig up some old books and look at history to answer my questions: How did Islam appear in Southern Thailand? How did Thailand handle Muslim minority in the past? Is there any basis for the attackers’ claim that Muslims are discriminated against? This is what I found so far:
Islam appeared in southern Thailand in the 13th century shortly after it was introduced into Malaysia by Arab traders. Islam comprises 4 percent of the population. About 99 percent of Thai Muslims are Sunni and one percent are Shi’ite. More than 100 mosques are found throughout Bangkok. They intermingle with Thai Buddhists with minimal friction. A special government fund finances the repair of mosques; government-employed Muslims are given special leave for important Muslim holidays and are required to work only half days on Friday, which is the Islamic holy day. Like the special dispensation given to Buddhist men to enter the monkhood, Muslim men are given four months’ leave with full salary to make the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.
The King helps Islam: donation and assistance to Islamic activities, such as the translation of the Koran, the construction and restoration of mosques and the promotion of many agricultural projects.
The government helps Islam: support of Islamic activities and the promotion of Islam identity. Promoting the international competition in reading the Koran, supporting the celebration of the Maolid Day (birthday of the prophet Muhammad) providing assistance to Thai Muslims for their pilgrimage to Mecca; giving financial support for the construction of central Musjids (Mosques; there are about 2500 in Thailand) and for other activities, organizing lectures by Chularajamontri (the King’s advisor on Islamic activities) and the Islam Central committee on the Islamic principles for the Thai Muslims in different regions.
Power to local people Dato of Justice: an official who reviews and judges the Islamic laws on civil cases concerning family affairs and estates. He sits in a law court in the 4 provinces. A Dato is selcted from a qualified list of local people. A quota is reserved for qualified graduates from the Muslim provinces to enter official service without examination. Such quota is also applicable to Muslim youths for a place to study in universities around the country. Islam is taught in schools, in Rajabhat Insititute Yala, and in Prince Songkhla University.
Well, folks – that’s it so far. From this, it seems that Thailand did more than her fair share – to accomodate the needs of the minority, that is! I can’t see anything that’d substantiate the separatists’ claim of discrimination. What I see is people trying to invoke a religious cause for their hidden political agenda.
Now the situation seems like a vicious cycle of violence. So what came first, the egg or the chicken? Let’s go back a hundred-and-some years and read a newspaper article of that time for a clue:
In an announcement in the name of the King [Chulalongkorn] contained in the latest issue of the Royal Gazette, it is stated that all religions are, from old, equally tolerated and respected in the Kingdom of Siam. The occasion of the announcement is the rebuilding of the Mohammedan temple on Klong Bangkok Noi. The site of the temple is required for the new Petchburi railway and the arrangement come to was to remove the temple to a new site across the creek. It is understood that His Majesty is having the temple rebuilt at his personal expense.
September 1901, Bangkok Times