Islamic reformism in Thailand. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Raymond Scupin   

Scupin ,Raymond. Islamic Reformism in Thailand. JSS. Vol. 68 (pt.2) 1980. p.1-10





Raymond Scupin* 


        Islam  in Thailand  has developed  in  historical and cultural  conditions  which have produced
a  complex  and  unique  religious  heritage.  Most  scholars  agree  that  prior  to the  arrival  of the
great   traditions  of  either  Hinduism,  Buddhism,  or  Islam   into   southeast   Asia,    the  dominant
religious   system  consisted   of  an  indigenous spiritualism or animism.  When the great  traditions
filtered in they were acceptable to southeast Asians only insofar as they were able to incorporate
the older religious concepts and existing practices.1  When  Islam   entered  southeast  Asia  it  too
had  to compromise   its  basic principles  and  allow for a certain degree of syncretism.  This was
not  a  wholly  new  pattern  because  Muslims,  since   the time  of  the Prophet  Muhummad, have
always  been  content  with  nominal  'Tslamization'   in   any  new  region.  This  traditional  Muslim
policy  resulted  in  the  continuance of many indigenous religious practices  and beliefs  which  at
times  were  considered  as  being  part  of  Islam  itself.

       Several   anthropological  studies  of  Muslims   in  rural  Thailand   have  confirmed  the  basic
syncretic  quality  of  Islam  in  villages.2  This  syncretized Islam  or 'folk  Islam'  takes  two distinc-
tive  forms in  Thailand  depending  upon  specific  sociocultural  locale. In  the southern,  culturally
Malay   provinces   of  Thailand,   Islam  coexists   with   an   indigenous   Malay   supernaturalism.
In  the  villages  of  this  area non-Islamic Malay spiritual  practices  are   conjoined with  traditional
Islamic   ritual  practices. In  contrast, in  the  rural areas   where  Thai  Buddhists are the  majority
population  and  Muslims  are  the  minority,  Islam  coexists  with   the  well-known  phii   worship
or animism  of  mainland  southeast  Asia. These  different  varieties of folk Islam are found   to be
well  institutionalized  and  having a pervasive effect  on village  affairs.  Presumably one  reason
for  the  popularity  of folk Islam is that its values and beliefs directly impinge  upon  the  individual
villager's daily life. While  the orthodox  great  tradition  of  Islam,  which   is  based  upon complex
legalistic, scriptural  doctrines, is  incomprehensible  to  most   illiterate    rural farmers,  folk  Islam
is  both  directly  appealing  and  tangible.

     The  form  of  Islam  existing  in  Bangkok   is the result  of a continuous  dialectic  or   interplay
between  the  rural  or traditional  patterns  of  Islam   in  Thailand   and  the  novel  influences   in-
troduced  by  an Islamic  reform  movement  during  the  twentieth century AD.  The  development
of  the Islamic reform  movement  in Bangkok was the major  impetus  in  initiating  changes in  the


* University of California at Santa Barbara.

1.Kenneth  P. Landon,   Southeast Asia: Crossroad of  Religions (Chicago,  University  of  Chicago  Press,
1939), pp. 138-139;  George Condominas, "Phiban cults in rural Laos", in William G. Skinner et al., Change
and Persistence in Thai Society (London, Cornell University Press, 1975).

2.Angela  Burr,   "Religious   institutional  diversity—social  structural    and  conceptual  unity:   Islam  and
Buddhism in a southern Thai coastal fishing village",Journal oj the Siam Society,60:183-215,1972; Thomas
Fraser, Rusembilan: a Malay Fishing Village (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1960).

                                                                                   1                                                JSS 68.2 (July 1980)


2                                                                     Raymond  Scupin

form  of  Islam  throughout  Thailand.   The  reformist  movement   which   centered  in  Bangkok
evolved  within  the  context of the 'Islamic renaissance'  which emanated from the  Middle East
and  spread  through much of the Muslim world including insular southeast Asia.  The historical
genesis of the Islamic reformation extends back to the eighteenth century AD  and  the develop-
ment of  Wahhabism  in  Saudi  Arabia.  By  the  nineteenth  century this militant  movement had
amassed an impressive  military  potential  and  succeeded  in  capturing  and 'purifying' Mecca.
This  event  brought  the Wahhabi  movement to  the forefront of the Muslim world. Wahhabism
paved the way for the late nineteenth and early twentieth century reformism associated mainly
with the renowned Salifiyya movement and Muhummad Abduh of Cairo ( 1849-1905). Abduh's
writings  and ideas were a direct source  of  inspiration for  many  of  the urban-based Muslim
intellectuals  of  insular  southeast  Asia.3

      Islamic  reformism  reached  Thailand  directly  from  its  emerging  transplanted   sprouts in
insular  southeast  Asia.  Reformist  ideas  came  to  Bangkok  as  an  indirect  result  of  Dutch
colonial  policy   in   Indonesia.   They  were  brought  to  Bangkok   by  an  Indonesian  political
refugee who had been exiled by the Dutch authorities in the early part of the twentieth century.
His   name was  Ahmad  Wahab  and  his  original  home was Minangkabau in Sumatra. Prior  to
his  immigration  to  Bangkok,   Wahab  had  spent a considerable amount of time in Mecca as a
student. He had become familiar with the  current  religious  thought and practices of the Middle
East,  including  the  postulates  of  Abduh. Upon returning to Indonesia from Mecca he became
involved  with  Islamic  reform  through  various  Muslim associations. After being exiled by  the
Dutch  for  his  anticolonial  political  activities,  he  settled  in  the  area  around  Thanon Tok  in
Bangkok  in  1926.  After  he  had   mastered  the  Thai language, he began teaching  reformist
thought  in  Yanawa and in the Bangkok Noi area of Thon Buri across the river  from   Bangkok.

      The   rapid   urbanization   of   Bangkok   provided   the   social  ingredients  for  the  Islamic
reform movement in Thailand. The expansion of the Thai economy culminated in an increasingly
complex   and  differentiated  urban  milieu.  New  forms  of  educational  patterns  and  steady
improvements  in  communications  brought  about  by  Western  technology,  initially applied in
Bangkok,   produced  an  urban - based  Muslim  intelligentsia.  Thus  Bangkok  was  a  natural
depository  for  the  insemination  of  Islamic  reformist  thought  in  Thailand.  Wahab attracted
many  students  and set up informal study groups. From this base, in the 1930s he  eventually
established the first Islamic reform association in  Thailand,  known  as  'Ansorisunnah'.  Even-
tually this group issued a monthly periodical,  edited  by  Wahab,  and financially supported by
some  members  of  the  Muslim  community  in Thon Buri. Through this monthly journal Wahab
directed  an  active  reformist  campaign.

      Although  Ahmad  Wahab  was  responsible for the introduction of the Middle Eastern and
southeast Asian versions of the Islamic Renaissance to Bangkok, it was through his students


3. Harry Benda,  "Southeast Asian Islam  in  the  twentieth century",  in  P.M. Holt  et  al.,  The  Cambridge
History of Islam
(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1970); Howard M.  Federspiel, Persatuan Islam:
Islamic Reform in Twentieth Century Indonesia,
Modern Indonesia Project,Southeast Asia Program (Ithaca,
Cornell University Press, 1970), pp.11-46; Clifford Geertz,
The Religion of Java (New York City, The Free
Press, 1960),pp. 124-126;Deliar Noer,
The Modernist Muslim Movement in Indonesia 1900-1942(Singapore,
Kuala Lumpur, London, New York City; Oxford University Press, 1973),  pp.  32,76,78,87; W.F. Wertheim,
Indonesian  Society  in  Transition:  a  Study of Social Change (The Hague, W. Van Hoeue Ltd., 1959), pp.


                                                        ISLAMIC REFORMISM IN THAILAND                                3

and followers that these ideas were galvanized and translated into a bona fide religious movement.
One   of   the   individuals   affected   by   Wahab's   teachings  was  Direk   Kulsiriswasd  (Ibrahim
Qureyshi),  a  central  figure   in  contemporary  Muslim  theology  in  Thailand.  Direk  was  born  in
1923   in   Ban   Khrua,   Bangkok,  an   area   once   populated  mainly  by  Cham  Muslims.  Direk's
father  was   a    Pakistani   immigrant,   and    his   mother   was   Thai.   Though   Thai   is   Direk's
native  language,   his   father   taught   him  Urdu,  the  Pakistani  language  partially  derived  from
Persian - Arabic  sources.   This  was  an   unusual   practice   of   Pakistani  Muslims  in  Thailand.
But  the  acquisition  of  Urdu  was  to   become  important  for  Direk's  later  scholastic  and  theo-
logical  activities.   Direk   was   a  businessman  in  Bangkok   throughout  the  post-World  War  II
years  and  the  1950s. In the late 1960s he developed a successful silk-screen printing business,
which  is  presently  located  in Ban Khrua near the Charoenphol area of  Bangkok.

     Direk's  father  had  been  an  acquaintance  of  Ahmad  Wahab,  but  apparently  had not been
influenced  by  reformist  thinking.   Direk  began  to  scrutinize  his  own  faith  at  the  age  of  24.
Having  acquired  Urdu  at  an  early  age,  he  could  learn  Arabic  rather  easily because of their
related  vocabularies.  With  his  knowledge  of  Arabic, Urdu and English, he was able to become
familiar  with  Islamic  exegesis  and  thought   from   the  Middle  East  and  India.   This  exposure
convinced  him  of  the  necessity  for  Islamic  reform  in Thailand. He became an avid spokesman
and  writer,  promulgating  the  same  ideas  that  Wahab  had  introduced  into  Bangkok.  He then
began  to  attend  the  study  sessions  of  Wahab  in  order  to  meet others who were becoming
conversant  in  reformist  ideology.  Because  Thai  was  a  native language for Direk, his writings
and lectures were to have a more profound effect on the development of the reformist movement
than  those  of  Wahab.

       By   1949   Direk   had  completed   his  first  of  many  books  on  Islam,  entitled  Swasdipab
Sangkhom  (or 'Social Welfare'). Throughout  his  career  as  a  businessman, 'he simultaneously
wrote  tracts  on  Islamic  religious  and  cultural  affairs.  He  wrote  treatises  on such topics as
Islamic  marriage  customs,  prohibitions  on  eating  pork,  fasting  during  Ramadan,  the  haj and
Islam  and  science.  More  recently  he  has  written  essays  on  folk  Islam,  the  history of Thai
Muslims  and  the  in fluences  of  Muslim  literary  styles  on  classical  Thai  literature. In addition
to  many periodical  articles, he  completed  a massive, four-volume Thai translation of the Quran.
This achievement,  completed  after  more  than  ten years of effort and personal expenditure of
over  100,000 baht,  represents  the  only full translation of the Quran which is accessible to the
Thai  Muslim  population. As of 1977, this  prolific  writer  had  finished a translation of the hadith
of al-Bukhari. These works represent some of the contributions of the reformist attempt to bring
to  the  Thai  Muslims  an  awareness of the basic foundations of the Islamic faith. Direk became
the  foremost  intellectual  leader  of  the  reformist  movement of the 1950s, 1960s and well into
the  1970s.

      Sociologically,  Islamic  reformism  in  Bangkok progressed from an informal teacher-student
relationship  to  a  more  corporately  organized  movement.  The  initial  proponent  of  reformist
ideology in Bangkok,  Ahmad Wahab,  who ethnically  was outside of a Thai cultural framework
attracted  a   small   local  following  from  Bangkok  Noi  Muslims  in  the  early  1930s.  Informal,
learning  sessions  were  held  in  Wahab's  household for a tightly knit group of young Muslims.
The   Ansorisunnah  was  founded   and  served  as   the  printing  house  for  the  propagation


4                                                               Raymond  Scupin

of  reformist thought through its monthly magazine. As the reform movement gathered strength
throughout  the  1940s  and  1950s,   its  organizational  base  shifted  from  the Ansorisunnah
to   the   'Jam'i-yatul   Islam',     another    voluntary   Muslim   group   in    Bangkok.    The  Jam'i-
yatul  Islam  was  founded  by  some Indo-Pakistani migrants and their descendants residing in
Bangkok.  Jam'i-yatul  Islam  was modelled along  the  lines  of the well-known 'Jama'at-i Islami'
of  the  south  Asian  subcontinent  which  played such an important role in Indo-Pakistani poli-
tics.  Although  originally  Jam'i-yatul  Islam  was  an  ethnic  association,  after  the  1950s the
organization  opened  its  ranks  to  all  Muslims  in  Thailand.   Reformist  leaders  from  varied
ethnic  backgrounds  joined  to  administer  Jam'i-yatul  Islam.  The  present  secretary of Jam'i-
yatul  Islam  is  Direk  Kulsiriswasd.

The  other  reformist  organization  in  Bangkok  is  the  Young  Muslim  Association  of  Thai-
land (YMAT). YMAT  might  be  considered  as  the  younger  generation's  vehicle  for initiating
soical  and  religious  reform,  and  is a direct spin-off of Jam'i-yatul Islam. There are  close and
informal  networks  between  the  leaders  of Jam'i-yatul Islam and YMAT. Most of the  younger
leaders  have  been  inspired by the older members who struggled during the formative  period
of  the  reform  movement.   Presently the meetings and activities of YMAT are centered  at the
Islamic  Centre  and  Foundation  of  Thailand  which  was originally to have  been constructed
as a central mosque in Bangkok. Because of a lack of funding, construction has   fallen behind
schedule and the mosque has not been completed.The Center has become a reformist enclave
in Huamak.  Muslims  from  the  Phrakhanong  and  Huamak  areas attend lectures given by the
young  leaders  of  YMAT  every  Saturday  and  Sunday.  During  holy days YMAT organizes
activities  for  the  Muslims  throughout  the  city.


Reformist ideology in Thailand

     The  Islamic  reform  movement  in  Thailand,  centered  in  Bangkok,  is  a  derivative  of  the
reformist   complex  of   the  Middle  East  and  the  Malayan-Indonesian   region.  The  essential
ideology  which  permeated  these  various  cultural  areas  retained  certain  unifying elements
which  are  important  to  the  Muslims  of  Thailand  in  the 1970s. Reformist  conceptions were
elaborated in order  to deal with certain interrelated problems which were  affecting Muslims in
the Middle East,  as well as  Muslims  throughout  southeast Asia.  The  initial problem besetting
Muslims,  as conceived by the reformists,  was that Islam  had  become  decadent.   Muslims in
Thailand and throughout the world were in a state of backwardness in comparison with  those
from Western European countries.  This  condition  was  a  result  of genuine ignorance  of the
true spirit  of  Islam  and  a  consequent weakening of social, moral and intellectual will.  It was
held that the spiritual principles of Islam had been corrupted by degrading customs which  had
become institutionalized because of the complacency of the traditional ulama (Islamic scholars


                                               ISLAMAIC  REFORMISM  IN  THAILAND                                    5

and official theologians).   The solution  for this  problem,  as proposed by the reformists,  was
to return to  the simple teachings  of the Quran and
hadith,  a basis for which all Muslims could

     In  Thailand  the  most  visible  aspect of this Islamic decadence or backwardness was folk
Islam  as  it  existed in  the  rural  communities,   and other non-Islamic practices and teachings
within  the  Muslim  communities  of  Bangkok.    The  Thai   reformers  held  that  this  state  of
affairs  was  due to a lack of comprehension of the genuine tenets of Islam. Folk Islam was of
dramatic  concern  to  these  Thai  Muslim reformists, not only because of the indigenous spirit-
ualism which surfaced during ritual practices,but also because of the intermingling of elements
from  the  other  great  traditions,   namely   Buddhism   and   Hinduism.   As  more  Thai Muslim
intellectuals  were  exposed  to  reformism,  their  tolerance  for  folk  Islam  diminished  greatly.
They  suggested  that Islam  had become decadent or corrupted in Thailand simply because of
its  distance  from  the  spiritual center of Islam, the Middle East. It was assumed by these Thai
Muslim  reformists  that  as  more  Muslims  learned  more  about  orthoprax  Islam,  they would
be  more  likely  to  reject  the  accretions  from  'other  great  traditions  and folk elements. This
assumption  implied  that  the  transformative  effect  of  Islamization was a continuing, unilineal
process which proceeded in stages. There was a gradual religious evolution from folk to great
orthodox  traditions  which  was  directed  by  the  education  of Thai Muslims as to what was
considered  the  true  principles  of  Islam.

     Another  related  problem  perceived  by  the  Thai  Muslim  reformists  was the question  of
taqlid.   Taqlid  was  an  established  pattern  of  education among Muslims for centuries  which
involved  the  acceptance  of  belief  on  the  authority  of  others without question or  objection.
Taqlid  was  a  traditional  approach  to  interpreting  the Quran and hadith which  rested on the
claim  that  only  the  early  generations  of  Muslims  had  had  the  capacity  to  interpret  Islam.
The reformists viewed this attitude of religious conservatism as an obstacle to  their  endeavor
to  purify  Islam   of   non-Islamic   practices  and   attitudes.  They  maintained  that  taqlid  was
responsible for the endurance of folk practices and other elements or innovations accepted by
many  Thai  Muslims.

     The  Thai  reformers  argued  that  beliefs  based  on  an  uncritical   acceptance  of  textual
sources or traditional religious authorities, were wrong because  the only sources for  religious
beliefs  and  practices  were  the  Quran  and  authentic  hadith.  They contended  that  Muslims
should  strive  to  attain  truth  by  utilizing  akal (reasoning), a  process known as ijtihad.  Ijtihad
involved  discovering  the  legal  and  religious prescriptions  laid down in the Quran and  hadith
and, through reason,  applying  them to the contemporary  Thai social and political  environment.
The purification of religion, the rejection of taqlid and the acceptance  of ijtihad were conceived
to be among the first stages toward releasing Muslims  from ignorance and   rediscovering  the
true principles of Islam which in  the past  had  uplifted  Muslims  throughout the world.  Wahab,
Direk  and  other  Thai  reformists  could  not  countenance  the accumulation of illegitimate  non-
Islamic beliefs and practices as upheld by practitioners  in  the  Muslim communities of Thailand.
Beliefs in the Thai phii or Malay spirits by Muslims were objectionable because  they  amounted
to  shirk  (syntheism, or  the  ascribing  of  powers  of  God  to  things  or others than God). As
the  reform  movement  spread in Thailand the reformists began to view themselves as a select


6                                                                Raymond  Scupin

minority  who  were  faced with the task of  upholding the true doctrine against superstition  and
'pagan'  traditional  rites.

     Another  concern  of  the  Thai  reformists  was the relationship between religion,  the  Quran
and  modern  scientific  practices.  They  maintained,  as  did   the  Middle  Eastern  and  Malayan-
Indonesian  reformers,  that  there  is  essentially  no conflict  between science and religion, that
both are based upon reason, and both to a certain extent study the  same phenomena, but each
with  its  own  object  in  view.  Thai  Muslim  reformists  applied   this  ideological  perspective in
their  attempt  to  deal  with  the traditional, supernatural or anti-scientific  concepts  which were
deemed  non-Islamic.  Their  position  is  that  the  fundamentals within the  Quran are in no way
opposed  to  modern  scientific  or  medical  practices,  and  tha t in many cases   the Quran and
hadith must be comprehended as in fact revealing modern scientific principles.

     Other more specific issues which concerned the Thai reformists involved  religious practices
and  rituals  which  were  observed  in  the Thai Muslim communities. 'Hagiolotry',  spirit worship,
the  use  of  traditional  spirit  doctors,  and  rurally  oriented  death  practices  were  matters  of
concern.  The  practices  of  returned  pilgrims  or  hajji,  traditional  feasting  activities,  methods
for  determining  the  time  of  Ramadan,  certain  types of prayers, the use of religious   imagery
and  the  use  of  the  Arabic language were other areas in which  the reformists hoped to have
some educational influence. In a  more mundane  context  the  Thai  Muslim  reformists  hoped to
challenge  the  traditional  ulama and compete for certain bureaucratic posts dealing with Islamic
affairs  within  the  Thai   government.   In  this  way  they  proposed  to  develop  an  innovative
religious-bureaucratic  structure  which  would  be  responsive  to  the  demands  of the Muslim
population  in  Thailand.


Traditionalist reaction

     In  1935  the  first  polemical  attack  directed  at  Muslim  reformist  ideology  was published in
Bangkok.  This  tract  was  entitled  Rua  sunni  siam   ('The  Sunni  School  of  Thought of Siam'),
written   by   Hajji   Tuan   Suwannasat   (or  Tuan  Yah  Yawi).    This  publication  signified  the
actualities  of  the  split  which   was   taking  place  within  the  Islamic  community  in  Bangkok.
From  this  point  onward  there  were to be two major camps representing Muslim ideology and
practices  in  Bangkok.   And  from  Bangkok  the  schism  would  ultimately  reach  out  into  the
adjacent  provinces  in  central,   southern  and  northern  Thailand. The major theme articulated
in  Rua  sunni  siam  involved  the  notion  of  taqlid  and thei nterpretation of the Islamic religious
texts. The conservative ulama  of  Bangkok  opposed  the  use  of  ijtihad in the interpretation of
the  Quran  or  other  Islamic  literature.  It  was  argued that the truths established by the ulama
could  not  be  questioned  or  reexamined,  for  this  could  lead  to  misinterpretation  and error.
An adjunct to this thinking as expressed in Rua sunni siam  is that only the established religious
scholars, the so-called lmujtahids' were able to confirm the  correct interpretation of the sacred
texts.  The  Rua  sunni  siam  did  not  specify  Ahmad  Wahab  or  any  reformists  directly, but
it was obvious that the arguments marshalled by Tuan Suwannasat were definitely directed at
the  reform  movement.


                                                   ISLAMIC  REFORMISM  IN THAILAND                                       7

The  conservative  ulama  defended  many of  the traditional practices  which were viewed
as  heterodox  by  the  reformists.  They  argued  that  many  of these practices  were valid in a
southeast  Asian  context  and  felt that they were harmless to the cause of  Islam. For example
they  maintained  that  the  traditional  feasting  activity (known in Thailand by  the Buddhist term
tham bun)  was  a  well  institutionalized  custom  throughout  the  Malaysian-Indonesian Islamic
world.  And  they  believed  that  these tham bun ceremonies served  an important religious and
social  function  in  integrating  the  Muslim  community  in  Thailand.

     In   general   the   traditional  authorities  or   hajji  of  the  Thai  Muslim  communities  objected
to  the  'modernizing'  trends  of  the  reformists.   They opposed Direk's translation of the Quran
and  proscribed  the  use  of  it  by  Thai  Muslims.  They categorized Direk as an extreme liberal
and  rationalist  who  was  not  really  under  the  'Word'.   In  other  words  they implied that his
translation  was  too free in dealing with the meanings in  the Quran and that his real exegetical
methods  were  based  on  modernist  reasoning  rather  than  the literal 'Word' of God. The con-
servative  ulama  viewed scientific trends as suspect. One  aspect of their reasoning was that
the   acceptance  of   modern  scientific   thought  from  the  West,   once  acomplished,  would
inevitably  lead  to  materialism  and  secularism.   By  adopting scientific notions Muslims would
become  apostates.  Western  civilization  and culture  would  have an eroding effect on Islamic
thought  and  institutions  in  Thailand.  These  traditionalists   regarded  science  as  isomorphic
with  Western  ethics  and  values.

     To some extent,  because of the  reform movement and  its  consequences, Islam  in Thailand
appears  on  the surface  as  two  distinctly  opposed  forms of thought  and action. In Indonesia,
Geertz had popularized the typologies of santri and abangan to refer to the differences between
the urban reformers and the traditionalists.4The santri were those Muslims who were influenced
by the reformist doctrinal winds from the  Middle  East,  while the abangan were those Javanese
who  adhered  to  a  syncretic  blend  of  pre - Islamic  traditions  and  Islam.  In  the  literature  on
Thai  Muslims,  Burr  in  her  study  of   Muuthiinyng,  a  village  near  Songkhla,  urban - educated
Muslim  reformists  were  referred  to  as  'Wahhabis'.5  This socioreligious category is also used
in  the same way  in Bangkok.  The  traditionalists  in  Muuthiinyng  called  themselves  phuak  kau
('old group').  In  Soonthornpasuch's  work  on  Chiang  Mai  Muslims, he noted that the reformists
were designated as phuak mai ('new group') as opposed to phuak kau.6 

     But   in   Bangkok   the   labels   utilized   most   by   both   traditionalist   Muslim   and  reformist
Muslim   alike,   are  khana  kau  and  khana   mai.   Khana  translates   roughly  as  'group',  'body',
'organization'  or  'team';  while  kau  means  'old'  and  mai  is 'new'  or  'recent'.  Thus  khana kau-
khana  mai  represents  the  heterodox - traditionalist  versus  the  orthodox reformist  ideological
patterns in the Thai Muslim communities. It must be emphasized,  however, that this  dichotomous
formula  cannot  be  used  as  anything  more  than  an analytical mode in assessing the religious
and cultural heritage of Islam in Thailand.  And  even  though  such conceptual modes have some
basis  in  the  empirical  Thai  world,   most  Thai  Muslims  do  not  consistently  identify  with  the

4.Geertz, ibid., pp. 11-215.

5.Burr, op. cit., pp. 195.

6.Suthep Soonthornpasuch,"Islamic identity in Chiengmai City:a historical and structural comparison
of two communities", unpubl. diss, in anthrop., University of California at Berkeley, 1977, p. 164.


8                                                                    Raymond  Scupin

conceptual   framework   of  any  one  of  the  ideal  modes.  Rather,  the  majority  of  Muslims  in
Bangkok  fall   in  between  somewhere  being  influenced  by  both  
khana  kau  and   khana  mai
elements.  The  extremist  positions  are  only  tendencies,  and  are  a  reflection  of  the  kind  of
information  gained  from  those  in formants  who  are  able  to  articulate   their  religious  beliefs
and  actions  in  a  comprehensible  fashion.

     A   related   problem   associated   with   the  strict  application  of  these   ideal  types  of  folk
heterodox / reformist   orthodox  is  the  general  assumption  held  by  most  anthropologists that
these  'pure'  types  exist  in well-demarcated  geographical zones, viz. rural/urban. This assump-
tion  is  linked  to  the  folk-urban  schematics  stemming  from  Redfield,  Singer  et  al. According
to  these  folk - urban  theorists,  there  is  a  continuum  between the rural-folk 'little tradition' and
the  urban -orthodox  great  tradition.  Urban  religiosity  is  conceived  to  be  closer  to  the  pure
literary  tradition,  while  the  rural  little  tradition  tends  to  be syncretistic and adulterated. There
is  a  tendency to view these structurally opposed models as if they were isolable and existed in
a  vacuum.  The  problem   with  this  formulation  is  that there is a demonstrable interrelationship
between  these  models  which  cannot  be  overlooked.  For  in Bangkok, a very urbanized area,
the  essential  character  of  Islam  is  a  consequence of the dialectical relationship between the
traditionalist  and   reformist  modes  of  thought  and  action.  These  heuristic  devices  used  to
analyze  religious  systems  ought  not  to  be  confused  with  religion  at  the 'grass-roots' level.

     The religious conflict  between  the khana  mai  and  khana  kau  resulted  in  both  direct  and
indirect,  abrupt   and   subtle,  transformations  in  the  form  and   content  of  Islam  in  Thailand.
Through  the  endeavors   of  the  khana  mai  and  their  reformist  critique,  many  Thai  Muslims
have  a  deeper  understanding  of  Sunni  doctrine  and  practice.7 This is due to factors like the
khana  mai  sponsorship  of  the  Friday  sermon  being  given  in  the  vernacular,  rather than in
Arabic,  a  language  which  is  foreign  to most Thais. It is also a result of the translation efforts
and  scholarship  of  Direk  Kulsiriswasd  who  translated  the  Quran  and  other  religious texts
into  Thai.  Though  the  khana  kau  oppose  the   translation  on  theological  grounds,  it  is  the
most  widely  used  source  of  the Quran in Thailand (with the exception of the Malay-speaking
provinces in the kingdom).  Other  notable  successes  of  the khana mai involved the elimination
of  some  of  the  folk  practices  and  beliefs that had become acceptable aspects of Islam. The
urban reformists  were  the  cultural brokers who were attempting to reconcile the basic tenets
of  Islam  with  certain modern socio-economic transformations in Thailand.

     Yet  there  are some  areas  that have been a fecund source of contention  among the khana
kau  and  khana  mai  which  have  not  undergone   any  dramatic  transformations. Though  the
khana  kau  have  accommodated themselves to some elements  of the modernization processes
in  Thailand  since  the  beginning  of  the  Bangkok era, they still  cling tenaciously to some of the
beliefs  and  practices  that  are  considered heterodox by the reformists. Certain death customs,
feasting practices (tham bun), the use of religious imagery and types of prayers are some of the
areas  where  traditionalism  still has precedence over the form of Islam in Bangkok and Thailand.
Even  these  practices,  however,  are  under  the  pressure  of  criticism because of the steady


7.There is a small Shia minority located in Bangkok referred to by Thai Muslims as 'chao sayri'. This
minority  community is located in Thon Buri,  and their principal  mosque is Charoenphol Masjid. See R.
Scupin,"Thai Muslims in Bangkok:Islam and modernization in a Buddhist society",unpubl.diss,inanthrop.,
University of California at Santa Barbara, 1978. 


                                                             ISLAMIC REFORMISM IN THAILAND                                     9

growth  of  the  reform  movement  throughout  Thailand. Consequently  there  are  subtle,ongoing
changes  in  these  traditional  rituals  andb beliefs  that tend to keep Islam in Thailand in a state of
transition.   In  reality  static  traditionalism  is  not  a  viable  stance  in  a  post - traditional  society
such  as  Thailand.  Unremunerative  ritual  practices  will  not  be  condoned  for  long   by  those
Muslims  exposed  to  the  contemporary  educational,  social  and  religious  trends  of  twentieth-
century   Bangkok.

      The  major  sociological  contrast  between  the khana kau conservative ulama and the khana
mai  reformist  is  that  the  former  have  been  educated  within  the traditional Islamic schools in
Thailand,  while  the  latter  have  been   exposed  to  outside  influences.  The  traditional  Islamic
schools  in  Bangkok  and  the  countryside  have  produced the leadership in the rural and urban
areas. These  leaders  monopolize  most  of  the  important bureaucratic posts in the Thai govern-
ment  dealing  with  Islamic  affairs.8   From   this   organizational  base  the  conservative  ulama
exercise   a   profound   influence   on   the   form   of   Islam   in  Thailand.  This  institutionalized
authority  structure  has  a  captive  audience. The reformists, for the most part, function outside
of  this  institutionalized  context  and  appeal  largely  to  an  educated,   emergent  middle  class
of  Thai  Muslims.  This  creative  minority  has  had  a  minimal  impact on the vast majority of the
Muslim  populace,  especially  in  the  rural  areas.

      Assuming   that   Thailand   as   a  nation  continues  to  develop  economically  and  socially
along  similar  lines  as  in  the  immediate  past,  an increasing percentage of the population will
become  literate  and  educated.   This  population  will  include  Thai  Muslims  who  will  be  ac-
quainted  with  the  innovative  ideas  associated  with  the  processes  of modernization. They
will  also  undoubtedly  become  more  familiar  with  reformist  thought in Thailand. Some of the
younger  generation  will  go  abroad  to  study  at Al-Azhar or  in other Middle Eastern universi-
ties. Consequently,  as  more  Muslims  become  familiar  with  the  idiom  of  reformist  ideology,
the  movement  is  bound  to  grow.  In  doing  so,  the  Islamic  renaissance will inevitably have
profound implications for the  form and content of Muslim thought and ritual in Thailand. 



      In  1976  Thailand  had   a  population  of   approximately   42  million.   According  to  official
government  statistics  95.3 per  cent  of  this  population was  Buddhists, 3.8 per cent  Muslims,
0.6 per  cent  Christians,  and 0.3 per  cent  of  other  faiths.9 Usually scholars and government
officials   in  Thailand   'classify  the  Thai  Muslim  population  in  two  separate  categories:  the
Malays  and  non-Malays.10  This linguistic anomaly  is a result of the peculiar cultural and histor-


8. Tuan Suwannasat, the khana kau leader who was the author of Rua sunni siam, is presently the
Chularajmontri  in Thailand.  The Chularajmontri is the highest-ranking Muslim position within the Thai
bureaucracy.  This  bureaucratic  post  has  historical  precedents extending back to the Ayudhyan 

period.See  R. Scupin, ibid., ch. 5.

9. Thai Government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islam in Thailand (Bangkok, 1976).

10. Nantawan   Haemindra, "The  problems  of  the  Thai  Muslims  in  the  four  southern provinces of
Thailand (Part One)",
Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 7(2),1976; Somkid Maniwong,"Thai Muslims",
Social Science Review, 1(3), Bangkok (in Thai), 1964; Suthep Soonthornpasuch, op. cit.


10                                                               Raymond  Scupin

ical  situation  of  the  Muslims  in  Thailand.   Islam  first  came  to  the  merchant  princedoms  of
Indonesia   and   Malaysia  during   the   thirteenth  century  AD.   Ethnohistorical  data  indicated
that  'Islamization'  of  this  area  was  a  gradual  process  encompassing  several  centuries. In
conjunction  with  this  general  process  the  political  entity  known  presently as Thailand was
expanding  southward  into  the  Malay  cultural  area.   Historical  tributary  Malay  states  were
progressively  transformed   into  provinces  dependent  upon  and  incorporated  into  the  Thai
polity.   The   Muslim  population  residing  in  these  provinces  has  retained  its  Malay  cultural
heritage,  and  has  resisted  Thai  governmental  attempts   at  assimilation.   Consequently  the
residents  of  these provinces are referred to as the 'Malay' Thai Muslims.

      The  non-Malay  Thai  Muslims  are  those  Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Chams, Indonesians,
Chinese  and  Malay  Muslims  and their descendants who live in areas in which Thai Buddhists
are  the  majority.  The  majority  of  these  Muslims are descendants of Malay prisoners-of-war,
or  other  migrants,  who  now  reside outside  of  the four southernmost provinces of Thailand.
But these  Muslims  are  legitimately  referred  to  as  Thai  Muslims,  for  their native language is
Thai,  and  for  all  practical  purposes  most  of  these  Muslims  have  been assimilated into the
mainstream  of  Thai  culture.  The economic, educational, social, political and cultural conditions
were   conducive   to   the   'Thaification'  of  these  Muslims.  Apparently  in  northern  Thailand
traditional   patterns  of   ethnicity  are  still   evident,  but  in  central   Thailand  and  in  Bangkok
nniform,   institutionalized  socialization processes and intermarriage have had a leveling effect
on  all  vestiges  of  traditional  ethnicity.11 Hence  the  social  structural and cultural (outside of
religion) features  exhibited  by  these  Muslims  are  essentially  the  same as those of the dom-
inant  Thai  Buddhist  population.

      In  Bangkok  the  non - Malay  Thai  Muslims  make  up  from  about  6 to 8  per  cent  of  the
entire  population  of  about  4  million.   Historically  these  Muslims   resided  in  compact  homo-
geneous  'ethnic'  neighborhoods.  But  during  the  twentieth  century  the  diverse geographic
and  social  mobility patterns connected with complex urbanization processes have resulted in
the  dissolution  of these  ethnic enclaves. The only exception to this generalized pattern is the
northeast  edge  of  Bangkok  which  extends  from Phrakhanong in the south to Bangkapi and
out  into  the  countryside  to  Minburi.  Within  this  area  there  are  distinctive Muslim neighbor-
hoods  which  lie  interposed  between  the  dominant  Thai  Buddhist  settlements.   According
to  the  official  census  of 1970, the Muslim population of Bangkok consisted of 74, 532  males
and 75,836 females.These figures are questioned by several Muslim associations and leaders
in   Bangkok.  Considering   fertility  rates,  urban   in   and   out - migration,  and  estimates  of
Muslim  associations,  the  present  population of  Muslims in Bangkok appears to be between
200,000  and  230,000.


11.For the Muslims of northern Thailand, see Suthep Soonthompasuch, op.cit.


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