In Cambodia: The Muslim Minority
September 19, 2007
Only 2-3% of Cambodia’s population is Muslim, but on the streets of Phnom Penh and its village suburbs, Muslims’ colorful veils and sarongs are a common sight. Historically, Muslims and the majority Buddhist Khmer population have enjoyed peaceful relations: the King has traditionally funded pilgrimages to Mecca for selected Muslims, and Muslims have served as advisors in the royal court and as government ministers. Since the events of September 11, 2001, though, there appears to have been more scrutiny of the Muslim community in Cambodia for signs of radicalization.
This trend may have been catalyzed by the fact that for six months around 2002-2003, Jemaah Islamiyah leader, Hambali, hid in Phnom Penh, geographically linking Cambodia to Islamic extremism. Although there is no evidence that Hambali was sheltered by the Cambodian Muslim community, the Cambodian government has since cracked down against perceived instances of extremism taking root on Cambodian soil. For example, in May 2004, Cambodian police raided and closed down a Middle-East-funded Islamic school named Umm Al-Qura near Phnom Penh. An Egyptian and two Thai teachers were deported; later in 2004, 28 foreign Muslim teachers were also deported by the Cambodian government
There have been credible reports that international charities are promoting radicalization by encouraging extreme theological interpretations of the Koran among the Cambodian Muslim population, and discouraging participation in mainstream Cambodian society, including voting at elections. Following decades of civil war and foreign occupation, Cambodia was destitute in the early 1990s. Since then, Cambodia has enjoyed peace, economic growth, and relative political stability. Several elections have been held, and have been adjudged as broadly free and fair. Discouraging the Muslim population to vote is an unhealthy development that may corrode the relative harmony of Cambodian society of the past decade and sow discord among religious groups.
Growing exclusivist tendencies could discourage Cambodia’s Muslims from participating in civic life. Muslim women, in particular, are being urged and sometimes forced to limit their interactions outside the home; some may be prevented from exercising their right to vote. This is an unwelcome development, as elections and civic participation are crucial moments in Cambodia’s civic development. As a minority group, Muslims should preserve their stake in Cambodian society through robust civic engagement and participation, not by isolating themselves.
Roderick Brazier is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Cambodia.
About our blog, InAsiaInAsia is a weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia\’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of over 70 renowned experts in over 20 countries, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.
InAsia is posted and distributed every Wednesday evening, Pacific Time and is accessible via email and RSS. If you have any questions, please send an email to email@example.com.
ContactFor questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223
HIGHLIGHTS ACROSS ASIA
Asia's free library for children