VIHEAR SAMBO, Tboung Khmum – The super minority Shia community in this provice have lived peacefully, co-existing with their Sunni counterparts for years. However, this may change if new laws being debated in the capital by certain quarters are brought into place and enforced.
Seth Math, 42, the local Shia community leader said: “We are Muslims, just like our Sunni brethren who live around and among us. We do not discriminate and we have co-existed since our founding in the late 2000s.”
“We did have initial scuffles and misunderstandings, arising from a lack of understanding of each other’s beliefs, faiths and practises, and during those dark days, we had constant confrontation with each other – the Sunnis and the Shias. We did not attend each other’s functions, be it religious or even family events such as weddings. But things are different now. So why consider some laws which will affect our existence,” Ustaz Mat said.
Tun Salleh, a leader of the Sunnis in the same village, speaking from a mosque designated for the Sunnis and located about 200 metres away, echoed these sentiments and said: “Sunni and Shia are both Muslims. Nowadays, we collaborate, participate in each other’s traditions, not all but most, allow inter-sect marriages and even play soccer together.”
“We are concerned about the news that a law is being enacted to ensure that each Muslim village should have only one mosque or surau,” Salleh said. “In our village, Vihear Sambo, we have one mosque and three suraus and if it includes the Shia’s prayer hall or surau, it will total to five.”
“So what do we do? There are rumours that some may be demolished and even rumours that the Shia may be banned and made illegal. These does not augur well for us as we are all Muslims. Ban the extremists with evidence, not on rumours but we do not consider our Shia brothers as extremists or deviationists,” Salleh added.
Uztaz Mat meanwhile said that they have tried to reach out to the Grand Mufti’s office, but their calls were not entertained.
“I worked with the Mufti for two years and was one among 10 with him. When I was in Iran studying the teachings of Shia, I invited the Grand Mufti to visit Iran on the official invitation of the Iranian authorities, but he declined. He even declined the invitation when the Iranian delegation from their embassy in Vietnam came to extend it,” he lamented.
Uztaz Mat added that the Grand Mufti knows him and he understands well that “we are not a threat to society” but he simply refuses to acknowledge the Shias.
“The construction of our simple surau and the school, which is under construction now, was approved by the village authorities and was completely ignored by the Mufti in Phnom Penh. Even building a statue as a contribution to the village’s government-built Madrassah was being misinterpreted,” he said.
Uztaz Mat stressed that he and his followers did not understand all these marginalisations, but vowed that they will not be driven to extremism or such teachings and beliefs as Islam is still Islam. Whether it is Sunni or Shia. It teaches peace.
He and Salleh believe that political motivations are in play in both rumours about one village one mosque and the possible banning of the Shia.