BANGKOK: Foreign and Thai dignitaries gather for the iftah, or the breaking of the fast, at the Islamic Centre of Thailand. The annual event, hosted by the Islamic centre’s foundation and the Thai Foreign Ministry, is the highlight of Ramadan for the Suan Luang community in Bangkok.
The centre is where many Muslims of Suan Luang and nearby areas gather to pray and break fast every day during the holy month of Ramadan.
Apart from the religious significance, Ramadan is also a time of sharing. And for the Muslim community of Suan Luang, this means the breaking of the fast is often joined in by people of other faiths.
Since the late 18th century, Suan Luang has been a multicultural community with a diverse population that include ethnic groups like the Malay, Lao, Khmer and Mon. Today, Buddhists and Muslims in the area live peacefully together.
WAT PAK BO TEMPLE SCHOOL
The Wat Pak Bo school, located on the banks of the Phra Khanong canal, best exemplifies this coexistence.
The school, which is run by the Pak Bo Buddhist temple, has long served the community and opens its doors to both Buddhist and Muslims children. Even though Muslims only represent a very small fraction of the student body, the monks and teachers make sure that all students get equal treatment.
What is unique about this school is that the school kitchen prepares halal food for all of its students, so they get to eat the same food for lunch regardless of their religious backgrounds.
“The most important thing is that we respect each other’s rights and dignity, and we help each other out,” said Prah Kru Worakitjatorn, who is the head monk of Wat Pak Bo. “This is the basis that enable us to live together.”
Islam in a minority faith in Thailand and Muslims in Bangkok have long lived peacefully with others for centuries.
“There is no problem between Buddhists and Muslims in this community because we have lived together like brothers and sisters for a very long time,” said Apisak who grew up in Suan Luang. “We all help each other.”
Asmat, a former resident who grew up in Suan Luang, said: “In Thailand, you’ll see a Buddhist temple next to a mosque – and it is like this in many places. We don’t have any problems because each religion does their own thing and we all respect one another.”
Manatchai, who also grew up in Suan Luang, said: “There is almost no religious issues in Thailand because we have lived together for a long time. There are Muslim kids who grew up in Buddhist temple schools and there are Buddhist kids who went to Muslim schools.”
CALL FOR MORE INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
Although Muslims in Thailand have long enjoyed the freedom to practice their faith and have had very little problems with other religions, there is a small but growing anti-Islamic sentiment in some areas of the country.
Mindful of religious tensions elsewhere and rising Islamophobia at home, some Thai Muslims want more inter-faith dialogue to ensure that communities of different faiths maintain harmony and understanding among themselves.
“We must have constant inter-faith dialogues between different religions and the Muslim community – and must be open-minded to this,” said Sukre Sarem, the chairman of the Muslim Siam Forum for Art and Culture.
“At the same time, we must all continue to embrace our identity and values that have allowed us to live together as one Thai people despite our cultural differences.”