Iqra Islamic Publications

Muslims of Vietnam and Kampuchea

Siddiq Osman Noormuhammad

Is there any place on earth where Muslims do not exist? The Holy Prophet, (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that the whole earth is a mosque and Muslims have followed this teaching to the letter so that today, we can hear the azan, first rendered by Hadrat Bilal, (may Allah be pleased with him), echoing from the minarets from Istanbul to Jakarta and from Delhi to Los Angeles. And so, Muslims would not be surprised to hear that brother and sister Muslims, even as of today, preserve their iman (faith) and nurture their piety in such far off lands as Vietnam and Kampuchea (formerly Combodia). As Imam Ahmad Raza Khan has so aptly put it in his "Salaam", Allah's law and governance, as exemplified by the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) holds sway in every nook and corner of the earth.

Kis jagaa aur kahan tera kabza naheen
Ek mera hee rahmat pay daawa nahee
Shah kee saree ummat pay lakhon salaam

Is there a place where you don't have control?
I am not the only one with a claim on your mercy
(the whole ummah has a claim and so)
A million salutations on all the followers of the Holy Prophet
(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)

Lo behold! Even when we land in such far-off places as Vietnam and Kampuchea we find that Allah's law has already been established here.

There are many tribes in Vietnam and Kampuchea, but it is the Chams who, in large measure, converted to Islam from Hinduism. Originally, their country was called Champa. The Arabic inscriptions in stone, found near Phan Rang in Vietnam, dating back to the tenth or eleventh century are the earliest record of the Muslim presence in Champa, informs Bill Strubbe in his article, "The People Persist". Islam arrived here via India and Malaysia and the Cham language is of Malay-Polynesian origin.

Areas of concentration of Muslims in Vietnam are along the south eastern coast facing the South China Sea, and in the south, especially in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). And in Kampuchea, a sizeable number of Muslims exist in Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, and in the south in the Gulf of Thailand.

There are quite a few similarities between the Chams of Vietnam and Kampuchea and Malaysians-Indonesians. Both are Sunni Muslims, following the Shafi'i madh-hab (school of thought). Their culture is similar. For example, both live in villages called kampongs. Muslim men wear batik lungi (shuka in Kiswahili) tied in a knot at the waist, whether in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam or in Jakarta, Indonesia, but while the black cap is popular in Indonesia, the Chams of Vietnam and Kampuchea wear white caps like Muslims in other places and these are called kapea (recollection: kofea in Swahili). And the elders among the Chams wear white robes and turbans as is the sunnah. Finally, mixed marriages of Chams to Khmers, Vietnamese or Chinese non-Muslims almost always result in the non-Muslim partner's conversion to Islam (as among the Guyanese for example). The seal of iman (faith) is set; "kis jagaa aur kahan tera kabza naheen", mused Imam Ahmad Raza Khan.

But the Muslims of Vietnam and Kampuchea have suffered from the scourge of Communism. Before Saigon in the south (now Ho Chi Minh City) fell to the communists from North Vietnam, Chams used to go to Hajj, but this has now been stopped. Muslims from the rest of the world should make a concerted presentation before Vietnam to allow Chams complete freedom of worship. The brighter side is that five times daily prayers are held in the beautiful mosque in Ho Chi Minh City called Jami-ul-Masjid Cholon and the Chams refer to any muezzin as Bilal after the universally historic, spiritually brimming personality of Hadrat Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him.).

Cham Muslims are the country's largest minority in Kampuchea (formerly Kampuchea). Masjid an-Nur an-Naim, built in 1901 in Chrang Chamres, was once the largest in Kampuchea. Now, it is being rebuilt after being destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge closed mosques and schools and those Muslims who refused to eat pork were executed.

When the Khmer Rouge were finally ousted from power in 1979, only 20 of the 132 mosques in Kampuchea remained. Some 90,000 of the 200,000 Chams were killed in the dark years of the Khmer Rouge regime before the Vietnamese troops entered Kampuchea in 1979 and ousted their regime. Things are now returning to normal and in the past 2 years, 55 Kampuchean Chams have made the Hajj.

The Chams are materially very poor people, but they are saving pennies to rebuild their mosques and madrasas. As you read this, I am sure your heart is going a beat faster and your mind is racing to ask: What can I do to help my brothers and sisters in Vietnam and Kampuchea.

Non-muslims, whether capitalists or communists might kill Muslims, but can they shake their Iman (faith)? Turn a corner and you will meet a Bilal

(Note: This article was first published in Iqra The Islamic Journal of Memon Jamat Nairobi, No. 30, Jamadil Aakhir 1415, November 1994).

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