His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Thai Muslim community

Much has been written about the love that Thai people have towards His Majesty King Bhumibol

Adulyadej, who during His 70-year reign had dedicated Himself to improving His people's lives.

His Majesty stood by the oath which He gave during the coronation ceremony, that We shall

reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people. Nevertheless,

little did anyone know of the close relationship between His Majesty King Bhumibol and the

Thai-Muslim community living near Thailand's southern borders that made up part of the

country's overall population.

According to the late Thanpuying Samorn Bhuminarong, a prominent leader of Thailand's

Muslim community, a strong bond had been maintained between His Majesty the King and the

Thai-Muslim community during His reign. For many Muslims in Thailand, the King was and

continues to be a source of inspiration, guidance and support. The King tirelessly worked to

promote religious and cultural diversity in Thailand, constantly stressing the importance of

peaceful coexistence among the country's different religious, cultural and ethnic groups.

His Majesty's and the Royal Family's uniquely special, deep-rooted bond with the Thai Muslim

community was the product of not just support and guidance, but rather His Majesty's actions

that reflected a genuine respect and interest in the religion and most importantly the will to

promote acceptance and enhance tolerance throughout the country.

The late King Bhumibol, known to be fond of languages, was a key force behind the publication

of a Thai edition of the Al-Quran. His Majesty's fascination of Islam's holy scripture of the faith

was initially sparked in 1962 when He was presented by the Consul of Saudi Arabia with a copy

of the English edition of the Quran. After studying the text, His Majesty expressed a desire to

commission a Thai edition. The King proceeded to ask Thailand's Islamic spiritual leader, the

Sheikhul Islam (Chularajmontri), to prepare a direct Thai translation of the original Arabic

version so that copies can be distributed to all parts of the Kingdom.

In 1968, Their Majesties the King and Queen presided over the ceremony to commemorate the

1,400th anniversary of Quran, despite that Thailand is not a majority-Muslim country. On this

occasion, the first Thai edition of the Quran was published and copies were royally conferred to

masjids across the country. His Majesty also explained the importance and benefits of translating

the holy Islamic scripture into Thai, as it will allow Thai Muslims with limited or no knowledge

of Arabic to study and gain a deeper understanding about the principle teachings and practices of

Islam.

His Majesty had openly developed a keen yet genuine interest in Islamic culture and history.

Every year, the King or a member of the Royal Family, as His Majesty's representative,

participates in the ceremony commemorating Mawlid al-Nabi, known as the birth of the Prophet

Muhammad.

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His Majesty and the Thai Royal Family engaged in steps to acknowledge and prioritise the

concerns and needs of minority Thai-Muslim communities that often perceived themselves as

neglected. To increase Their presence, Their Majesties the King and the Queen travelled to the

South to reside in the royal palace located in the province of Narathiwat. The palace was built

with the intention of enabling Their Majesties to be closer in proximity to the Thai Muslim

communities.

Having a residence in the south enabled Their Majesties to conveniently meet with local

communities in order to best understand their concerns and needs. Such knowledge had then

eventually formed the basis of various royal development projects aimed at improving the lives

and welfare of Thai-Muslims in Thailand.

The late King Bhumibol's work approach was based on the principles of Understand, Access,

and Develop, which stressed that all parties concerned, including government officials and local

communities, must be on the same page in understanding the issues. This would enable issues to

be resolved more efficiently and pave way for development. In practice, it is an approach that

focuses on citizens' participation.

For example, some areas in the Southern provinces faced challenges such as drought and soil

conditions of high salinity and acidity content. His Majesty's solution was to provide specific

species of plants and animals that were suitable for breeding in drought and poor soil conditions.

This enabled agricultural workers to be able to feed themselves and have regular sources of

income.

The worldly King's public embrace of minority cultures and values sets a strong example for all

Thais to respect cultural and religious differences. This ultimately propelled the nation towards

greater tolerance and pluralism.

His Majesty had recognised the importance of forging personal ties with local representatives in

the South. The most famous example was his friendship with Uncle Wahdeng PuTeh or

PohDeng, known as the Friend from Saiburi. Uncle Wahdeng was a local fruit farmer

whom His Majesty first met during a trip to the Saiburi district in Pattani Province in 1992. His

Majesty was impressed with Uncle Wahdeng's humility, honesty and local knowledge, and

asked Uncle Wahdeng to show Him around the area, asking him about the needs of the local

communities. During subsequent visits to the Southern Provinces over the years, His Majesty

would always request to meet with PohDeng, and PohDeng would often send the best

produces from his fruit orchards as gifts to His Majesty. Their friendship continued until Uncle

Wahdeng passed away peacefully in 2012 at the age of 96.

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His Majesty visited local religious schools and masjids across the country and made personal

contributions from His own funds to support their activities and causes. The King also provided

medical supplies and sent royal doctors to visit and treat ill patients.

His Majesty encouraged the Thai Government to build a Central Masjid in each of the Southern

Border Provinces and then personally attended the opening of each Central Masjid. In 1990,

when His Majesty went to reside at His seaside palace in Hua Hin, He visited a local Muslim

community in an area that had a small masjid, the Masjid Nurul Ehsan, which was built on a very

small plot of land. Upon being made aware of the needs of the local community, His Majesty

granted additional land to the community for the masjid. Subsequently in 1996, His Majesty

made contributions from His own funds for the construction of a new Masjid Nurul Ehsan on the

same site, which was completed in 1999.

Last but not least, His Majesty saw great importance in improving the education system for Thai

Muslims. His Majesty appealed to educators and relevant agencies to consider ways and means

for providing a strong religious education with a methodical curriculum so that Thai Muslims

can thrive in society.

The late King Bhumibol also initiated development projects to assist Thai Muslims in their

career development. Development Centers were set up in various parts of the country, including

the Phetchaburi and Narathiwat provinces, enabling the once impoverished populations to have

an opportunity to become self-sustainable and improve their welfare.

The late King's personal attention and care to the Thai Muslim community over the years, along

with the support for the various Royal initiatives and projects for the community, were testament

to His respect and support for Islam and devotion to all His subjects who practice the faith. Such

was reflected by not only the reverence that Thai Muslims have towards His Majesty and the

Thai Royal Family, but also the acknowledgement and respect from Islamic communities in

other countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran. The beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej's

passing on 13 October 2016 brought together in unity Thailand's Muslim population and the rest

of Thailand to embrace their common love by mourning their revered King, whose generosity,

self-sacrifice, wisdom and grace had touched the hearts of all Thais.

Source: Royal Thai Embassy, MYANMAR