A Friday in the Kingdom of Siam
الحمدلله على نعمة الإسلام ؛ وكفى بها نعمة
All Praise is due to Allah for the Blessing of Islam, and it suffices as a Blessing
This feeling sums up my short experience in Thailand and how one of my last days in the capital city of “the Kingdom of Siam” enabled me to experience a genuinely enriching immersion with the Thai Muslim community. As the day started on this Friday of April 22nd, I was anticipating the thrill, curiosity, and slight apprehension related to the difficulty of finding the local mosque.
Al Hamdulillah, the night before, I located in the horizon the shape of a minaret from my guesthouse room, therefore armed with my determination to make it to the Friday prayer, I left the University where I was residing for the length of my conference, and aimed for the Masjid. After a few narrow roads and successful attempts at asking passers-by for the way to the Mosque, I finally arrived.
Hesitant and aware of the language barrier that separated me from the nonetheless friendly Thai people, I tried to see the Madhwa (Ablutions Area) where I performed my ablutions, thanking Allah for having helped me to reach this community and Masjid. As, I was preparing to take the stairs to reach the second floor of the Masjid in order to attend the Khutba, a voice greeted me with the salutation of Islam: “Assalamu Aleikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh!, where are you from?”.
I replied that I was originally from Tunisia, at which point this brother’s look changed into a mix of excitement and surprise. “Tunisia! Yes I visited your country!” I later learned from Brother Abdul Kareem that not only had he visited my country, but that he also wrote two books about it in the Thai language. Especially, he shared his visit of Kayrawan, a city famous for hosting Masjid ‘Uqba, one of the first mosques built during Islam’s expansion to North Africa by the Aghalbids under the Abbasid caliphate. “Let us have lunch together after the Jumu’a” he kindly invited.
While walking up the stairs to reach the second floor of the Masjid, the brother quickly said to the Imam, ‘He is from Tunisia!’ at which point the Imam said “oh Yes Tunisia, we know it!’ Ma Sha Allah! within a few minutes, the feeling of cultural estrangement changed into a sense of belonging a sense of bond and Ukhu’a (Brotherhood).
During the Jumu’a prayer, although I did not understand the content of the Imam’s speech, I nevertheless reflected about the beauty of forming a strong tie with this community which I had only met a few minutes before. After the prayer I joined Brother Abdul Kareem for a Thai meal at the Masjid where we finally had the time to introduce ourselves mutually.
He initially thought that I was coming to Bangkok to study but when I told him that I was only there for a few days, I sensed a hint of disappointment as he was already considering socializing and involving me in the local community.
After lunch, Abdul Kareem politely inquired whether I was free for the rest of the afternoon. ‘Sure, I am!’, Abdul Kareem then enthusiastically mentioned that he wanted to introduce me to the local Muslim community. We jumped into his car and while driving, the brother showed me the neighborhood, local market, Halal stores, and Islamic schools.
Finally, we arrived to a Masjid where I met the Imam. Ma Sha Allah, this imam, who was almost 90 years ‘young’, embodied the living memory of the community. Amazingly, he was fluent in Arabic, Thai, Malay, and even English. The cheerfulness and very joking attitude of this Imam really made me feel at home. I was ready to call it a day but Abdul Kareem decided to take me to meet his family. I then went to his house and discovered that this brother was a surprisingly well-traveled person.
In fact, he wrote several articles from his different visits of Muslim countries, particularly visiting the Mosques, Islamic neighborhoods, and documenting in his articles the lives of Muslims around the world. Some of the countries he had visited ranged from China (Xi’an, Yunnan – birthplace of Zhen He – Macau, Hong Kong) to Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Tunisia, Spain, Turkey, and other ones I could not recall.
Harboring several ‘lonely planet’ guidebooks in his home library, he confessed that his next planned trip was going to explore Mali and the old mosques of Timbuktu as well as the Sankoré Madrasah. He was particularly intrigued by the Tuaregs, or ‘Blue Men’, who are Muslims living in the Sahara desert and who are renowned for wearing large and beautiful blue garments.
I also discovered the beautiful photo albums which he kept in his small office with amazing mosques from all over the world. Finally, the kind Brother took me to visit his sister who had just arrived from Mecca, Saudi Arabia the night before. After welcoming us to her house, she offered us some Zamzam water and delicious slices of mango from her garden. When the time came to leave, Abdul Kareem’s sister brought me a bag with mangoes to take back to Singapore.
I finally said to my host that I wished to give him some time to relax and take care of his family and decided to find the nearest bus station to return to my hotel, at which point he called his son to accompany me on his motorcycle and made sure that I made it to the door of the guesthouse safely.
Al Hamdulillah, how kind and generous, from people who did not know me before, Allah had a plan on that day to lead me not only to the Masjid but also to open my eyes and bring me closer to the heart of the local people. It is again a blessing to have this Deen in our daily lives to make us feel a sense of family and community, to make us ‘rooted’ even in a foreign land, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, and bridging all gaps and frontiers. May Allah bless my host, his family, and the rest of the Muslim Ummah. Ameen.