By Syed Atiq ul Hasan, Sydney Australia
The number of Muslims in Thailand is growing exponentially. It is Islam that is growing significantly in Thailand at the moment. In Thailand, the natives are constantly attracted to the Islamic way of life, and many convert to Islam. New generations of Thai Muslims are becoming educated and knowledgeable about Islam. Southeast Asia is home to more than 60 percent of the world’s 2 billion Muslims. In Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, unlike the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, or Iran, no Muslim warrior from outside spread Islam here through battles and wars. In these countries, Muslim traders impressed the locals with their honesty and truthfulness. The locals converted to Islam because of these Muslim merchants’ behaviours, honesty, and principles in business.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are Muslim-majority countries in Asia that make up the majority of the world’s Muslim population. The Middle East region, particularly Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Muscat, has developed a distinctly modern Islamic infrastructure using its oil-based wealth. Similarly, the Islamic growth and development of Muslims in various professional fields in Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in recent times is bringing promising new innovative perspectives within the Muslim world. In the Southeast Asian region, countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand are relatively underdeveloped countries where Muslims are a minority, yet their growth as an Islamic community is remarkable and admirable.
The Islamic scholars and religious leaders of Thailand have made significant contributions to Islam over the past three decades. Today, Thailand is home to many large mosques. Islamic schools exist. Universities provide facilities for students to learn Arabic and Qur’an, which help local students learn about Islam and become more interested in it. It is now becoming an industry in Thailand to produce Halal products. In every sphere of life, halal practices are increasing. There are now five-star Islamic hotels in Thailand, and Halal restaurants can be found in most major cities. Seerat-ul-Nabi (Milad un Nabi) conferences are regularly held in Thailand where high-ranking government officials attend as special guests. Local media and TV channels cover these programs.
At the invitation of the organizers of two of the most impressive international Islamic celebrations, Eid Milad-un-Nabi and the International
Halal Expo & Conference, I visited Thailand few times. During my visits, I met prominent Thai Muslims from a variety of backgrounds, including youth, social workers, entrepreneurs, academics, Islamic leaders, Islamic scholars, and intellectuals. I was very impressed by the ethics, kindness, interaction, and high Islamic values of these Thai Muslims. In various professions, I was greatly impressed with the impressive exhibits based on scientific research, especially Halal science. With great dedication and effort, young and senior Thai Muslims are introducing halal products in various fields. This has been a source of pride for the Islamic world for me. Muslims and governments of Islamic countries in the Umma (Islamic World) should learn from Muslims of this region.
Although Thai Muslims are a small minority, their progress in Islam, education, society, and economy serves as a lesson to the rest of the Muslims. By implementing Islamic codes of conduct in their own lives and business affairs, Muslims in the Islamic world can achieve prosperity, economic strength, and technological advancement. This can be done without seeking assistance from advanced western countries. Thai Muslims are not only role models for many Islamic states, but they are an example of how Muslims can contribute peace, love, and tranquillity to any society. They can inspire others through their actions. I assert that the Thai Islamic community is demonstrating how the Islamic way of life can promote brotherhood in any society.
Despite the fact that Thailand has no official religion, the majority of Thais are Buddhists. The Muslim population of Thailand makes up only 6 percent of the total population, mostly Thai Malays in the south and near the borders. However, today, Thai Muslims can be found in most major cities, especially Bangkok. Various reports indicate that Muslims are the fastest-growing community in Thailand and appear to be the most organized, disciplined, and civilized group. Previously, Thai Muslim women could not be seen working in business affairs, but now they can be seen working in government jobs, commercial centers, banks, and almost every other job. In colleges, universities, and other educational and technical institutions, Muslim youth wear Islamic caps and girls wear headscarves. In Thailand, Islamic matters are handled by the Central Islamic Council of Thailand. By appointment of the king, Muslim scholars and muftis run this council. The council serves as a liaison between government departments and Islamic organizations. The council deals with matters such as Islamic education, mosque construction, and Hajj (pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia). Thai Islamic affairs are managed by 38 provincial Islamic committees. The local government also runs Islamic schools and contributes to maintaining the Islamic curriculum. In Bangkok alone, there are about 15 beautiful and large mosques that are packed during prayer hours. There are now many Islamic schools in Bangkok with hundreds of students, both male and female. Major universities offer Islamic studies as an optional subject.
As one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world known for its liberal and fun culture, Thailand is also now an economical and
attractive destination for Muslim tourists and entrepreneurs. Almost every tourist destination has halal restaurants, halal hotels, mosques, and Islamic schools.
As Thai tourism expands, halal tourism plays an increasingly important role. Major cities, restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues now display “Halal” signs. Currently, the Thai commerce sector is promoting Islamic banking, Islamic microfinance, “Halal” housing, and other Islamic projects. Currently, Muslim entrepreneurs are introducing new products and services based on Shariah (Islamic Laws).
Six percent of Thai Muslims play a vital role in Thai society and in shaping Islam’s image in Thailand. The example shows that no one can stop Islamic countries and their people from incorporating Islam into their lifestyle if they are serious about it. (The author is a Sydney-based journalist, writer, and the founder of the Halal Expo & Conference in Australia. His email is email@example.com )
Syed Atiqul Hasan,
Mobile: +61 479 143 628