After the June 2012 bloody incidents in the Rakhine State of Burma (Myanmar), millions of Muslims from all over the world paid attention to their prosecuted fellows, the Rohingya. But, have you ever heard about the Cham Muslims? It might be a surprise to know that they are not located far away from the Rohingyas, actually they also live in Southeast Asia just to the east of Burma. But they are more neglected than their Rohingya counterparts and their story is sadly harsher.
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In the farthest southeast of mainland Asia lies the native motherland of an indigenous ethnic group of Muslims called Cham. Islam was first introduced to Chams by Muslim sailors and merchants through trade from South Asia. According to archaeologists, the first Islamic graveyards in the Kingdom of Champa date back to the 11th century, while Cham kings, royals, and monarchs started to embrace Islam between 1400s and the 17th century. Unlike Rohingya, Chams are not an ethnic Muslim minority, but they have their own country that is occupied by Vietnam and Cambodia, and they are subjected to systematic displacement from their homeland just like Palestinians.
Both Rohingya and Cham used to suffer a number of bloody massacres and genocides, yet the condition of the Cham people is different from the Rohingyas and much closer to the Palestinians in several senses.
Just Like Palestine
|Cham Muslims have their own country which is occupied by Vietnam and Cambodia … they are subjected to systematic displacement from their homeland, just like Palestinians.|
The Kingdom of Champa is just like Palestine, it has an old history of independent and indigenous existence. It initially originated in Southeast Asia since the 2nd century AD and more specifically in 192 AD according to Chinese historical documents. Besides, anthropologists, geographers, and historians agree upon the fact that Chams are natives to this land since 1000 BC when their ancestors, the Sa Huỳnh, immigrated to mainland Asia from Borneo Island.
Champa stretched from the current province of Quang Binh in central modern-day Vietnam to the southern tip of this occupier country, including some highlands and plateaus in the eastern regions of Cambodia and the southernmost provinces of Laos.
Champa Kingdom remained since then under continuous Chinese threats and aggression till the 10th century when conflicts erupted between Chams and the newly-independent Vietnam just to its north, which was also occupied by China.
Century after the other, the power of the Kingdom of Champa eased down and Vietnamese occupation began to sack its north regions. Prosecution of Cham people has increased as well at the hands of the foreign occupation leading to a significant decline in the number of Cham population.
As a result, Chams were obliged to concentrate further and further in the southern principalities of their native kingdom.
Unfortunately, by the beginning of the 12th century, an additional threat arose from the west as the Khmer attacks from Cambodia took place leading to additional displacement and forced migration to neighboring countries like Malaysia, China, and Thailand. The Kingdom of Champa did not totally fall except in the modern ages in 1832.
Nowadays, Chams only settle in a very few scattered regions. According to governmental Vietnamese and Cambodian censuses, they can be found in central Vietnam in the provinces of Phan Rang-Thap Cham and Phan Thiết, in addition to the south province of An Giang and around Ho Chi Minh, the largest city in Vietnam. While in Cambodia Chams live in Kampong Cham Province at the central east of the country, beside some scattered villages along the shores of Mekong River basin.
Silent Screams and Deaf World
|Champa stretched from the current province of Quang Binh in central modern-day Vietnam to the southern tip of this occupier country, including some highlands and plateaus in the eastern regions of Cambodia and the southernmost provinces of Laos.|
Both Rohingya and Cham face ethnic and religious cleansing alongside other ethnic and religious minorities in Southeast Asia. The population of the Cham got decreased severally because of the Vietnamese occupation of their homelands, yet even more harshly at the hands of the communist military rule of Khmer Rouge of Cambodia.
The Communist mentality, which supports extreme and unrealistic equality that erupted from Marxism, viewed the Chams not as civilians but as people with different language, costumes, traditions, culture, norms, habits, and religion. This led the Khmer Rouge communist regime to consider them as the main enemies of Cambodia’s unity and equality among its citizens. Genocides and massacres against them and other linguistic and ethnic minorities were the main tools of the regime.
Just like Palestinians who are majorly Muslims with a sizable Christian minority, Chams are Sunni Muslim in majority but a big minority of them believes in Hinduism.
According to an official estimate in 2009, all Chams number between 400,000 and 500,000. 352,000 of whom live in the Cambodian-occupied regions where 88 percent are Sunni Muslim, followed by ten percent Hindus, while almost two percent non-religious. On the Vietnamese-occupied Cham provinces there are 162,000 Chams, 55 percent of those occupied by Vietnam believe in Hinduism and 40 percent are Muslims.
Another serious threat facing Chams unlike Rohingya is that through the total negligence from the Muslims of the world, except for Malaysia, old French Christian missionaries during the French occupation of Southeast Asia and modern missionaries like “PrayWay: Global Prayer Community,” “The Joshua Project” found a fertile soil for their work. Currently, five percent of the Chams living in the Vietnamese-occupied provinces are Christians according to the official reports of the mentioned missionary websites.
Malaysia which shares Austronesian ethnic ties with Chams is the sole Muslim country which helps them and provides services for their community. According to the Malaysian constitution, Chams have the right to Malaysian citizenship and national recognition by the country. Furthermore, Malaysia’s Islamic institutions accept Cham students from Cambodia and Vietnam to learn Islamic studies. In several cases, the courses fees get paid by the Malaysian government.
Linguistic brotherhood between the Malays and the Chams as being both Austronesian languages eased the life of the few thousands of Chams living in Malaysia.
Calls for Liberation, Expatriation
The cause of the Chams will probably remain buried since their blood is not being shed in the meantime although their native land is still occupied by two countries.
After the dissolution of Champa in 1832, Chams did not stop calling and fighting for their just indigenous rights. With the withdrawal of the French occupation from Southeast Asia and during the Vietnamese Civil War in the 1960s, Chams felt a glimpse of hope in regaining their independence. Various movements emerged calling for the creation of a separate Cham state in Vietnam.
The most famous among these movements was “Le Front pour la Libération de Cham.” Unfortunately, all these rightful calls failed in facing Vietnamese and Cambodian brutality and no single independence movement succeeded in bringing the Cham dream to ground.
There are some voices which try to make use of the good relations and ties between Muslim Malays and Muslim Chams to claim that the perfect solution for the Cham problem is by encouraging Chams to live in Malaysia and fully integrate in the nation which gladly supports them.
Chams shall not leave their native land of Champa in the southeastern tip of mainland Asia; they must remain in their historic motherland. But the question remains: Will Cham be paid any attention or will they continue to suffer negligence from their Muslim brothers and the UN?
The cause of the Chams will probably remain buried since their blood is not being shed in the meantime although their native land is still occupied by two countries. But when Muslims find their blood flowing in streams and ponds they will at last catch a glimpse of their conditions and situation. Always late reactions, but not actions!
•Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 8. Encyclopaedia Britannica. p. 669. 2003. ISBN 0-85229-961-3.
•McGeown, Kate. Laos' forgotten Hmong, BBC. 2 July 2003.
•Perrin, Andrew. Weakness in Numbers: Muslim minorities across Asia are under siege—and their persecution fuels fundamentalists, Time, 10 March 2003. p.1,,2
•Graceffo, Antonio. Cham Muslims: A look at Cambodia's Muslim minority.
•TMO. Islam in Cambodia: Courtesy David Montero and The Christian Science Monitor. December 31, 2008.
•Eastern Chams. Joshua Project.
•Prayer Profile: The Western Cham of Cambodia.
•Brunelle, Marc. Diglossia, Bilingualism, and the Revitalization of Written Eastern Cham. University of Ottawa. Vol. 2, No. 1. June 2008. pp. 28-46.
•2009 Vietnam Population and Housing Census.
•Cambodia’s Muslim Western Cham People. 30-days Prayer Network. 2010.
•Rafi Srik'Inra. Chams Community in Malaysia: A Preliminary Study. February 23, 2010.
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