Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

The Birth of the Kan Imam San on the Recent Establishment of a New Islamic Congregation in Cambodia

Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

The Birth of the Kan Imam San on the Recent Establishment of a New Islamic Congregation in Cambodia

Article excerpt

The Cambodian state is unique in Southeast Asia, due to its official recognition of two distinct Islamic religious communities, whose separate existence is entirely unrelated to the Sunni-Shia divide characterizing Muslim sectarian relations in many countries of the Middle East. Whereas the great majority of Cambodian Muslims, which primarily consist of ethnic Chams, is represented by the Mufti of Cambodia, a second officially recognized Islamic community has been placed under the authority of the Oknha Khnour, as leader of the so-called Islamic Community of Imam San (Kan Imam San), since 1998. The Kan Imam San regard themselves as practicing a distinctively Cambodian Cham form of Islam, and account for roughly 10 percent of the country's Muslim population. The present contribution will shed light on the genesis of the community by elucidating its distinguishing features, defining practices, cultural icons, self-perception, self-representation and selective approaches to history as well as the internal and external mechanisms behind its formation. Specific attention will be paid to the way in which the Kan Imam San relies on vernacular manuscript culture and local traditions of saint and ancestor worship to make its case for cultural and religious authenticity in the face of an overall espousal of Malay and other models of Islamic religiosity and scholarship by the majority of Cambodian Muslims since the mid-nineteeth century.

INTRODUCTION

As far as the administration of Islam is concerned, Buddhist Cambodia represents a unique case in Southeast Asia. Indeed, the most intriguing feature of Cambodia's Muslims, estimated in 2010 at 340,450 people (or roughly 2.5 percent of the general population) living in over 450 villages, (1) is that they are split into two distinct, officially recognized Islamic communities. This bifurcation is all the more striking, as it neither falls into the category of Sunni-Shiite differences nor fully accords with the ethnic make-up of the community, which consists of an 80 percent majority of ethnic Chams. Their language is of the Austronesian family and they are descendants of migrants from former Cham kingdoms in present-day coastal Central and Southern Vietnam who arrived in Cambodia between the late fifteenth and early nineteeth centuries. The remaining 20 percent are known as Chvea. They speak the national Khmer language and claim descent from unions between Malay settlers and local women. (2) What lies at the root of the split within the country's Muslim community is a divide between competing strands primarily regarding themselves as either forming a part of wider Southeast Asian or even global Islam, or conversely as representing distinctly vernacular traditions. Thus, whereas the great majority of the Cambodian Muslim community is represented by the Mufti of Cambodia, the latter now has an officially recognized counterpart in the figure of the Ong Gnur (venerable master, or Oknha Khnour in official Khmer nomenclature) as leader of the so-called Islamic Community of Imam San (Kan Imam San, henceforth KIS) since 1998.

The latter community, which regards itself as practicing a distinctively Cambodian Cham form of Islam, accounts for roughly 10 percent of the country's Muslim population. The present contribution will shed light on the genesis of the community by elucidating its distinguishing features, defining practices, cultural icons, self-perception, self-representation, and selective approaches to history as well as the internal and external mechanisms behind its construction. Among these, historical factors such as Cambodian political history and voluntary as well as involuntary settlement patterns of the past 150 years have featured prominently, just as have more recent developments, such as the reverberations of the Khmers Rouges genocide and the increasing influence of transnational Islamic movements. Specific attention will be paid, however, to the way in which KIS emphasizes vernacular manuscript culture and traditions of saint and ancestor worship to make its case for cultural and religious authenticity in the face of an overall espousal of Malay and other models of Islamic religiosity and scholarship by the majority Cambodian Muslims since the mid-nineteenth century. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.