Muslim Accommodation in Thai Society

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Journal of Islamic Studies


Theravada Buddhism, along with other early Brahmanic and animist spiritual practices, is accepted by about 95 per cent of the approximately 62 million citizens of Thailand. Muslims comprise the largest religious minority in Thailand, approximately 6 per cent of the population. About 4 million Thai citizens profess the Islamic faith and maintain over 2,700 mosques. The Muslims in Thailand comprise two broad self-defined categories consisting of 'Malay Muslims', who speak the Malay language and reside primarily in south Thailand in a number of provinces bordering on Malaysia, and 'Thai Muslims' or Thai Isalam, who reside in central and north Thailand. The Malay Muslims of south Thailand make up over 70 per cent of the population in that region. In contrast, the Thai Muslims of central and north Thailand reside as smaller ethnic and religious minorities in those regions. Historically, the Muslims of south Thailand resided in a cultural region imbued with a Malay-Indonesian Islamic political and religious cultural ethos, whereas the Muslims of central and north Thailand have been influenced by the political-religious culture of Brahmanic, animist, and Theravada Buddhist traditions. Recently, however, because of the administrative practices and policies of the Thai state during the twentieth century, all Muslims in Thailand have been greatly affected by the dominant Buddhist-Brahmanic-animist political and religious culture. This essay will focus on how Muslims in Thailand have accommodated to the dominant political culture that has circumscribed the Islamic beliefs and practices in this South-East Asian country.

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