Detail of the staircase on the white temple. This depicts the sacred Naga. An ancient snake god that protects Buddha and those who rest there.
South East Asia Love!
Muslims in Laos.
Muslims form a very small proportion of Lao’s population. Community leaders estimate the number to be less than seven hundred (the numbers varies), making Laos possibly the country with the lowest number and proportion of Muslims in the whole of Asia.
Today, around two hundred Indian Muslims remain in Laos, almost all of them of Tamil origin. Most live in the Lao capital, Vientiane. The rest live in 3 other towns in the country—Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet. Most of them are engaged in the cosmetics trade, meat shops, etc. importing their goods from China, Vietnam and Thailand.
- Some Lao historians believed a small number of Arabic and Indian Islamic traders arrived in Lan Xang around the 1700s (And maybe even earlier), during the “Golden Age”, when the Lao kingdom was a popular trading partner. However, the small community was dispersed after the fall of the empire.
- During the early 20th century, when Laos was under French colonial rule, Tamil-speaking Labbais and Rawthers, many of them from French-ruled Pondicherryarrived to worked mainly as guards and labourers in Vientiane. They were later joined by Pashtu-speaking Pakhtun Muslims from the North-West Frontier Province in what is now Pakistan. Most were single men, and so later taking local, Laotian women as wives.
- In the mid-1960s, the Muslim population in Laos, almost all of Indian origin, was estimated at around 7,000. However, the Laotian Civil War and the Vietnam War forced most of them to flee to India and various Western countries. Most of those who remained, says Ali Baqir, a third generation Lao of Tamil origin, were the poor, who could not afford to shift elsewhere.
- The presence of Islam in Laos increased when Cham Muslims sought refuge in Laos during and after the Khmer Rouge. Initially, the Cham Muslims community settled down in southern Laos before most of the members immigrated north to Vientiane.
Present day, Lao’s Tamil Muslims, along with Pakhtun and Cambodian Muslims, recently joined together to set up the Muslim Association of Laos to oversee Muslim community affairs and also to liaison with the government. Says Muhammad Rafi, President of the Association, “Our relations with the Lao government have always been very good and we face no problems at all in our religious affairs”. “The Lao people, in general, are very gentle and affectionate,” he adds, “And we think it is our good fortune to be living here”. (x)
Photos (saved for the last picture) belongs to zmanst10.