Islam in Thailand
Islam, while a minority faith in Thailand, is quickly growing, with the 2005 statistics from National Statistic Office of Thailand estimating approximately 2.2 million, or equivalent to 4.5% of the adult population of 49.5 million (this number does not include children below the age of 15), are Muslims Most Thai Muslims belong to the Sunni sect.
Demographics & Geography
Popular opinion seems to hold that a vast majority of the country's Muslims are found in the Thailand's three Southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. However, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs' research indicates that only 18% of Thai Muslims live in those three provinces. The rest are scattered throughout Thailand, with the largest concentrations being in Bangkok and throughout most Southern provinces.
According to the National Statistics Office, in 2005, Muslims in Southern Thailand made up 30.4% of general population above the age 15, while less than 3% in other parts of the country.
Ethnicity and Identity
Thailand's Muslim population is diverse and multicultural, with ethnic groups having migrated from as far as China, Pakistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as comprising indigenous Thais, while about two-third of Muslims in Thailand are ethnically Malay.
Many Thai Muslims are ethnically and linguistically Thai, who are either hereditary Muslims, Muslims by intermarriage, or recent converts to the faith. Ethnic Thai Muslims live mainly in the Central and Southern provinces - varying from entire Muslim communities to mixed settlements.
In the three Southernmost border provinces, the vast majority of the local Muslim population is predominantly Malay in origin. These people, known colloquially as Yawi, speak a dialect of Malay that is not mutually understood by Thai speakers. This adds to the culturally unique identity of Thai Malay Muslims.
The high number of Malay origin inhabitants in the Southern region is due the historical nature of the area, which was once known as the Pattani Kingdom, an Islamic Malay kingdom established in the nineteenth century, but later annexed to Siam (the older name of Thailand).
In the far North, as well as in select Central and Southern urban areas, there are pockets of Thai Muslims of Chinese Hui origin. Most Chinese Muslims belong to a group of people called Chin Ho or Haw in the Thai Language, although most of the Chin Ho are not Muslim. Some historians believed that the name Chin Ho can be explained to be a combination of "Chin" (China) and "Ho" (Hui). It also bears a striking similarity in pronunciation to the name of Zheng He, one of the first great Imperial Chinese diplomats to have visited Thailand in its early Siamese history, who was also of the Chinese Hui extraction. The Chin Ho people, thus, can be seen as "The People of Zheng He" - traders and emigres who carried with them Hui Muslim traditions from China. One of the most famous Chinese mosque is Baan Haw Mosque, located in Chiang Mai Province.
Burmese Muslim groups
Burmese ethnic groups, such as the Rohingya are refugees and economic migrants whom are scattered throughout Thailand's refugee camps, rural fishing villages, as well as in many small towns and cities close to the Myanmar border.
Northern Thailand, as well as being home to many Chinese Muslims, also is home to many Burmese, and mixed Chinese-Burmese or Pakistani-Burmese peoples.
Other Asian Muslim groups
Other represented groups include Cham Muslims, originally from Cambodia who can be found between the mutual border and Bangkok as well as the deep south.
South Asians, including Tamils, Punjabis, Bangladeshi, and Pakistanis can be found throughout Thailand working in professions ranging from wealthy business owners to lowly paid labourers.
Distinctives of Thai Islam
Except in the small circle of theologically trained believers, the Islamic faith in Thailand, like Buddhism, has become integrated with many beliefs and practices not integral to Islam.
In the South, it can 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.
Places of Worship
According to National Statistic Office of Thailand in 2007, the country has 3,494 mosques, with the largest number (636) in Pattani province. According to the Religious Affairs Department (RAD), 99% of the mosques are associated with the Sunni branch of Islam with the remaining 1% Shi'a.
Governance & Education
Education and maintenance of their own cultural traditions are vital interests of these groups.
The National Council for Muslims, consisting of at least five persons (all Muslims) and appointed by royal proclamation, advised the ministries of education and interior on Islamic matters. Its presiding officer, the state counselor for Muslim affairs, was appointed by the king and held the office of division chief in the Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education. Provincial councils for Muslim affairs existed in the provinces that had substantial Muslim minorities, and there were 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, both Bangkok and Hat Yai being primary gateway cities.
Thailand also maintains several hundred Islamic schools at the primary and secondary levels, as well as Islamic banks, (Pattanakarn, Bangkok), shops and other institutions. Much of the packaged food marketed is tested and labeled halal (unless it has pork), regardless of who eats it