Friday, 7 March 2008

Cambodians Enjoy Harmony With Cham Community

Posted on 7 March 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 550

“Many parts of the world are suffering from bloody conflicts due to religious reason. In Cambodia, followers of various religions have been living in harmony with followers of Buddhism, which the Constitution defines it as the state religion [Article 43: “Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to freedom of belief. Freedom of religious belief and worship shall be guaranteed by the State on the condition that such freedom does not affect other religious beliefs or violate public order and security. Buddhism shall be the State religion.”]. However, some western diplomats express their concerns about the recent influx of some Islamists who have no tolerance in their mind.

The Government has good relations with Muslim

“Most Muslim in Cambodia are Cham people. The Cham community has never been oppressed by Cambodian governments from the past until now, except during the Khmer Rouge regime, when both Cham and Khmer people shared the same plight.

“One can say that the Royal Government of Cambodia today has good relations with the Cham people. A number of Cham people have become very strong economically. For example, Mr. Othsman Hassan is a Cham millionaire, and he is now holding a position as Secretary of State at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.

“Another good indicative example is the development of Cham women. As one sees the example in other parts of the world, some Muslim women live with the strictest tradition, but Cham women in Cambodia have made a lot of changes compared to the time of the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime. President of the Cambodian Islamic Women Development Association Lok Chumteav Asiyah Ali Othsman, who delivered a speech during a meeting with Lok Chumteav Bun Rany Hun Sen in the morning of 1 March 2008, said that before 1970, 90 percent of Muslim women in rural provinces and rural towns across Cambodia could not read and write Khmer, even though they could speak the Khmer language. She added that at that time, there were very few Muslim women who were engaging in government work, in non-government organizations, and in companies, or who even participated in other small activities.

“She also confirmed that from 1991 until now, young Muslim women went to school like men, both in rural and in urban areas. Even though some of their parents still live in poverty, their parents send their daughters to school until grade 5 and 6, and some get diploma degrees, and others receive higher education degrees, and some pursue their studies up to master degrees.
“To confirm the change in the social situation of Khmer Muslim women of today, as opposed to the previous generation, she said that currently there is one Muslim woman as a senator, one Muslim woman is deputy secretary of state at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and five women are members of Commune Councils.

“This is just an example of the politics of ‘good relations’ of the Royal Government of Cambodia regarding Muslim women. There are also many examples indicative of the support for Muslim men, the religion of Islam, and for the general Muslim community.

Recognizing harmonious living, but with worries

“About five percent of the Cambodian people follow Islam. In his report to American people in Washington via email, Mr. Joseph A. Mussomeli, the US ambassador to Cambodia, said that Cham people always follow Islam without extremism, but harmoniously living with tolerance in society. The US ambassador added that Cham people do not feel that they are hated or treated unfairly, which can cause terrorism like in other countries across the globe. According to the US ambassador, in fact, Cham people are poor, but most of them have access to education. However, the US ambassador expressed also his concerns, “We are still worried about the recent influx of an Islam without tolerance.” At the time of the Khmer Rouge regime, all Cham mosques were destroyed, and almost all educated person (including the Cham) were executed. Unfortunately, a gap started again with funds from extremists who intend to impose a strict form of Islam on the Cham people.

“However, the US ambassador did not give an actual example of what he had called ‘the recent influx of an Islam without tolerance.’

“Observers said that there was a crackdown on the groups involved with terrorists of the Jemaah Islamiya movement who came to Cambodia under the shelter of using the sign of the Umm Al-Qura school, located in Russey Chroy commune, in Mukh Kampoul district, in Kandal, along National Road No. 6A since 2003. This is an example of the presence of extremists [in case the Supreme Court does not reverse the previous judgments]. After a crackdown in 2004, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court opened a hearing to sentence six persons, including persons from Egypt and Thailand, to life imprisonment. After the Appeals Court had maintained the same verdict of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, now the Cambodian Supreme Court had opened a new hearing to try the case on 27 February 2008. The fate of these persons will be announced by the court on 12 March 2008.

“If one thoroughly examines the politics of good relations with the Cham people, this is only one means to prevent the influx of an extremist Islam into Cambodia. In particular, concerning politics, the Cambodian government should also pay attention to the investments of the Cham community.”

Khmer Sthapana, Vol.1, #2, 5.3.2008

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