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Buddhist Villagers Protest Construction of Mosque in Northern Thailand

Protest against the planned construction of mosque in Nan province. Photo from @joe_black317 and  Khaosod, used with permission

Protest against the planned construction of mosque in Nan province. Photo from @joe_black317 and Khaosod, used with permission

About 800 people joined a protest against the proposed construction of a mosque in Mueang Nan, the capital district of Nan province in northern Thailand. A Buddhist monk, who represented the demonstrators, handed a protest letter to a provincial officer.

Most Thais are Buddhists and about 5 percent of the population are Muslims. Majority of Thailand's Muslims are living in the south part of the country, formerly known as the Pattani Kingdom. In fact, some Muslim groups are advocating the separation of this territory from Thailand.

The protesting villagers, who came from Ban Buppharam and other neighbouring districts, claimed that the Muslim community failed to properly consult them about the mosque.

The first hearing was conducted in January but the local Muslim committee failed to reach a consensus about the issue.

The Bangkok Post interviewed the villagers who insisted that a mosque is not necessary in the province. The report said people are afraid there might be a “hidden political or religious purpose” in building the mosque “which could lead to unrest and violence” in other parts of Thailand.

Incidentally, the proposed site of the mosque is only two kilometers away from a Buddhist temple and some are not happy about this. The people argued in their petition that the mosque might create a “noise pollution” or that it would lead to tension because of “differences in lifestyle and culture”.

Mr. Rikkraisak Kanta, 55 years old, explained to a local media his reasons for opposing the mosque:

Villagers have no problems with Muslims but this protest is because we are not happy with the local (provincial) government that allowed the building of this mosque in a Buddhist community. We should have a public hearing before the construction as this mosque has an impact on our community. If the province continues with the construction, the Nan people will continue the protest.

A Muslim representative said there are currently 60 Muslims in Nan and they have to travel 130 kilometers to a different province to perform their devotion. Another Muslim leader also defended the project by citing its positive impact on tourism. He said that “tourists from neighboring provinces, including foreigners and individuals who are Muslim, can visit the mosque. It will lead to more spending in the region.”

Some Thais are unhappy with the intolerance shown towards another religion:

You say you want peace and don't want segregation but what you are doing here is the beginning of segregation.

Come as promised! Nan people say don't build the masjid (mosque). Some people say that rally is politically motivated and to be against the army

The actions of the monk insult religion. This is a brute. His action is against the rules that govern monks.

Nan Governor Ukrit Puengsopha tried to strike a balance. He said that instead of constructing a permanent mosque, Muslims in the province can begin by building a balasah, which is a temporary place of worship. The community can upgrade it into a bigger mosque when there are more Muslims in the region, he said.

Similar to other faiths, Islam is officially recognized in Thailand and the population enjoys extensive relations with Islamic countries and organizations. However the threat of continued protests brings about the question of underlining societal ignorance of non-Buddhist faiths and the impact of intolerance towards Thailand's future.

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