Thailand, the land of smiles, is predominantly known as a Buddhist nation, with golden tip temples and saffron robed monks scattered throughout much of the nation. Buddhism is also recognized as the state religion and thus it is often said “to be Thai is to be Buddhist.” However, what is little known about Thailand is that there is another segment of the population who for hundreds of years have resisted assimilation into the Thai Buddhist culture.
The Muslims of Thailand
These people form about 5% to 10% of the nation’s populace, and number over 4 million. They are the Muslims of Thailand, a mixed race sharing a common bond in their Islamic faith. They can be found from the far north of Thailand to its most southern tip, and have little to no exposure of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The majority of Thai Muslims live in the southern region and are mostly of Malay decent. The Southern Muslims are broken into two main groups: the Malay speaking Pattani people of the three most southern provinces, and the Pak Tai (southern Tai dialect) speakers of the remaining southern provinces. Besides Muslims in the South, there are significant Islamic communities in Bangkok, the nation’s capital, and in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The Islamic communities of Bangkok are an ethnically mixed group, while the northern province Muslims are primarily ethnic Chinese. The Cambodian Cham, a small and usually overlooked community lives mostly in Bangkok as well as in the Northeast of Thailand.
Community of Thailand
Most Malays are rural people and live in close knit communities and small villages known as kampungs. Fishing, rubber and rice farming are the main industries but tourism is a fast growing industry in the peninsular. The typical Malay family has a distinct and ordered structure in which the father is the undisputed head. Conversion from Islam is seen as not only a rejection of the religion but of the culture and family.
In Thailand there is relative religious freedom but this could change with more Muslims entering into Government positions. Work with the Pattani Malay started in 1952 with market-place evangelism, literature drives, medical and leprosy clinics.
Presently there are very few mission agencies, and probably no national churches working specifically among the Muslims of Thailand. To reach these people within the next decade a special mission thrust is needed. Church planting teams must be raised up and trained to reach these Muslim communities.
Pray for the Muslims of Thailand
* Pray for more workers to be sent to the Muslims in Thailand and for wisdom to know how to communicate the gospel effectively within the people’s cultural context (Matthew 4:18-20).
* Pray that the Thai church would receive a burden to reach Thai Muslims in a way that is both culturally relevant and Biblical.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit would bring both conviction of sin and revelation of the person of Isa Al-Masih to the Muslims of Thailand (Isaiah 60:1-2).
Background on Thailand (World Factbook)
A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict. Thailand is currently facing armed violence in its three Muslim-majority southernmost provinces.
Economy of Thailand
Export-oriented manufacturing – in particular automobile production – and farm output are driving gains. With a well-developed infrastructure, a free-enterprise economy, and pro-investment policies, Thailand was one of East Asia’s best performers from 2002-04. The late December 2004 tsunami which took 8,500 lives in Thailand caused massive destruction of property. The military coup in September 2006 brought in a new economic team led by the former central bank governor. Despite antigovernment protests the economy probably will continue to experience high grow well into 2011.
Statistics on Thailand
Population: 67,091,089 see notes at the bottom (July 2012 est.), world rank: 20
Life Expectancy at Birth: 73.83 years, world rank: 114
Ethnic groups: Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other 11%
Religions: Buddhist 94.6%, Muslim 4.6%, Christian 0.7%, other 0.1%
Languages: Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects
School Life Expectancy: 12 years
Population Note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (World Factbook.)