Among the religious minorities in Thailand are the Muslims which has the largest population. They are mostly found at Satun, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat. They were here as early as the 13th century when Arab traders went by the Malay Peninsula. This is the reason why most Muslim Thais have Malaysian descent. 99 percent of the Thai Muslims are Sunni while the other 1 percent are Shi’ite.
The government of Thailand is very supportive of the Muslim population. His Majesty the King, provided money to translate the Koran into Thai. Funds for the building and renovation of mosques are also provided for. Currently, there are almost 2,000 mosques in Thailand and a hundred of them are in Bangkok. Ultimately, Muslim Thais are being fully supported by the government.
Despite this set-up, there are news nowadays that Thai youth are now rejecting rigid Islam imposed unto them, as stated by academic reports. For example, as stated by Amporn Madden, a lecturer at Walailak University for Culture Studies, Muslim women are starting to practice wearing the hijab headscarf to reassert their cultural identity.
The hijab is actually a symbol of struggle so this is indeed a statement. While they may still be wearing the traditional attire, they are starting to infuse it with their own preference on how they want to represent their religion. Another lecturer, Nipon Sohheng, from Ramkamhaeng University’s political science department, attests to this by saying that progressive Muslims not only in Thailand but also around the world are already living up to the ideals of Islamic modernism and are slowly rejecting their old ideals. A political science professor from Thammasat University named Chaiwat Sathanand thinks that these undertakings by present Muslim youth are causing a threat to their own identity as Muslims instead of being the symbol of change they want to be.
Islamic banking has become a common practice and it allows Muslims to take part in Modern economics. There are already several schools and colleges offering lessons on social science and religion side by side. While some are seeing this positively, there are also others who think that Islamic modernism is not necessary since traditional Islam does not at all conflict the teachings of democracy. Bukhoree Yeema from Songkla Rajabhat University’s Asean Studies Centre, thinks that Medina’s constitution also teaches about people’s participation, accountability, and public participation. He personally thinks that socio-economic mishandling has just become rampant nowadays that some democracies are failing, and religion is not to blame after all.
What merely happened was that some colonies were already present before modernization so what happened was the elites are the ones benefitting from the perks of modernization instead of those who actually worked hard for it. This failure is rampant in developing countries and perhaps because of this, more and more Muslim youth in Thailand are getting disillusioned day by day. After all, the world’s leaders have yet to improve on their governance.
Another angle being looked at in this topic is the reception of non-straight-gender Thai Muslims towards the religious teachings imposed to them. Sexual and identity preferences are sometimes hard to blend with the religious teachings of Islam. If this aspect is not properly addressed, what more could you expect from these Muslim youth?
Ultimately, perhaps it would not hurt if Islam would adjust to the cultural and ethnic diversity it is residing in. Imron Sohsan, a lecturer from Khon Kaen University, thinks that Islam would continue to be relevant this way. Keeping the Muslim youth from exploring modernization would not help at all. The youth should be allowed to engage in intellectual and economical endeavors going around the contemporary world they are in. Remember, change is inevitable and going with the flow won’t hurt sometimes.