EVER SINCE VIETNAM OVERTHREW THE genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, the resource-challenged Cambodians, including the Cham (Cambodian Muslims), have been struggling to rehabilitate and develop their county.
During the Pol Pot regime, the community’s religious leadership was specifically targeted for extermination. Many of them, along with more than 500,000 Cham, was executed. The Cham now make up approximately less than 5 percent of the population. To avoid the sufferings of war, some fled to Malaysia, France, and the U.S. – a journey that often led to living in horrendous refugee camps.
Living as refugees from their war-devastated country, the Cham faced the same difficulties as all other waves of refugees in their new host country: learning its language and customs, finding a job, enrolling their children in school, along building a new life for themselves in an advanced and highly educated society.
In the U.S., even if their numbers are small, the Cham have founded a few communities, comprising refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam, in Santa Ana, Calif., Seattle and Olympia in Washington State, and some in Virginia.
Many of those who have “made it” started visiting their homeland and families after the civil war ended in the 1990s. In addition to using their own funds, they also set up a charitable organization to do fundraising among other Muslim American communities.
Most of their financial help went to developing the community’s infrastructure, such as building Islamic schools and mosques or giving scholarships to students and allowances to Islamic teachers. Others have helped to build water wells. But most of them have supported projects in their birth villages, such as those from Kampong Cham province.
Ghazaly Salim, imam at the Islamic Center of Santa Ana and president of the Cambodian Islamic Foundation, has spent most of his free time serving the Cham Muslim community in the U.S. and Cambodia. He told Islamic Horizons that he and his family had stayed in the Ban Mai Rut refugee camp 1 near Klong Yai, Thailand, before migrating to the U.S. in 1979.
He said, “Alhamdulillah we are so grateful that we have the opportunity when settling in the United States to return and help the Muslims communities back home, especially in the early years when Cambodia was still under reconstruction. We helped build several mosques and schools and water wells and support teachers. We provided udhiyah meat, etc., under the Cambodian Islamic Foundation.”
Yakob Sulaiman, imam of the Cham Muslim Community in Seattle who migrated to the U.S. in 2007, said that he and his family also helped by sending allowances for Islamic teachers, building water wells, and carrying out some other humanitarian works. He added that “even though we are struggling to build a proper Islamic center here, but we never forget to help our people in Cambodia.”
Besides the assistance, the Cham Muslim Americans and the Cham communities in Cambodia also receive help from Muslim American charitable organizations. Since 2015, the Cambodian Muslim Media Center, a prominent media outlet online for the indigenous Muslim community, has partnered with the Illinois-based Zakat Foundation of America for seasonal projects, such as Ramadan iftar, udhiyah meat, water wells, and building mosques.
In early 2019, the foundation’s support funded 45 hand-pumped water wells. The project continues.
In Ramadan 2019, the Zakat Foundation of America enabled the Cambodian Muslim Media Center to supply iftar food packages to 200 less fortunate Muslim
families (approximately 1,000 people) in Kandal Province. The Cambodian Islamic Foundation has funded several of the center’s seasonal projects and mosque building, water well projects and emergency relief.
Several local Muslim NGOs in Cambodia are working to improve Muslim communities, but rarely receive funds from American Muslim charities. Thus, most of them receive donations from Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and some Middle Eastern countries, said Kry Nora, program manager at the Cambodian Muslim Media Center.
Nora, on behalf of the projects’ beneficiaries, expressed his profound thanks to the Cham Muslim Americans who have returned and helped their people back home and also to the Zakat Foundation of America and the Cambodian Islamic Foundation.
It is important that other American Muslim NGOs also assist Cambodia’s Muslims, for the need continues for both humanitarian assistance and social-economic development.
Source: Islamic Horizons Magazine
June 9, 2022