Saturday, January 2, 2010



The Malay Muslim communities are vastly located in Patani Raya, the southern provinces of Thailand. The census report of 2007 carried out by Thailand Survey Office or NTSO shows that there are approximately 2 million people living in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla. Another one million Muslims inhabit the central-southern provinces near Nakorn Sri Thammarat. Another one million Muslim people live in the area of greater Bangkok, in central Thailand. They have inhabited the area for a very long time and are not recent migrants. Many have settled in the Lower Isthmus of Kra, yet they have never willingly assimilated into modern Thailand (Teeuw & Wyatt, 1970).

Language and Dialects

The Malay Muslims in Southern Thailand can be divided into three groups based on the use of the Malay language: 1) those who speak Patani Malay dialect and use the Jawi/Arabic script. 2) Those who can speak Patani Malay but cannot read Jawi. This group can also read and speak Thai, the national language. 3) Those who cannot speak the Malay language at all but are proficient in the Thai language. The third category of Malays can be found in Satun (Setul).


The government policy of compulsory education for primary/junior grade has resulted in a growing number of Malay Muslims becoming more literate in the Thai language. On the other hand the number of Muslim children who discontinue their schooling from government schools had increased significantly. Some further their schooling in private religious schools where they study a combination of Thai secular subjects and Islamic subject.


The provinces of South Thailand are primarily rural with only about 12% living in urban areas. Most Malays are agriculturists, growing rice, fruit, vegetables and rubber. Although rice is the staple food, the local economy is not based on wet-rice agriculture. The southern provinces depend on rubber and fruit orchards and fishing. When the world price for rubber and tin declined in the 1970s, some Patani Malays went to work in Malaysia and the Middle East. Most Patani Muslims are self-employed either as farmers or fishermen and some worked as laborers. The Patani Malays was also employed to work in the paddy/rice field in Malaysia, during the rice seasons. Even though the southern provinces of Thailand, are small, but are rich in natural resources. This allows the Patani people to grow a variety of native crops, which include rubber, coconut, and tropical fruits. The coast provides fish for the many fishermen. Unfortunately, both farming and fishing are seasonal types of occupations. In addition, the fishing industry has been threatened by the large-scale fishing businesses that have developed recently. The southern portion of Thailand is also rich in minerals, such as tin, gold, wolfram, manganese, and natural gas. Yet, the economy in this region is struggling and poor in comparison to the rest of the country. As a result, the Pattani lead a below or average kind of lifestyle.

Culture and Religion

The Patani Malay Muslim of South Thailand traditionally lives in close-knitted communities. They place a high value on social acceptance within their community. Many Patani Malay Muslims feel threatened by the Thai Buddhist majority in Thailand. The Patani society is organized much like the typical Malay socio-political structure, due to the influence of Islam and Malay culture. Majority of the Patani Malays are strongly Muslims[i] and the majority belong to the Sunni sect of Islam and adheres to the Shafie school of thought. However, lately there are indications that the Wahabbi sect may have also an influence in the region, seen by their generous donations for the pondok and religious schools.

The mosque and its significant to the Patani Muslim

The mosque and Muslim festivals and observances are integral part in the life of the Patani Malays. The mosque is a place not only for religious practices, but where cultural identity is expressed. It provides education and is the center of community celebrations as a leader of the mosque; the Imam is often regarded as the leader of the village or community. The imams not only acted as community leaders, but as advisors and the link between the Thai officials and the Malays community. Because of the distrust against some of the Thai government officials, many of the Patani Malay Muslims turn to their Muslim religious and community leaders to voice their problems and concerns. It is undeniably true that the Malays of Southern Thailand shares common and traditional values to that of the Malaysian Malays; in fact both groups belong to the same ethnic descent. There are relatives across the borders and this kin relationship still existed till this day thus can be observed during wedding festivals or any other religious activities especially those that have religious significant, such as the Muslim festivals of Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha. Across border travel had been made easy with the issuance of border passes that are only valid for the residents of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Perak.

[i] The quotation on or how religious the Patani’s now are matters of questionable remarks, in a sense that there seem to be a division on the religious affinity attached to the younger generation.

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