Mehmet Özay                                                                                                13.12.2013

In a study written in 1556, the historian Fernao Mendes Pinto shared his observations and impressions about Siam (Thailand) on arriving their with Portuguese troops. He notes that there were Muslims from Mecca, Cairo and Istanbul running activities to spread Islam in the Kingdom of Siam.

Another source, shedding light on the history of Siam, is “The Straits Times”, possibly the most influential publication released by the British administration. According to a report in this bulletin, the Ottoman consular in Jakarta (Batavya) sent a diplomatic dispatch to Istanbul and gave information about the spread of Islam in Siam. It argues that Sultan Abdulhamid II sent one hundred Qur’ans to a newly opened Muslim school in the region as a gesture of the Ottoman support to Siam’s recently flourishing Muslim community.

Islamization of Kedah and Leading Ulama

Patani is both close but ironically far away from Malaysia at the same time. Passing the borders is possible through the Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis provinces. Perlis is the least known area of the country, as even many citizens talk about it. However, as Perlis is part of the Kingdom of Siam, just like Kedah and Patani; we again recognize that we are visiting a significant land.

Before Perlis, we travelled to Kedah and stayed there for a couple of days. We stopped for dawn prayer in a little mosque in Gajah Mati (Death Elephant) village of Pendang town. I had to wait until the end of the prayer to notice the reason why our guide deliberately chose this mosque. The grave of Hajji Sagir Abdullah, whose writings I became acquainted with in 2007, is just next to the mosque. Abdullah was also our guide and friend Azrul’s teacher. Abdullah devoted his life to hand writings in the Malay language and had deep ties with Patani. I had never got the chance to meet him, but I continued to enjoy learning from his legacy from time to time. Despite this, he was not popular; his efforts for the name of Islam can be seen in the exhibition of the Malay Islamic Scholars in the entrance of Islamic University of Malaysia. I felt very lucky to visit his grave and pray for him. Sheikh Ismael Che’ Doil and and Sheikh Wan Ibrahim were also buried next to Abdullah.

Hifz Institutions in Patani

We were heading to Yala after leaving Padang Besar. Whenever I travel to Patani I always felt as if I was going to Ache. In addition to the similarities in climate and geography, both peoples’ closeness to Islamic culture led me to get this impression. Patani is still known for traditional religious institutions, Pondok in the local language, and Tok Gurus by religious scholars. These institutions are not only serving the Muslims of Thailand but they also host many students and researchers coming from Malaysia, Cambodia and other regional countries. The low number of religious scholars in Malaysia is compensated by Tok Guru’s temporarily migrating community from Thailand to Malaysia, particularly in Ramadan. We had the opportunity to connect with some Tok Gurus including Abdurrahman, with whom we discussed plans to form a new university in Patani.

In our visit to Pondoks, we went to Ma’ahad Tahfiz, also a Pondok led by Tok Guru Musa. We exchanged views on how to educate more hafizs, memorizers of the Qur’an. We also listened to the problems of nearly fifty hafizs staying in the Ma’ahad Tahfiz. All of these things show one certain fact, which is that both Ache and Patani do not need to export hafizs!

Pondok Burmin, presided by Hajji Ahmed, has tidy systemic campus. The little cottages where students are living surround the campus. This campus is not a usual education facility in which the instructors simply give basic information in some fields, on the contrary, it is a place where Islamic lifestyle is educated not through books but with the living experiences guided by Hajji Ahmed, who acts like a father.