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Young Cham Muslims Try to Save Their Culture

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Download  In the holy Islamic fasting month, young Cambodian Muslim leaders are meeting to find ways to preserve their cultural heritage.

In Cambodia, Muslims make up just seven percent of the countries 14 million people.

They are known as Cham people and are remnants of the Kingdom of Champa.

Khortieth Him in Phnom Penh reports.


This is a rare event in Cambodia.

One hundred young Cham Muslim leaders are gathered at a five star hotel for a meeting to discuss how to preserve their culture.

Nazy Sles, the Secretary-General of the Cambodian Muslim Community Development Organization is responsible for the meeting.

“We have a few challenges. One I can say is that the young generation seems frustrated with Muslim leaders. The second one is about Cham culture; especially for the younger generation who live in the city centre. They can not speak Cham language and they don’t know about their own Cham culture. And another one is Confidence or Trust that our younger generation don’t have - trust for feeling confident with one group to another, so confidence is still a challenge.”

27-year-old Azizah can speak a little of the Cham language but she is unique.

“Some people cannot speak Cham; even though they are Muslim, they are Cham and one more thing is that they don’t have enough confidence to tell others that they are Cham because they are not proud to be Cham.”

Cham Muslims says they are often discriminated against by mainstream Khmer people.

Due to the  misconception that Muslims are terrorists, Cham Cambodians say if they reveal their ethnicity they find it difficult to do business, get a job, or make friends.

Meeting organiser, Nazy Sles, says discrimination means that the young are not proud of their culture.

“I my self and our friends want to eliminate this discrimination by trying to promote our Cham people, I mean that we have to make people know who are Cham and what they are doing in Cambodia and we try to eliminate the misunderstanding. The problem is they don’t understand clearly, that is why they still discriminate against us.”

In Cambodia, Muslims make up just seven percent of the country’s 14 million people. The majority of the people are Khmer Buddhists.

Some Cham Muslims hide their ID card so as not to face discrimination.

Cham culture, like most things, was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime that was against religion.

35 year old Shakirin, who works as a legal officer at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, says it’s up to the young generation to bring it back.

“Sure we need to preserve our existing culture. We need to keep what we have. To preserve the culture I think that is important.  After the Pol Pot regime, everything is gone, so we need to have a paper on that so we need to do research in order to show that Cham has its own culture and this culture is still existing, but we need to prove it by what they are implementing before and now and also by something in writing.”

Some think it’s too late.

Abdul Halim is another Cham Muslim leader from the province of Kampot.

“For me I think that Cham culture is not so easy to protect, I mean we cannot protect it in the long term because working at an NGO, company or even government they don’t speak Cham, they speak only English. For the reading and writing, it is difficult now because Cham do not have their own alphabet like A B C, just only speaking. Yes sure, I really want to protect it.”

Ahmad Yahya, the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Social Affairs, accepts the criticism.

He says his generation has done little to preserve the Cham culture and pass it on to the next generation.

But he is more optimistic about the current generation.

“This is very good. This is the first time and I think that the potential is there and everyone want to supports, to offer something. I believe that in the next 50 years we will be very successful. We hope to have a bank, investment and so on. Every thing that other people have, our Cham people should also have it.”

Back to the meeting, the young Muslim leader, Shakirin, explains what they have agreed on.

“Everybody agrees that we need to continue to develop education, to promote agricultural activities and business development from the family business, the last one we think important as well is healthcare, we need to provide health care for them.”

Right now Cham Muslims like Nazy are busy celebrating the holy fasting month of Ramadhan.

“Around me, my friends and others feel happy because they get a job, they get a good income. They also do a lot of good deeds for the poor, so I feel very happy with Ramadhan. Yes, it is their own custom, especially for those who live in rural villages or the big Cham community. They are preparing some kind of party or Jamuwan to greet Ramadhan and they get ready to buy food and decorate their houses.”


Vocabularies :

1) remnants : orang yang tersisa

2) mainstream : aliran/arus umum

3) preserve : melestarikan

4) misconception : kesalahpahaman

5) cultural heritage  : warisan budaya

6) fasting month : bulan puasa

7) Khmer Rouge : Khmer Merah

8) deeds : amal

Questions :

1) What is the name of the Muslim ethnic group in  Cambodia?
2) Where did they gather recently and  how many people  came? 
3) Why do they want to preserve their culture ?
4) How was their culture destroyed?
5) What were some of the responses of the young people in the meeting?

Last Updated ( Monday, 23 August 2010 18:31 )  

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