Posted on May 14th, 2019

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Buddhists account for about 95% of the population of Thailand and most foreigners refer to it as the Land of Yellow Robes”. Buddhism has been the established ‘religion’ or spiritual force in Thailand for many centuries, according to some historic sources, since the 9th century, and therefore has had a marked influence on the lives of the people of Thailand. Buddhism has been the main spring from which flow its culture and philosophy, its art and literature, its ethics and morality, and many of its folkways and festivals. There are more than 21,000 Buddhist shrines and monasteries scattered throughout the country. Thailand is a country where the king is constitutionally stipulated to be a Buddhist and the upholder of Buddhism.  All the Thai kings in the recorded history of present-day Thailand have been adherents of Buddhism.

Thailand is one of those rare countries in South and Southeast Asia which was not under European colonial powers at any time in its history and therefore not subject in the past to the influence of Catholicism or Christianity.    


Muslims account for a mere 4.6% of population. About two-third of Muslims in Thailand are ethnically Malay and the balance are those who have migrated to Thailand from China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Malay Muslims of Thailand are concentrated in the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Songkhla and Chumphon. Their language is a dialect of the Malay language. Most of the non-Malay Muslims are scattered here and there in Thailand with a concentration in Bangkok. Northern Thailand is home to some Burmese, Pakistani and mixed Muslims. In the far North and in some Central and Southern urban centres there are some Thai Muslims of Chinese Hui origin.

Most of Thailand’s Muslims consider themselves to belong to the Sunni branch of Islam and almost all mosques are associated with Sunni Islam. However, the Islamic faith in Thailand has become integrated with many beliefs and practices not integral to Islam. In the South, animistic practices indigenous to Malay culture are mixed with Islam. There are 3,494 mosques in Thailand with the largest number in Pattani province in the South. There are more than 200 Muslim schools in Thailand.


A separatist insurgency is taking place in Southern Thailand, particularly in the Pattani region which is made up of three southernmost provinces. Its beginnings were evident in the latter half of the 20th century and in recent decades, Muslim separatists have increasingly and openly rallied against the central government of Thailand, accusing the government of ethnic-religious bias, discrimination and corruption.

In recent years Islamic extremists have been spreading fear among the indigenous Buddhists of the region, using violence and brutality. They have resorted to the random killing of Buddhists, including school teachers and Buddhist monks. Also, they have murdered Muslims working in public institutions in Southern Thailand and those who are suspected to be supportive of the Thai Government and members of the Thai Military forces. A brutal attack on a Buddhist temple in the town of Pattani in 2005 is seen as an attempt by militants to deepen the religious divide between Muslims and Buddhists in Thailand’s deep South.  About 20 insurgents stormed the Promprasith Temple in Pattani’s Panare district, armed with assault rifles, knives, machetes, fireworks and petrol. They then hacked a 76-year-old monk to death while two teenage temple novices died in the hail of gunfire.  The temple was set ablaze. The news from Promprasith came as a shock to the rest of Thailand. Muslims and Buddhists had lived in this area in harmony and peace for a long time. Buddhists here never had any conflict with their Muslim neighbors. The militants appear to be outsiders who want to create a rift between Buddhists and Muslims. The increased occurrence of violence in the South has been spilling over into other provinces as well. 

During 2000, authorities responded with military force and legal action to separatist activity in the south. In February 2000, security forces dealt a severe blow to the New Pattani United Liberation Organization, a Muslim separatist group and killed its leader who was responsible for 90 percent of the terrorist activities in Narathiwat, a southern Thai province. In 2004, the Thai government officially recognized attacks in Thailand as terrorist acts performed by the various insurgent groups that were in the country.


Although separatist violence has occurred for decades in the southern region, the campaign escalated in 2004. Over 4300 lives have been lost since the year 2004 owing to Islamic insurgency.  Buddhist monks have been beheaded, children killed and civilians attacked. More than 500 people have been killed in 2004 in three southern Thai provinces. Massive killings occurred throughout the mid to late 2000s and as of 2010, nearly 4,000 people had been killed due to insurgent violence. The death toll has increased to 2,579 by mid-September 2007 and surpassed 3000 in March 2008. By the end of 2010, insurgency-related violence had increased.  In the first few weeks of January in 2011 nine Buddhists have been killed in Southern Thailand by Islamic terrorists.  In a separate attack four members of Thai armed forces have been killed. Many Buddhists have left their traditional home in Southern Thailand in order to escape the ongoing Islamic insurgency.

According to Lee Jay Walker ( writing to The Modern Tokyo Times, under the title Islamic Terrorists kill more Buddhists in Southern Thailand”, states that Southern Thailand resembles modern day Afghanistan and Somalia because in both these nations the radical Sunni Islamists show their extreme intolerance of other faiths. In addition to Buddhists, moderate Muslims are also being killed by radical Sunni Islamic fanatics of Southern Thailand. The methodology of killing is intended to spread fear to all who oppose the Islamization of Southern Thailand.


Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Professor of International Relations at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University says “The gruesome fashion of beheadings of Buddhists by Muslim assailants … is not normal violence…” “it is driven by deep animosity and hatred.” Muslim extremists believe that violence, including killing civilians, is justified as a means to restore sharia or Islamic law and maintain Islamic cultural identity. According to the adherents of this brand of Islamist activism, they are engaged in a jihad or a holy struggle against Islam’s enemies, including even fellow Muslims who have abandoned what the extremists view as true” Islam.


One approach that these extremists use in Southern Thailand is the distribution of hate literature in the form of pamphlets, against the Buddhists. They are meant to intimidate the local Buddhist community. They are also used a warning mechanisms. One such Document states “Dear every Siamese Buddhist Thai who lives near the police stations……I’ll give you three days for you to leave my land. Otherwise, I will kill, burn, destroy all Buddhist Thai property……The Buddhist Thai will never live in peace. If you leave the house, travel or go to work, you will die violently. I will wait for you for 24 hours, in every direction” (Pamphlet No.22). Another states “The Islamic warriors of Pattani announce the purpose that we will never stop killing the Siamese kafir (infidel) and will never stop destroying army weapons, the economy, politics, education and the Siamese kafir society until we regain the land of Pattani and establish the state of Pattani Darulslam. I ask for Muslim Malays to be the witnesses.” (Pamphlet No 23).


In the 20th century, there were 5 main Islamic insurgent groups responsible for terror attacks in Thailand. One group was called the Patani Malay National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate, or BRN-Coordinate. The second insurgent group was the National Liberation Front of Patani (BNPP) which was the first organized armed resistance group active in the 1970s and 1980s, but had become defunct. The third insurgent group was the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) operating mainly from exile in Syria and Sweden where its supporters lived. It had a working relationship with BRN. The fourth insurgent group was the Islamic Mujahidin Movement of Patani (GMIP) formed in 1995 by Afghanistan war veteran Nasoree Saesaeng. This group was linked to the Malaysia-based militant organization Kumpulan Mujahidin which, in turn had close ties with the Indonesia- based Jemaah Islamiya. The fifth main insurgent group was the United Front for the Independence of Patani, commonly known as Bersatu.


In the last decade, there has been evidence that Islamic institutions of foreign Muslim nations have been involved in promoting Islamic radicalization and the doctrine of Islamic Jihad in Thailand. Thai authorities knew for quite some time that many Muslim Thai activists had been to overseas Islamic schools, where they came under influence of hard-line Muslim teachers. Some were reported to have joined the jihad against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and returned to Thailand as extremists.

According to Michael Scott Doran, a Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, this brand of Islamist extremism is not a new phenomenon. The basic sentiment of today’s Muslim extremists has flourished in the Islamic world for decades. In recent decades the newfound wealth of the oil-rich Middle Eastern Islamic countries and massive immigration of Muslims to the West, Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise and the dormant spirit of Jihadism has been rekindled once again. This fervor has been translated into various forms of upheavals and terrorism and world peace has been put in jeopardy. In 2001 it was reported that of the 28 terrorist organizations in the world, 11 are Islamist and that there were thousands of Islamist terrorists in more than 60 countries.


Another approach that these extremists use is enumerated well by Zachary Abuza in his book titled Militant Islam in Southeast Asia (Crucible of Terror). It highlights the role of Islamic schools called Madrasas in indoctrinating the younger generation. The author comments that “In their pursuit of the creation of Islamic states, many Southeast Asian jihadis established Islamic schools to indoctrinate, propagate, and recruit. The leaders of many militant groups in Southeast Asia, including the Laskar Jihad, Kampulan Mujahidin Malaysia, and Jemaah Islamiya, returned from Afghanistan and established a network of madrasas as the base of their operations and recruitment.” These radical Islamic madrasas, with unrestricted material support from foreign Muslim countries, have begun to recruit and brainwash many Muslim children and youth in Islamic Jihadist movement and Islamic fundamentalism. This is a dangerous trend and a great threat to peace and security of Thailand.


The extensive media reporting in Pakistan on the presence of foreign students in Pakistani madrasas, which followed the reports of the involvement of three British citizens of Pakistani origin in the London explosions of July 7, 2005, has revealed the presence of nearly a thousand Thai Muslims from Pattanis, in the Pakistani madrasas. Until the Pakistani media gave an estimate of the number of Thai students in their madrasas, the world was not aware of the large number of Thai Muslims in Pakistani Madrasas. It is now known that madrasas in Bangladesh also contain large numbers of Thai Muslims. Many of these Thai Muslims have enrolled themselves in the madrasas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan, which are the hotbeds of the activities of the Taliban and the Wahhabi-Deobandi organizations of Pakistan. Some of them have also undergone training in the jihadi training centres of the Taliban and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar’s Hizbe Islami (HEI) and have been participating in the current Taliban-HEI-Al Qaeda offensive in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in the NWFP and Baluchistan.” South Asia Analysis Group — Terrorism in Southern Thailand by B. Raman, Paper No. 1501, 15/08/2005.

Thai authorities are investigating possible links between separatist groups and Islamic terrorist organizations such as Jemaah Islamiyah, which seeks a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia. It’s blamed for attacks including the 2002 bombing in Bali that claimed 202 lives.


Thailand’s Muslim youth often go to Malaysia to study, especially in the northern state of Kelantan, where terrorists wanted by Thai authorities have allegedly gone into hiding. Indeed, Malaysia hasn’t just served as a safe haven for Thai religious warriors. Until the late 1990s, Indonesian hate preacher Abu Bakar Bashir, now in detention in Jakarta on charges of “planning to overthrow the government,” taught at a Malaysian religious school, where he indoctrinated the members of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, who killed 202 people in the October 2002 nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali.

Terror is everywhere. Although Indonesia recently reported the death of dangerous bomb-maker Azahari bin Husin a member of the notorious Indonesian terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah and the man believed responsible for the 2002 attacks in Bali, among other acts of terror, the whereabouts of the more than 40 suicide bombers he trained remain a mystery.

Despite problems in Thailand and Malaysia, international observers and Western intelligence experts are even more concerned about Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country. With its 212 million inhabitants, including 185 million Muslims, the giant island nation is the world’s most populous Islamic country.

Indonesian authorities have arrested more than 200 members of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah in recent months, but acts of terror committed by Muslim fanatics have not subsided. Six hooded men in black staged an especially brutal attack in 2005 on the island of Sulawesi, where they beheaded three Christian schoolgirls in their uniforms and placed one of the severed heads in front of a church (MARCH OF THE EXTREMISTS, Attacks Threaten Religious Harmony in Southeast Asia, By Jargen Kremb ,Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan, November 21, 2005).


Extremist Muslims in particular appear to dislike all ‘infidels’ – Buddhists, Christians,  Hindus and Jews. Also, there is evidence that some Muslims hate each other and murder each other. Sunnis slaughter Shias, Shias slaughter Sunnis, both Shias and Sunnis  join  together to slaughter Ahamediyas. Bloodshed, mass murder, terrorism and  violence appear to be a part of Muslim culture then and now (Islamic Terrorists Kill More Buddhists in Southern Thailand, Assyrian International News Agency – Posted 1-27-2011,

The history of Islam is a story of constant war and suppression of other peoples in the world. The constant inclination of Islam has been to wage war and capture foreign lands.  Prophet Mohammad himself led military expeditions and killed people with his own hands. The Arab Empire was won and consolidated by Islamizing its peoples using the fury of its faith in god who desires everyone to submit to him.

Most of the Koran is replete with passages that call for war on unbelievers and venomous hate of those who would not acknowledge its god. The following quotation from the Koran will illustrate the mentality of Prophet Mohammed. Let those who would exchange the life of this world for the hereafter fight for the cause of god, whoever fights for the cause of god whether he dies or triumphs, we shall richly reward him… The true believers fight for the cause of god but the infidels fight for the devil.  Fight then against the friends of Satan… 


The intention of Thailand’s radical Sunni Islamists is to have a land with no Buddhists and to create an Islamic Sharia state. The  usual beheadings of innocents is deemed to be justified on the grounds that non-Muslims are infidels in accordance with the Koran and Hadiths. This applies to the Koran for 9:29 states “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and his apostle nor acknowledge the religion of truth of the people of the Book (Jews and Christians) until they pay jizya (tax on non-Muslims) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”

Verse 9:73 in the Koran also states “O Prophet! Strive hard (wage war) against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, — an evil refuge indeed.” While the Hadith 9:4  says “Wherever you find infidels kill them; for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection.”

Zachary Abuza, the author of “Militant Islam in Southeast Asia,” states that Buddhists have been forced to flee in a “de facto ethnic cleansing.” He further continued by stating that “The social fabric of the south has been irreparably damaged.” Meanwhile Sunai Phasuk, a political analyst at Human Rights Watch, comments that “Buddhist monks have been hacked to death, clubbed to death, bombed and burned to death.” Therefore, it is clear that this Sunni Islamic insurgency is following a path that involves the destruction of all non-Muslim elements within society or the complete subjugation of all non-Muslims by the rule of fear.


The most notable movement in the region is Jemaah Islamiya which is often linked with Al Qaeda and this Sunni terrorist Islamic organization desires to create more chaos and hatred in order to spread its influence and obtain its ultimate objective. This objective, just like the radical Sunni Islamic objective in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and other nations, is to create an Islamic Sharia state and enforce the slavery of non-Muslims by a policy of total subjugation based on fear. They have threatened parents to not send their children to any school but the private Islamic schools. They have forced businesses closed on Fridays. Suffis and moderate Sha’afis have been routinely targeted. Also, it is noticeable that more women are covering up in purdah.

Overall, it is clear that elements within Southern Thailand desire a non-Buddhist land. The younger generation of Muslims are being brainwashed against Buddhists. This hatred and alienation of the younger generation began after many studied at international universities throughout the Middle East. Funding from the Middle East is being used to spread radical Sunni Islamic versions of Islam. Although the hidden war in Southern Thailand by radical Sunni Islamists is being aimed at moderate Muslims and Buddhists alike,  the Buddhists it is feared face complete annihilation and one day Southern Thailand may end up like Afghanistan, Central Asia, and other areas which once had thriving Buddhist communities.


Growing violence is proving a challenge to the Thai military. “The most dangerous battle in Southeast Asia’s religious melting pot”, says terrorism and al-Qaida expert Rohan Gunaratna, “is currently being waged in Southern Thailand.” Not a day goes by here without an attack. On some days, state-run schools are set on fire and teachers murdered, and on others unknown attackers in pickup trucks target Muslim teahouses in drive-by shootings. A train carrying military recruits was blown from its tracks in 2005. Armed assailants armed with machine guns and hand grenades wiped out a nine-member Muslim family because the father had worked as a police informant.


The LTTE Tamil terrorists were involved with Muslim activists of Southern Thailand during the latter part of the 20th century, especially in the Phuket area of Southern Thailand. There LTTE Tamil terrorists were involved in heroin smuggling with the assistance of Muslim activists. They used drug proceeds to purchase weapons which were transported to Sri Lanka for terrorist activities. In 2000, Thai government pledged to halt the use of Thailand as a logistics base by the LTTE following the discovery in June 2000 of a partially completed submarine at a shipyard in Phuket, in Southern Thailand, owned by an LTTE-sympathizer. They also discovered an unclassified paper by Canadian intelligence published in December 2000 that outlined the LTTE use of front companies to procure weapons via Thailand.


Why do Muslims battle all societies they infiltrate? Also, why are Muslims not accommodative of non Muslims living in Muslim countries, especially by not permitting them to freely practice their religions? Why are there no Muslim democracies? These are relevant questions for one to pose. The fact is that in general, Muslims are more intransigent, belligerent and are  notoriously militarized, and thus are disproportionately involved in conflicts in the world ( It is common knowledge that although Muslims speak of brotherhood, there is strong disunity and dislike among the various Muslim factions. Sunnis dislike Shias, Shias dislike  Sunnis, both Shias and Sunnis join together to harass the Ahamediyas. All Muslims dislike all infidels – Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus. Buddhists, wherever in the world they live, are accommodative of other religions. Also, unlike in the case with Muslims, Buddhists, whatever may be the countries they belong to, whatever may be the schools of Buddhism they observe  –  Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana, Zen, there is no disharmony or animosity at all among them.

History reveals vividly how Muslims invaded many former Buddhist countries and subjugated their people subjecting them to extreme forms of violence and untold misery unless people converted to Islam. There have been problems of a varied nature in all countries where Muslims form a minority.  Indonesia and Malaysia were Buddhist countries at a certain time in history. With Muslim invasions most of the Buddhists in these places were either killed or converted to Islam. More recently in 2001, in the name of Islam, the Taliban destroyed the world renowned monumental Bamiyan Buddha statues built in the 6th century, citing that these were ‘idols’ which are forbidden under Sharia law in Islam. These actions show disrespect, disregard and sheer indifference towards people of other religions. Such attitudes do not allow any community to assimilate with other communities, especially with mainstream communities in countries where they live as a minority.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane 

Vancouver, Canada

Pictures of Muslim Violence against Buddhists in Thailand

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