Cultural, Laos

Sayo Laos Magazine Interview, Muslims of Vientiane

Continued from Sayo Laos Magazine Interview

As we all know that there are mostly positive news coming from Laos, and this is also stressed here by Ardina that,

“…the government allows us to write according to the best interest of the country but we have to send in our issue before each publication for approval, as far as them checking the contents, this we do not know, I guess it’s up to the individual that’s doing it. But to write in the style of attacking them is probably not good.”

Therefore, when you read this, bear in mind that you might only get half of the news, the good half that is.

Background about Religions in Laos: The country has an area of 85,000 square miles and a population of 6.4 million. Almost all ethnic or “lowland” Lao are followers of Theravada Buddhism; however, lowland Lao constitute only 40-50 percent of the population. The remainder of the population belongs to at least 48 distinct ethnic minority groups. Most of these ethnic minorities are practitioners of animism, with beliefs that vary greatly among groups. Animism is predominant among most Sino-Thai groups, such as the Thai Dam and Thai Daeng, as well as among Mon-Khmer and Burmo-Tibetan groups. Even among lowland Lao, many pre-Buddhist animistic religious beliefs have been incorporated into Theravada Buddhist practice. Catholics and Protestants constitute approximately 2 percent of the population. Other minority religious groups include those practicing the Baha’i faith, Islam, Mahayana Buddhism, and Confucianism. A very small number of citizens follow no religion.

Question: What percentage of population is Islam living in Laos?

Muslims in Laos are divided into 2 groups; one group is Pakistan from Karachi, and the other group is from Balochod (not sure of spelling), which is not too far from Karachi, approximately 3 hours by car. But right now, we are the fourth generation, the first generation came to Laos approximately in 1800s, which was over 200 years ago and right now, we have about 500 Muslims living in Laos.

My great grandfather came as a merchant, he lived in Thailand at first, then Vietnam, he then moved to Sopon in a town called Mueng Vungungkhan. He asked my great grandmother to marry him but she was not allowed because she was Lao Pou Thai and at that time Lao people were not allowed to marry foreigner because then the female would have to convert to Islam. But because of his wealth, he offered large sum in dowry…30 buffalos, 3 barrels of geep money (back then it was geep, and not the same as kips as we all know today), 30 harng money (money in block,) it was the third time before they gave her permission to marry him, and then she converted to Islam, and became a Muslim…

Question: What is it like for Muslims living in Laos?

There are Pakistan Muslim, India Muslim, and Khmer Muslim; the majority live in Vientiane. Each group gets along as we often help each other. We have two Congregational Mosque, one for Pakistan Muslim behind the central Nam Phu Fountain. The building is constructed in neo-Moghul style, with a typically South Asian miniature minaret and speakers to broadcast the call to prayer to the faithful. Then there is another one for the Khmer Muslim near the market of Norng Dorngk.

Question: Is there any Islamic restaurant?

There are 3 Islamic restaurants, then there are few of smaller ones.

Question: How many Muslims are living in Vientiane, and how does it affect the daily lives and interaction with other religious group since there are very few Muslims living in Laos?

There are approximately 500 Muslims living in Vientiane and there is no effect at all because if there were anything, we often come together as a group. We were born and raised as Muslims, and our parents are Muslims but we grew up in Laos, which we all live together as brother and sister. My grandfather taught us that on the left are our younger siblings and on the right are our older siblings, whatever food we have, we’ve to share. It is something that was embedded in all Muslims living in Laos, so what ever food that we have, we share but when it comes to their food, we couldn’t eat because we can’t eat pork.