Calling pro-Palestine protesters extremists is ‘outrageous’: UK govt adviser

Calling pro-Palestine protesters extremists is ‘outrageous’: UK govt adviser
Calling pro-Palestine protesters extremists is ‘outrageous’: UK govt adviser

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Ancient mosque stands witness to Muslim influence in Thailand’s present and past

BANGKOK: Located between three Buddhist temples and in proximity to a Catholic church, the 17th-century Tonson Mosque is Bangkok’s oldest, offering a glimpse into Muslim influence in Thailand’s present and past.

The advent of Islam in Buddhist-majority Thailand dates to the ninth century when traders from the Arab world established connections with Southeast Asia.

It was in the 13th century, however, when local communities began to embrace the Muslim faith, mainly in the southernmost regions of today’s Thailand, which share an ethnic and cultural affinity with neighboring Malaysia.

Muslims nowadays constitute about 5 percent of Thailand’s 66 million population and are its largest religious minority.

Out of nearly 4,000 mosques in the kingdom — mostly in the south — over 100 can be found in its capital, with the Tonson Mosque being the oldest one.

Sitting in the Bangkok Yai district, next to the Chao Phraya River, which flows through Bangkok and used to bring to its docks the ships of Muslim merchants from Asia and the Middle East, the mosque remains an active Islamic learning hub.

“We have a learning center for the young generation over here, in another building, (with) 100 students every week,” Sarawoot Sriwannayos, the mosque’s imam, told Arab News.

“We have classes teaching Islamic studies … They can practice, and they can pray, they can (learn) the recitation of prayers together.”

Sriwannayos’s great-grandfather was also an imam, and the family has been serving the mosque for generations.

“I would like the current generation to maintain harmony with the others,” he said.

“It’s the matter of how we are living together and how we construct the nation together … Islam is for all.”

Founded in 1688, in the era of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which ruled present-day Thailand from the mid-14th to the late 18th century, the Tonson Mosque is an example of the confluence of cultures that shaped the region and its history.

Its original building was made from teak and bore an architectural resemblance to Buddhist monasteries of the time. Renovated in 1952, the current structure is more Middle Eastern in design, but the ornamentation bears Thai influence, as the mihrab and minbar have been decorated with motifs inspired by flower bouquets, rooster leaves, and swan tails.

Visiting from Muslim-majority Indonesia, Retno Minarti was at the site of the iconic Wat Arun temple when she realized she could just walk a few minutes to reach the mosque.

She was surprised at how big it was given that Islam is a minority faith in Thailand.

“There are facilities for worship and many people came. There were also many civil servants who attended Friday prayers,” she said. “I’m quite amazed.”

For residents of Bangkok, however, it has been a familiar sight for centuries.

Next to the building lies a historic graveyard, a burial place of Muslim community leaders such as Chaophraya Chakri, who in the 18th century served as the prime minister of Siam, or the 19th-century naval commander Phraya Ratchawangsan.

“Muslims in Bangkok, they have been living here for very long,” said Ruedon Samard, who has been attending Friday prayers at the Tonson Mosque since he can remember.

“My family would come here … My grandfather, great-grandfather — they are buried here. I come to visit them.”

He also comes to find what other worshippers seek at their respective places of prayer.

“Like when the Buddhists go to their temple,” he said. “(I feel) peace.”

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