The History of Islam in Southern Thailand

Islam is the second largest religion in Thailand only next to Buddhism, and as such, Islam is the biggest minority religion in the country.

There are two groups that compose that the Muslim community in Thailand. These two are the native Muslims and the naturalized or settled Muslims coming from various ethnic backgrounds.

The native Muslims are the Malays who live in the southern area of the country while the naturalized Muslims are scattered across the country. Their linguistic, ethnic, political and cultural variation varies from the native Muslims.

There are around 80 percent, or roughly some five to seven million Thais that are southern Muslims.

Islam started in Thailand started back in the 1350 to 1767 during the Ayutthaya Dynasty. Thailand at that time was still named as Siam and the Malay Kingdoms from the south are not yet part of Siam. These kingdoms were only joined to the country around 1902.

Islam spread in the country since there were many Muslims who traded goods with the Thais during the Ayuthaya Dynasty. These Muslims traders eventually gained a lot of wealth and chose to gain both economic and political powers which spread in the southern areas.

The Muslim at that time was given protection by the king of Thailand since it was the King’s job to protect all religions in his land. The King at that time even funded the translation of the Qur’an to the Thai language.
But the acceptance of the king of Islam was not echoed by many Thais as Muslims had to suffer the imposition of other Thais of their religion which is Buddhism. The Thai Buddhist government have forced some changes in language and have infiltrated the communities of Muslim such as placing some Buddhist families in Muslim populated areas. Some even had erected Buddhist monasteries among Muslim villages.

Such actions of Buddhist Thais have resulted in fighting and conflict. In the 1560s up to 1770, there have been fights between the Thai Kingdom and Islamic Pattani until the Buddhist have finally conquered Pattani as part of their kingdom.

The submission of Pattani has led many Thai Muslims to go deeper to the Malay Peninsula to avoid the Thai Buddhists. But the tension escalated around 1947 when the president of the Islamic Council in Thailand, Haji Sulong demanded that the former area of Pattani be given full autonomy.

He also had other demands such as the recognition of Malay as the official language of the provinces in the south as well as the change in the educational system in the area. Sulong wanted the education for children to focus on the promotion of Islam.

The Thai government refused to accommodate the demands of Sulong, and he was imprisoned for three years.

The religion of Islam came from different places such as Persia, Burma, India, Cambodia, China and Yemen, among others.

Islam spread in Pattani province around 1387 after Islam was established in Malacca under the leadership of Sultan Iskandar at the same time Islam spread in the Southeast Asian region.

The Malay Islam spread in the southern areas of Thailand up until Songkhla, which is the border between Thai speaking Muslims and Malay. Theravada Buddhism that was introduced by the Indo-Chinese region had already taken over the northern part of Thailand at that time.

Islam was introduced to the southern areas of the country by different immigrant Muslims such as Pakistani, Persian, Cham extraction and Indonesian. There were many Thais, who also converted to Islam after marriage or even religious conversion.

The majority of the Thai Muslims are Sunnis while the minority Thai Muslims is Shia that belongs to the Bohras and Imami or Mustali Ismailis.

Most of the Thai Muslims in the south still speak Malay whereas other Thai Muslims from different areas already speak Thai.