Muslim Merit-Making in Thailand’s Far-South

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Date(s) - 20/06/2012
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Monash Asia Institute, Room H5.95, Building H


Monash Asia Seminars – CSEAS/CIMOW Special Seminar

Dr Christopher M Joll
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand & Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

The adoption by Thai-speaking Muslims of religious rhetoric associated with Theravada Buddhism has aroused the interest of a number of anthropologists in Thailand. In this paper, I consider the merits of three explanations of references by Thai-speaking Muslims of tham bun (Th. merit-making). I discuss the syncretic explanations before considering the proposal that tham bun is one element of a cosmology shared by Buddhists and Muslims in Thailand. Analysis of bilingual data among urban Malays in Thailand’s Far-south reveals that tham bun refers to more than the generation of merit. As such, interest about what Thai-speaking Muslims mean by tham bun, is not the same as enquires about how Muslims make merit. This paper argues that the adoption of this Thai religious idiom represents a search for equivalence by bilingual Malays. Malays in Thailand are not alone in their search for equivalent terms in languages associated with other faith traditions, necessitated by the demise of the language through which Islamic discourse has been conducted. In addition to my rejection of syncretic conclusions being based on merit-making rhetoric being replete with Arabic terms of Islamic ideation, the importance of the economy of merit throughout Muslim Southeast Asia¾and indeed the wider Muslim World¾questions the applicability of the shared cosmology thesis north of Thailand’s Malay-dominated southern provinces.

Christopher M Joll is a New Zealand anthropologist who has lived and worked in Thailand’s Malay-dominated southern provinces for ten years. Since completing his doctorate from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) in 2009, he has had visiting research fellowships at the Muslim Studies Centre, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, and the Centre for the Study of Islam and Muslim Culture, Victoria University of Wellington. His most recent publication is Muslim Merit-making in Thailand’s Far-south demonstrates his interests in linguistic and religious anthropology, Islamic movements, and Patani/Pattani historiography. His next project will deal with the Ahmadiyyah-Qadariyyah and Ahmadiyyah-Shadhliyya sufi orders in central and south Thailand, the first part of a wider project concerned with Islamic movements in Thailand marginal to the mainstream.