Islam in Thailand: A new way forward?
The past weekend marked the start of the holy month of Ramadan in the Muslim calendar year; a time where Muslims fast, pray, self-reflect and endeavour to be better people.
It seems apt then, that last week 4,000 people in Bangkok convened to discuss ways towards bettering the Muslim community, not just individually but collectively.
In an event televised nationally, distinguished speakers were brought together to celebrate the established “Pondok” (Islamic school) in Thailand, whereby both streams of knowledge, Islamic and mainstream education can act as a bridge for Muslim Thais in South East Asia.
Muslims are a minority group in Thailand, contributing to 10% of the population. One particular school is “Pondok Bantan”, co-educational and receiving no government subsidy and has been in service for 72 years. It caters to over 2000 students and has been in the Pitsuwan family for generations, says Diana Pitsuwan, who helped organised the event.
“It would be good to encourage and promote children’s education.… [and] to promote not just Islamic education but education as a whole”.
It is an ethos shared by Dr Surin Pitsuwan, who was educated in Pondok Bantan, before going on to study at Harvard and become the Secretary -general of ASEAN. With poise and conviction Pitsuwan states:
“We must be active Muslim, ready to give, ready to cooperate”.
Malaysian physician Harlina Siraj is an example of someone actively promoting health; a confident female Muslim obstetrician who describes herself as a “doctor of women for the past 14 years” at the National university of Malaysia.
Her approach is forthright:
“Women are different but equal, special and men have to treat women well”, she says adamantly.
In a society where sex before marriage is forbidden she is refreshingly open and grounded in reality; explaining that there are Muslim adolescents having illegal and unsafe abortions arising from unwanted pregnancies by sexually active teenagers.
“We need to decrease harm, complications and offer contraception… You cannot turn your back on girls who are pregnant”.
In a world where Muslim women, in many regions are not given the rights that they are entitled to, it is stirring to hear an assured Muslim in a red headscarf declare “We are not just to be seen but to be heard”.
Nonetheless, health and women’s rights are not the only area that needs work; Indonesian Professor in public policy, Anies Baswiedan calls for unity for peace and a new profile of Islam in the global stage.
He explains: “Islam is a religion of peace. Violence has often been a part of us, in Indonesia, Thailand, North Africa and the Middle East but peace is not the absence of violence, but the presence of justice, which rests on equality and it is us that need to create competence in order to be equal”.
“Creating equality requires more than speeches, more than anger, we need to do serious work through character and education”. Equal treatment, he believes will be acquired, “not through armed conflict or violence but by empowerment”
Empowerment by possessing both “human resources and intellectual resources”, says Pitsuwan and advocates a “moderate Islam, an accommodating Islam, a progressive and tolerant Islam.”
“The true message of Islam is compassion” he states vehemently.
However, there are indeed a myriad of problems in the Muslim community says former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Muhamad:
“The problem with us Muslims, is that we place great emphasis on certain rituals, but the Quran is not just a pin it’s a way of life”
“In Islam there is a strong sense of morality, increasing religiosity, yet the gap between private morality and public morality has widened.”
Mahathir, who is highly regarded believes that “good governance, requires good leaders”, those less likely to succumb to corruption and with the will to make changes.
Admittedly, The Muslim world is not without its problems, such progressive thinking from Pitsuwan et al. is much welcomed and needed if we are to create greater tolerance, compassion and peace in the Muslim world and beyond.Tagged in: ASEAN, Dr Mahathir, Dr Pitsuwan, education, Indonesia, islam, Malaysia, Malaysia Prime Minister, Moderate Islam, muslim, muslim women, peace, Qu'ran, Ramadan, thailand, Women’s rights
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