Islam in Vietnam struggles to feel accepted

Asia Contributor
Islam in Vietnam
© Salvador Manaois Iii |

Islam first set its foot in the Arabian Peninsula when it was early seventh century. With the growth of this peaceful religion, the Arabian tribal society transformed into a structured society. The difference between Islam and other religion is that Islam had to fight a lot of unwanted wars. Our great Prophet (SAW) took wise decisions to give our religion a strong foundation. From there, Islam spread rapidly to West Asia, North Africa, and South-East Asia. At present, it is said that Southeast Asia is one of those countries which contain the highest number of believers.

At present, nearly 70% of Southeast Asian population follows Islam. However, when it comes about Islam in Vietnam, there is a rapid decline in this percentage. It took a long time to expand and develop Islam in Southeast Asia, specifically in Vietnam.

Islam in Vietnam: Introduction

Islam was introduced to one of the fifty-four Southeast Asian ethnic groups. The group is called Cham. According to oral history, they got introduced to Islam in the tenth or eleventh centuries. Some other legends state that Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph of Islam sent his official Muslim envoy to spread Islam in Vietnam in the year 650 CE.

On the other hand, the historical documents from the Chinese Song dynasty claim something different. According to the documents, Islam was first introduced to the ancient Indochinese kingdom of Champa in the tenth century. After the decline of Champa, Islam expanded among the Cham community. The number of believers started to increase when many Muslim Chams sent aboard. From Cambodia to settle in Mekong River Delta area. It fomented the foundation of Islam in Vietnam. By the 17th century, Champa province had been completely absorbed by the Vietnamese.

So, it is evident that the Cham people brought Islam to Vietnam as their own belief. Two gravestones of Champa Muslims from the 11th century are one of the shreds of evidence that backs up this theory.

Ethnography of Islam in the country

Presently, there are about 73000 Muslims in this country. Which is only 0.1% of the country’s population. Most of the Islamic people are Cham people. But some of the Muslims are actually inter-Racial. They are both the offspring of mixed marriages among the Vietnamese people and Muslim traders. The rest of the Muslims are those who converted intentionally. After they came to know about our peaceful religion. There are 80 mosques in Vietnam. Apart from the Cham Muslims, there are Khmer, Malay, Minang, Viet and Arab Muslims also.

The present condition of Islam in Vietnam

After the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Muslims who remained in Vietnam did not suffer violent tortures. Sadly, they have been victims of forced assimilation. The Cham Muslims were sent to communist reeducation camps. Some of the leaders were executed.

An account from 1985 described that the Muslim community of Vietnam was ethnically diverse but, Vietnamese Muslims actually remained isolated from the world Islam. That is why it is extremely synergetic.

If we look into the present condition of Cham Muslims, we will find that they cannot follow their traditional ways of life due to political and social inclusions. They are often stereotyped and considered inferior. Even if they protest, they are being ignored. They don’t have a proper representation, that is also a major problem.

The Islamic people in Vietnam still struggle to feel accepted in this country even Islam in there from the 11th century. They adhere to the Sunni Islamic school of thought, which is similar to other Southeast Asian Islamic countries.

Recently, some of the Islamic countries have expanded their helping hands towards the Vietnamese Muslims. The Muslim students are being sent to the international Islam university to take up Islamic studies and other programmes. Vietnam’s largest mosque was inaugurated in the year 2006 in Xuan Loc. The construction was funded by donations from Saudi Arabia.


(Written by freelance journalist Shreya T)

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