MUSLIMS AND ISLAM IN THAILAND AND THE THAI PAK TAI IN SOUTHERN THAILAND

MUSLIMS AND ISLAM IN THAILAND

There are 6.3 million Muslims in Thailand (about 10 percent of the population). They are relatively poor, ill-educated and under represented in the government and live mostly in the south, which has lower incomes and higher crime rates compared to the rest of the country. About half of all Thai Muslims live in the southern Thai provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Satun and Pattani and some districts of Songkhla. Ninety-nine percent of these Sunnis and one percent are Shi’ite.

Although the majority of Thailand’s Muslims are ethnically Malay, the Muslim community also includes the Thai Muslims in rural areas of central Thailand , who are either hereditary Muslims, Muslims by intermarriage, or recent converts; Cham Muslims originally from Cambodia; West Asians, including both Sunni and Shias; South Asians, including Tamils, Punjabis and Bengalis; Pakistani immigrants in the urban centers; Indonesians, especially Javanese and Minangkabau; Thai-Malay or people of Malay ethnicity who have accepted many aspects of Thai language and culture, except Buddhism, and have intermarried with Thais; and Chinese Muslims, who were mostly Haw living in the North. Education and maintenance of their own cultural traditions is often seen as of vital interests to these groups. [Source: Library of Congress]

Islam is the second largest faith in Thailand after Buddhism. Except in the small circle of theologically trained believers, the Islamic faith in Thailand, like Buddhism, had become integrated with many beliefs and practices not integral to Islam. It would be difficult to draw a line between animistic practices indigenous to Malay culture that were used to drive off evil spirits and local Islamic ceremonies because each contained aspects of the other.

In the mid-1980s, the country had more than 2,000 mosques in 38 Thai provinces, with the largest number (434) in Narathiwat Province. All but a very small number of the mosques were associated with the Sunni branch of Islam; the remainder were of the Shia branch. Each mosque had an imam (prayer leader), a muezzin (who issued the call to prayer), and perhaps other functionaries.

The National Council for Muslims, consisting of at least five persons (all Muslims) and appointed by royal proclamation, advises the ministries of education and interior on Islamic matters. Its presiding officer, the state counselor for Muslim affairs, is appointed by the king and holds the office of division chief in the Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education. Provincial councils for Muslim affairs exist in the provinces that have substantial Muslim minorities. There are other links between the government and the Muslim community, including government financial assistance to Islamic education institutions, assistance with construction of some of the larger mosques, and the funding of pilgrimages by Thai Muslims to Mecca. Thailand also maintains several hundred Islamic schools at the primary and secondary levels.

History of Muslims and Islam in Thailand

Even before nation states were formed in Southeast Asia, the area occupied by Thailand today served as a vital link and a safe harbor for maritime trade on the Spice Route, thanks to safer coastal trade and the path of the monsoon winds. Many of the earliest traders that plied the monsoons between the Middle East and Southeast Asia were Muslims. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Although the majority of Muslims in Thailand today are ethnically Malay, the early Muslim community also included Muslim Thais, Cham Muslims originally from Cambodia; West Asians, both Sunni and Shi’ite; South Asians, including Tamils, Punjabis, and Bengalis; Indonesians, especially Javans and Minangkabau; and Chinese Muslims, who were mostly Hui living in the North. In the Northeast, most Muslim communities are descendants of the Pashtun (Pathan), Malay, and Bengali (Bangladesh and Burmese origins). From their many years of living in Thailand, it is evident that they have blended with other cultures and lived in peaceful coexistence with Buddhist Thais.

Regarding relations between Thailand and the Muslim world, the history can be traced back to the Sukhothai period (1257-1377), when Arab-Muslim traders started to settle in Thailand. Later, during the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767), Muslims from Persia, Malaya, and Indonesia came to live in the Kingdom of Siam. The Islamic faith has enjoyed state and royal court support from the beginning. Thai kings since early times have attached great importance to cultivating friendly ties with Muslim countries. Thailand’s monarchs have granted religious rights and freedom to Muslims, providing them with assistance under royal protection.

The title “Chularajamontri” or “Sheikhul Islam” has been bestowed on the religious leadership since the Ayutthaya period. This started with Sheikh Ahmad II-Khumi, who traveled from Persia to Siam for trade in the year 1602. He contributed greatly to enhancing Siam’s commercial activities and was appointed Phraya Ratchasetthi, Minister of the Harbor Department (a sort of combination foreign affairs and trade minister). During the reign of King Songtham, he became Thailand’s first Sheikhul Islam overseeing Islamic affairs and Muslim communities in the Kingdom of Siam and was appointed Phraya Rattanathibodi, with the authority to command and administer both the army and civil servants in the seven main provinces of the North. His highest rank was attained during the reign of King Prasatthong, when he was appointed Chao Phraya Bowonratchanayok, which is equivalent to the post of prime minister. His descendants also served in important official posts for several successive generations in the late Ayutthaya and early Bangkok periods.

The prominent roles of Muslim Thais continued into the Thon Buri period (1767-1782) and the Rattanakosin or Bangkok period (1782-present). Since the establishment of Bangkok, the Kingdom has been vibrant with settlements of Iranian, Indian, Pakistani, Bengali, Cham, Indonesian, and Malay Muslims in different locations throughout the country.

Muslims in Thailand and Thai Society

Muslims in Thailand enjoy support from His Majesty King Bhumibol. Each year he or his representative presides over celebrations commemorating the Prophet Muhammad's birthday. The King has also provided funds for translating the Koran into Thai.According to the Thai government: “All in all, Muslim Thais enjoy full state support and are free to teach and practice their religion. There are three effective committees, namely the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, headed by the Chularajamontri; the Provincial Islamic Committee, which consults with the provincial administration regarding Islamic affairs; and the Islamic Committee for Masjid, which manages the nation’s mosques, or masjid. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

There are other links between the government and the Muslim community, as well, including government financial assistance to Islamic education institutions, assistance with construction of some of the larger mosques, and the funding of pilgrimages by Muslim Thais to Mecca, with Bangkok and Hat Yai as the primary gateway cities. In August 2009 the Thai government approved the establishment of a Hajj affairs section at the Royal Thai Consulate-General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The new office is responsible for facilitating the travel of Muslim Thais to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage.

Muslims, Buddhists, and followers of other faiths in Thailand have lived in peaceful harmony and tolerance for centuries. There are constitutional provisions for religious freedom that effectively guard against religious discrimination and restrictions. Moreover, even though the Muslim population in Thailand, like those in some other Southeast Asian nations, is relatively small, Muslim Thais have played significant roles in politics, the economy, and civil society, as well as in academic circles and the private sector. In government and politics, Muslim leaders have served as speaker of the House of Representatives, foreign minister, deputy prime minister, and army overwhelming-in-chief.

Even so Muslims in Thailand are relatively poor, ill-educated and under represented in the government. They live mostly in the south, which has lower incomes and higher crime rates compared to the rest of the country. A significant number of Muslim Thais, mostly from southern Thailand, work in the Middle East as laborers and servants the same way some Indonesians, Bangladeshis and Muslim Indians.

Muslims in Southern Thailand

About half of all Thai Muslims live in the southern Thai provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Satun and Pattani. To outsiders most of the people that live in these provinces look like Thais found elsewhere in Thailand, In the old days few women wore veils but these days women in Malay-style headcoverings and men in skullcaps are more common sights.

What is now southern Thailand was a Muslim sultanate until Thailand annexed it the early 1890s. Most of the Muslim residents there are ethnic Malays who have more in common with the people of neighboring Malaysia. Tawi, a Malay dialect, is widely spoken by Muslims in the south. Not many non-Muslim Thais can speak it.

There are many devout Muslims in southern Thailand and the trouble there seems to have created more devout ones. Many attend Islamic schools. White-washed mosques sound the call to prayer. Many villages have Buddhist temples and mosques.

See Violence in the South and Places, South Thailand Under Thailand.

Southern Thailand and the Deep South

Southern Thailand is a long narrow isthmus that extends to the border of Malaysia, which itself is continuation of the isthmus. It is known to tourists mainly for its beautiful islands and beaches, which are located both on the east side of the country on the Gulf of Thailand and on the west side on the Andaman Sea, with some places sure to fit you idea of an idyllic paradise. There are also impressive limestone rock formations and ruined cities which were influenced by cultures in ancient Cambodia, Java and Sumatra. The interior is dominated by mountains and dense rain forests. Some places get a lot rain, up to eight months out of the years, as they get walloped by both the Indian ocean monsoon to the west and the South China Sea monsoon to the east.

With the sea so nearby to almost every place in the south it is no surprise that people here have traditional made a living from the sea either as fishermen or traders. The biggest agricultural products are rubber, coconuts and tin. There are quite a few Muslims living in the south and people say the economy is largely controlled by the Chinese. The “Deep South” is a predominately Muslim area near the Malaysian border in Thailand’s four southernmost provinces. There has been a lot of violence here over the past decade but it has not affected the tourst areas further north.

The Deep South in Southern Thailand is a predominately Muslim area of Thailand, embracing Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Satun provinces. About 80 percent of the residents of these provinces are Muslim of Malay descent. Most speak Yawi, a Malay dialect. The provinces plus part of Songkhla province were former sultanates that were once part of the Malay kingdom of Pattani. They became part of Thailand in 1902.

The five southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, Satun, and Songkhla have a combined population of more than two million. Although most are Muslims, there are many Buddhists too. About 90 percent of the 1.8 million people that live in troubled Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani Provinces are Muslims. Rubber and rice are important crop. The landscape is dominated by rubber plantations and rice paddies. Many people make their living as rubber tappers. The Deep South is unsafe. Among the groups on the loose are Muslim separatists, rogue police and soldiers, bandits. See Terrorism

Thai Pak Tai, the People of Southern Thailand

The language, religion, and culture of far southern Thailand is markedly different from that of other parts of Thailand. The people are called a variety of names including Thai Pak Tai , southern Thais, Malays, Malay Muslims and Thai Muslims. Thai Pak Tai and southern Thais describes the people of the regions. Malays, Malay Muslims and Thai Muslims are ethnic and/or religious subgroups of southern Thais. There are about 7 million people living in southern Thailand. Most but not all are Muslims. Malay vocabulary is used in the Southern Thai dialect, and Malay Jawi (Arabic) script is stil used in written communication.

Joe Cummings wrote in the Lonely Planet guide for Thailand: “The influence of Malay-Indonesian culture is still apparent in the ethnicity, religion , art and tomorrow of the Thai Pak Tai , the southern Thais. The Thai Pak Tai dress differently, build their houses differently and eat differently from Thais in the North. Many are followers of Islam, so there are quite a few mosques in Southern cities; men often cover their heads and the long sarong is favored over the shorter phaakhamaa worn in the Northern, Central and North-Eastern regions. There are also a good many Chinese living in the South—Their influence can be seen in the architecture and in the baggy Chinese pants [Source: Joe Cummings, Lonely Planet guide for Thailand]

“Southern Thais speak a dialect that confounds even visitors from other Thai regions. Diction is short and fast...The clipped tones fly into the outer regions of intelligibility, giving the impression of a tape played at the wrong speed. In the provinces nearest Malaysia—Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Satun—many Thai Muslims speak Yawi, an old Malay dialect with similarities to modern Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia....Southern Thai cuisine combines Chinese , Malay and Thai elements to create brightly colored, heavily spiced dishes...In rural areas, simple bungalows constructed from thatched palm leaves and bamboo strips affixed to wood and bamboo frames are common. A Malay style of construction emphasizes sturdy houses of wood with square tiles. [Ibid]

“The majority of people in the upper Southern provinces are Thai Buddhists, while the lower are dominated by Muslims of Thai and Malay decent. In the cities throughout the south live a large minority of Chinese. In Satun Province, for example, 80 percent of the people profess Islam. In fact, throughout the entire province there are only 11 or 12 Buddhist temples versus 117 mosques. Urban Chinese worship at Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian shrines and temples. [Ibid]

“Southern Thais are stereo typically regarded as rebellious folk, considering themselves reluctant subjects of Bangkok rule and Thai (Central Thai) custom, Indeed, Thai Muslims (ethnic Malays) living in provinces bordering Malaysia complain of persecution by Thai government troops who police the areas for insurgent activity.... Nakhon S. Thammarat amd Phattalung are home to the uniquely Thai life-size shadow puppets, carved from buffalo hide. [Ibid]

Those living on the water live a Malay kampong-style life-style. They live in airy, wood plank houses on stilts above the river and fish and farm. Most make a living from farming or fishing. Some smuggle fruit, rice and clothes across the border to Malaysia. A traditional dish of southern Thailand called kao yam is made of rice mixed with salty gravy, hot chilis, sour mango and fresh vegetables, with “all the flavors mixed together.”

Malay Muslim Versus Thai Muslim: Which Term is Best

?

An editorial in The Nation from 2008 read: Just about every newsman in Thailand, when making reference to Muslims in the southernmost Malay-speaking provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, refers to them as "Thai Muslim", as opposed to "Malay Muslims". To illustrate their kindness, Thai newsmen say "Phi, nong Thai-Muslims" (Thai Muslim brothers and sisters). Incidentally, the Malay Muslims do not call themselves that. They say "Malayu" or "Nayu" for short. [Source: The Nation, March 21, 2008]

While most Muslims in the three provinces have learned to live with the terminology, it continues to rub many the wrong way. This state-generated identity we called "Thai", apparently has not been fully embraced by all Malays in the deep South. It has been over 100 years since this region came under the direct rule of the Thai state. And yet, sadly, our news people, not to mention Thais generally, have yet to agree as to what these citizens should be called.

The rejection of the Thai state is apparent at various levels - in conversations among Malays in teashops to leaflets passed out by the militants behind the spate of attacks against Thai security forces. The fact is that the Malay southerner is of a different ethnicity, and the Thai state is going to have to learn to live with it. Sadly, the situation has turned violent, with armed clashes between a new generation of militants and the Thai security forces. Collateral damage has been done to civilians and religious shrines, thus shattering the fabric of a society that once held all the ethnic groups together.

The advent of the Thai nation-state has created a national identity that includes the Chinese in Bangkok, the Lao in Isaan and the Khmers in Buri Ram and Surin. The only people who missed the boat were the Malays in the deep South. It's not so much that they missed the boat; they just didn't want to get on. Last high-school year, students from various schools in the Malay-speaking region gathered at Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani to take part in traditional Malay dances. The banner on the stage said this was a "southern Thai" cultural performance. But there was nothing "Thai" about it. It was all Malay.

It is not clear why or how the state notion of national identity has become so sacred to the point that it distorts the very things in front of our own eyes. When it comes to the Malay race and ethnicity, we can't call a spade a spade. Perhaps it is not so much the refusal to adopt the Thai national identity. After all, not all the Khmers or Lao in Isaan can speak fluent Thai, or "official Thai", the required spoken language for all official agencies.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the Malays have been very disagreeable to the wishes of the Thai state. For the past 100 years the Thai state has not succeeded in bringing in the Malays under the banner of "Thai nationalism". Today the Malays are not just resisting the Thai authorities but are equating their separatist determination with a moral obligation. If history is any indication, it's pretty clear how things will turn out. Who will be the first to give in is anybody's guess.

History of Southern Thailand

The Malay peninsula was settled since prehistoric times. Archeological remains were found in several caves, some used for dwellings, other as burial sites as well. The oldest remains were found in Lang Rongrien cave dating 38,000 to 27,000 years before present, and in the contemporary Moh Khiew cave. [Source: Wikipedia]

In the first millennium Chinese chronicles mention several coastal cities or city-states, however they don't give exact geographical location, so the identification of these cities with the later historical cities is difficult. The most important of these states were Langkasuka, usually considered a precursor of the Pattani kingdom; Tambralinga, probably the precursor of the Nakhon Si Thammarat kingdom, or P'an-p'an in Phunphin district Surat Thani, probably located at the Bandon Bay Tapi River. The cities were highly influenced by Indian culture, and have adopted Brahman or Buddhist religion.

When Srivijaya in Chaiya extended its sphere of influence, those cities became tributary states of Srivijaya. Srivijaya was a maritime empire based in Sumatra that lasted for 500 years from the 8th century to the 13th century. It ruled a string of principalities in what is today Southern Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The city Chaiya in Surat Thani Province contains several ruins from Srivijaya times, and was probably a regional capital of the kingdom. Some Thai historians even claim that it was the capital of the kingdom itself for some time, but this is generally disputed.

After Srivijaya lost its influence, Nakhon Si Thammarat became the dominant kingdom of the area. During the rule of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great of Sukhothai, Thai influence first reached Nakhon Si Thammarat. According to the Ramkhamhaeng inscription Nakhon was even a tributary state of Sukhothai. During most of the later history Nakhon became a tributary of Ayutthaya. The deep south belonged to the Malay sultanates of Pattani and Kedah, while the northernmost part of the peninsula was under direct control of Bangkok.

During the thesaphiban reforms at the end of the 19th century, both Nakhon Si Thammarat as well as Pattani were finally incorporated into the central state. The area was subdivided into 5 monthon, which were installed to control the city states (mueang). Minor mueang were merged into larger ones, thus forming the present 14 provinces. With the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 the boundary to Malaysia was fixed. Kedah came under British control, while Pattani stayed with Siam.

Economics and Politics in Southern Thailand

According to the Library of Congress: Although Islamic religious and cultural practices accentuated the differences between Muslims in southern Thailand, more divisive and destabilizing have economic and political factors. In the past, Central Thai administrators from the national government assigned to the South often spent their time amassing personal fortunes rather than attending to the welfare of the people of the region. Government provision of health, education, and welfare services was inadequate or nonexistent; schools were established only in the cities, for the benefit of children of Central Thai officials. In the 1980s, King Bhumibol and government leaders, especially those from the South, were deeply involved in rectifying those inequalities, but resentment and suspicion hampered development. [Source: Library of Congress]

Substantial numbers of Malay were loyalists who saw no point in making impossible demands. They were prepared to work within the system toward amelioration of their economic, educational, and administrative situation. Those Malay were not prepared to become Thai culturally, but they saw government programs, including secular education in Thai- language schools, as a means to social mobility and to an expansion of their administrative and economic roles.

The fourteen provinces of the South make up the poorest region of Thailand. Primarily rural, the South has an urban population of only around 15 percent. Although rice was the staple food, the South's economy was not based on wet-rice agriculture. Never directly colonized, the southern provinces, with their dependence on rubber and tin production and fishing, had nonetheless long been vulnerable to international economic forces. As world market prices for rubber and tin declined in the 1970s, more southerners went to work in the Middle East; and as neighboring countries established 200-mile limits on their territorial waters, an increasing number of Thai fishing vessels could be found as far away as the coast of Australia. [Source: Library of Congress]

Like the other regions of Thailand, the South at times opposed the central government. Following the closer incorporation of the Pattani region into the Thai kingdom as the result of the provincial administrative reform of 1902, reactions in the form of rebellions, underground movements, and violent uprisings were common. For many years, any type of antistate behavior or banditry reported by the government or press was usually attributed either to Muslim insurgents or the Communist Party of Thailand. By the mid-1980s, the press and government had become more objective in reporting and recognizing problems caused by environmental factors, other groups, and government policies. Moreover, the Muslim leadership, together with progressive political and military forces in the Thai government, had begun addressing some of the problems of the South, which led to increased national tranquillity.

Health Centers at Mosques in the Deep South

The Thai government has set some programs to assist Muslims and people in southern Thailand. The Ministry of Public Health, for example, has a policy to develop mosques and pondok, or Muslim schools, in the five southern border provinces as health promotion centers. The objective is to promote community health-building, ensure cleanliness, and boost public safety, based on Islamic principles.[Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

According to the Thai government: “Mosques are regarded as the centers of Muslim communities all over the country, and they have enjoyed the support of the government. They are the places where Muslims gather to pray, listen to sermons, and strengthen their communal bond.” For these reasons “mosques are regarded as the most important places to carry out social development.”

The Ministry of Public Health began this development project in 2008, and it has set a target to develop altogether 3,232 places in the southern border provinces as models for health promotion centers. Out of this number, 2,266 are mosques, 351 are pondok, and 615 are Buddhist temples. Apart from developing them as health promotion centers, the Ministry has also helped expand them into learning centers, where Muslim and Buddhist residents, especially students, gather for cultural exchanges and joint activities, so that they live happily together. Emphasis is placed on good sanitation inside and outside the compounds of these places.

Muslims in Northern Thailand

Vaudine England wrote in the New York Times, “Muslims in northern Thailand have long married non-Muslim Thais, and those from China have adopted Thai names, as ethnic Chinese have long done, and they have attended Thai-language schools and entered a range of middle-class and professional jobs. Chiang Mai's community of about 6,500 Muslims - among an overall population of 180,000 - includes families from Bangladesh, Pakistan and beyond, but the majority arrived from southern China. The first trading caravans from Yunnan arrived in the 1400s. [Source: Vaudine England, New York Times, August 13, 2005]

Verasak Leartpoonvilaikul looks like any other cheerful, well-fed resident of Chiang Mai. Unlike most of his neighbors, however, he prays five times a day toward Mecca. Verasak is a leading figure at the Ban Ho mosque in Chiang Mai. This spacious compound, including a boarding school and kindergarten, dates to 1915 and is still the center for a community of Muslims from the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. A dedicated pocket of Islam, the compound is found on a lane snaking off from the Night Bazaar, where scantily clad tourists seek bargains on fake soccer shirts and opium pipes.

Verasak's world is just as eclectic. His first love was jazz, and he met his initially non-Muslim wife in Lopburi, in central Thailand, while playing saxophone in a touring band. The vagaries of a musician's lifestyle persuaded him to come home to Chiang Mai when his father was dying to take up business as an engineer. Verasak's life and attitudes are typical of many Muslims in northern Thailand. They have successfully integrated into Thai society, in contrast to the more marginalized Muslim populations in Thailand's troubled southern provinces. "I'm a Thai man, 100 percent," Verasak said, beaming as he sat in his sister's restaurant near the mosque.

Verasak's father left China in the 1920s, leaving a first wife and children. After following the ancient routes of Yunnanese trading caravans south, he married again in Thailand, where Verasak was born. The imam at Ban Ho mosque, Ma Chin Jaen, came from Yunnan 25 years ago, but his brother had been here for two decades before him. He leads prayers for up to 400 people on Fridays, and estimates that 70 percent of them are ethnic Chinese.

Although Ban Ho is not the only mosque in Chiang Mai, it is the biggest among 12. Its liveliness was evident on a recent rainy weekday when afternoon prayers were attended by young and old men, visiting from their offices or shops in the Night Market and beyond, washing feet and face before entering. There is no strident call to prayer from loudspeakers but rather a discreet chant over a small microphone at the mosque doors.

Assimilation of Muslims in Northern Thailand

Vaudine England wrote in the New York Times, “The flexibility, education and professional skills of Chiang Mai's ethnic Chinese Muslims is cited by them as one reason this community has had little problem integrating with a Thai Buddhist city and its people over several generations. The other reason for their success, said men at the mosque, is that there was never any doubt that this area was part of Thailand and that to survive it was important to adapt. [Source: Vaudine England, New York Times, August 13, 2005]

"Now we represent all different kinds of work," said Winai Jarin, a gem trader and an ethnic Chinese Muslim living next to the mosque. "Our people include government servants, doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers and others." This level of education and independent wealth has spared the Muslims of the north from any feeling of discrimination, Winai said. "You can see, there's a wall behind our mosque and over that wall is a Buddhist temple - no problem!" he said.

Winai, who is in his 60s, added that he visited China when he was 2 but had no plans to go again. Verasak, the jazz enthusiast, said he might make a first trip to Yunnan next year but had no doubts about where he belongs. He recounted how he was educated at a local Christian school - Chiang Mai has long been a focus for Christian missionaries - and went to the mosque every night to learn Arabic for his prayers. "I could choose for myself because I've learned about Christianity and about Buddhism," Verasak said, "but I think Islam is best."

Verasak said his wife wears a head scarf "only sometimes," contrasting the north's low-key industriousness with what he described as the southern Muslim's wish only to "pray, pray, pray." "We are very polite, very smooth and quiet," Verasak added. "We are very comfortable here." None of these men wanted to be quoted for their views of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose harsh methods in the south have attracted the criticism of international rights bodies, even though some of them went to school with Thaksin, who was born in Chiang Mai.Some, however, have joined demonstrations in front of the U.S. Consulate here to protest the invasion of Iraq and sent a delegation to the U.S. and British consulates to request an end to the war. This appears to be about as political as Chiang Mai's Muslims want to get.

The ethnic Chinese Muslims are so well integrated into Thai life that they are not even part of overseas Chinese business networks, said Jean Berlie, an anthropologist who contributed to the book "Where China Meets Southeast Asia," published in 2000 by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Berlie said the closed border between China and its southern neighbors from 1950 to 1980 reinforced the sense of separation. "Consequently, new Chinese trade networks between Yunnan and Thailand have replaced the ancient, traditional Muslim ones," Berlie wrote. "The numerous Thai delegations which have been coming since the 1980s are not Muslim: The first foreign bank to open a branch in Kunming is Thai."

But the men of Ban Ho do not seem concerned about such cultural changes in northern Thailand. "Here in Chiang Mai is a good example of how many different people can live together at peace," Verasak said. His sister was closing up the restaurant for the night, his wife was selling satay at her street stall and his cousin was leaving, bareheaded, on a motorbike, as he paused to emphasize his next point. "I think Christians and Muslims are the same," he said. "We are all from the same root."He added with a laugh, "The only difference is that Muslims don't eat pork."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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