Articulations of Southeast Asian Religious Modernisms: Islam in Early 20th Century Cambodia & Cochinchina

William B. Noseworthy

[ Abstract ]

This article is about the emergence of Islamic modernism among Cham Muslim communities in Cambodia and Cochinchina during the early 20th century. Based on a combined critical reading of existing scholarship, historicized first-hand anthropological accounts, as well as archival sources from the National Archives of Cambodia and the Vietnam National Archives II, it argues accounts of modernists in these sources were either (1) cast through a French colonial reading of a Buddhist state lens and (2) cast through a Malay lens, based upon the Kaum Muda/Kaum Tua divide. First, it proceeds with a historical explanation of the emergence of Islam and the discourse used to describe Muslim communities in Vietnamese, French, and Cham language sources. Then, it turns the narrative toward an examination of the emergence of the “Kaum Muda” or “New Group” of reformist-minded modernist Muslims in early 20th century Cambodia. Delineating the networks of these intellectuals as they stretched across the border through Cochinchina, also highlights a pre-existing transnational element to the community, one that well predates current discussions of twenty-first-century transnationalism. Through a combination of the study of multiple language sources and historical methods, the article highlights the importance of polylingualism in the study of the history of Muslims in Southeast Asia.

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The long tragedy of Cham history


Cham people photographed during the period of the French Protectorate . The traditional warfare pattern in South East Asia generally aimed at conquering and dominating sparse populations


The Khmer empire, from the ninth to the 15th century, obviously didn’t develop in isolation. But, looking at the map of Southeast Asia from a historical point of view, it’s nevertheless clear  that this political construction benefited from an unprecedented geopolitical quietness, at least until the 13th century.

The Vietnamese hadn’t even begun their march to the south, and the Thai state was  made up of embryonic chieftainships.

Yet the exception that proved the rule occurred. In the year 1177, guided by a Chinese deserter, the Cham fleet sailed the Mekong river upstream and from Phnom Penh, the Tonle Sap. They took Angkor by urprise, plundering and destroying the town. Continue reading

Cham Muslims of the Mekong Delta: Place and Mobility in the Cosmopolitan Periphery

9789971693619_1024x1024This book provides an account of the vigorous survival of an Islamic community in the strife-torn borderlands of the lower Mekong delta and its creative accommodation to the modernising reforms of the Vietnamese government. Officially regarded as one of Vietnam’s national minority groups, the multilingual Cham are part of a cosmopolitan, transnational community, and as traders, pilgrims and labour migrants are found throughout mainland Southeast Asia and beyond. Drawing on local and extra-local networks developed during a long history that includes many migrations, the Cham counter their political and economic marginalisation in modern Vietnam by a strategic use of place and mobility, with Islam serving as a unifying focus.

This highly readable ethnographic study describes the settlement history and origin narratives of the Cham Muslims of the Mekong delta, and explains their religious practices, material life and relationship with the state in Vietnam and Cambodia. It offers original insights into religious and ethnic differentiation in the Mekong delta that will enrich comparative study of culturally pluralist societies, and contributes significantly to the study of Islam, cosmopolitanism, trade, rural development and resistance and the Malay diaspora.

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Bản dịch tiếng Việt: Châu Đốc Muslims (Vietnam) faced with Salafism

Bản dịch của ông Ngụy Văn Nhuận (Pháp) và ông Ysa Cosiem (Mỹ) 


img-1Tại vùng đồng bằng sông Cửu Long, bao quanh thị xả Châu đốc, Tỉnh An Giang (Việt nam), cộng đồng người Muslim kháng cự lại với những mưu toan thanh khiết hoá Islam bị áp đặt bởi tác động của thuyết Salajiyah. Từ 30 năm qua, những nhà cải cách từ các trường đại học Islam Trung Đông muốn hủy bỏ di sản văn hóa Islam không đúng với các nguồn thành văn của tôn giáo. Các làng xã chia rẽ nhau, các mối bất hoà đã nổ ra trong các gia đình, ghi dấu ấn sâu xa trong cộng đồng. Ngày nay, việc các lễ thức như tưởng niệm ngày sanh củaThiên sứ và cúng kiến các thánh nhân Muslim, bị Islam Salafiyah lên án, đang lan rộng. Chánh sách của Việt Nam kíểm soát và đóng khung việc hành đạo đã góp phần vào việc giới hạn ảnh hưởng của thuyết Salafiyah. Sự quay đầu trở lại với một mưu toan cải cách bất thành của người Muslim Việt Nam. Continue reading

What is it like to be Muslim in Thailand? A case study of Thailand through Muslim professionals’ perspectives

Songsiri Putthongchai


2004_08_thailand-3This dissertation expands the body of research available on the Muslim minority in Thailand, particularly in regard to conflicts in the Lower South. Working within the framework of moderate multiculturalism and secularism, the dissertation seeks to understand how Muslim professionals see the relationship between Islamic representative bodies and the Thai state, the roles of Islamic institutions and their religious conduct in relation to wider Thai society. The fieldwork conducted in 2008 and 2009 shows similarities and differences between Muslim professionals inside and outside of the Lower South in relation to these issues. In general, Muslim professionals support national integration and multiculturalism. In the Lower South in particular, they support national integration on the condition that it supports Muslim identity. Most interviewees believe that Islamic representative bodies play integrative roles. However, this is not seen as beneficial to the Muslim community and improvements are widely desired. Where the government and the representative bodies have not been able to resolve the unrest in the Lower South, local civil society organizations have taken an active peace-making role, with the aim of promoting Muslim identity under the Thai Constitution. This dissertation also examines attitudes to mosques and Islamic education through interviewees’ perspectives. The research shows that Muslim professionals expect mosques to perform a community-based role. More specifically, interviewees in the Lower South suggested cooperation between local administrative organizations and mosque committees, whereas those based elsewhere in Thailand recommended that mosques should provide social services inclusive to non-Muslim society. Continue reading

The Cham Muslims of Cambodia: Defining Islam Today and the Validity of the Discourse of Syncretism

Allen Stoddard

Masjid Al Jamee Al Islamee 4On a recent visit to Cambodia, I had an insightful interaction with the current mufti of Cambodia, Sos Kamry. As I explained to him my research interests, we spoke for some time about the history of the Cham Muslims and Islam in Cambodia. He spoke briefly about the history and culture of the Cham people, focusing primarily on the great struggle their community has undergone during the last three decades, trying to recover from the great suffering endured during the time of the Khmer Rouge.  Continue reading