Thailand in located in Southeast Asia and was known as Siam until 11 May 1949. Thai means “free” in the Thai language.
Opinions vary on the percentage of Muslims in Thailand, but some say they represent about 5-10% of its total population.
Muslims are largely present in Southern Thailand. Their origins date back to the early Arab and Indian merchants who travelled there since the 12th century.
These Muslims are Malay and speak the Bahasa language. It is written in Arabic letters.
When Shaaban starts, Muslims there start memorising the Quran in sessions that are held throughout the month up until the final test. When Ramadan starts, those who memorised best are announced and allowed to recite the Quran in mosques throughout Ramadan.
It is not unusual to see an opening of a new mosque in every city and village during Ramadan. Muslims collect money to build the mosques, and some even contribute to building it themselves.
A religious custom in Thailand is carrying those who memorised the Quran on people’s shoulders in happy gatherings to celebrate them. They walk around carrying them to give an example to the rest of the Muslims and encourage them to memorise the Quran as well.
In Ramadan, mosques are lit, and decorations are hung. Even non-Muslims feel like there is a big event occurring and a very sacred occasion to celebrate. Thailand has about 3,494 mosques, including 180 in the capital Bangkok alone.
When it is time for iftar in Thailand, big drums are beaten. The person who beats these drums is usually referred to as “Bilal”.
In Ramadan, family members gather around the head of the family, whether it is the father, grandfather, or grandmother. Everybody gathers around the table during iftar. Some people have their iftar in mosques as women arrive there carrying different kinds of foods right before the adhan (call to prayer) for Maghrib (sunset). Ramadan is seen as an opportunity for a family to get together and spend nights practicing religious rituals.
Charities in Thailand collect personal donations to hold group iftars in Ramadan and help the needy throughout the month.
On the first day of Ramadan, each family must sacrifice a cattle head in celebration of the holy month. Poorer families sacrifice birds. This is an old Thai tradition that has been practiced for centuries.
Before iftar, women go out in groups and sit in front of one of their homes and have iftar together, while men do not eat the food their wives cooked, but instead eat the food cooked by other men’s wives. Muslims are keen on eating plenty of vegetables and do not consume many sweets. The Muslim Thai community loves a type of cake made of rice and milk and specifically prefer to have it at suhoor.
Iftar starts with dates (usually imported from Egypt and Saudi Arabia) with milk, some juices, and snacks. Then Muslims perform their prayers and go back to finishing their iftar.
At iftar, Thai tables, like the case in all Muslim countries, are filled with different kinds of foods and sweets, but the most remarkable thing about this month is that no home makes different kinds of foods, but rather make large amounts of the same type and everybody distributes what they make to everybody else so that each table ends up with dozens of types of foods.
Each family is keen on visiting the rest of its members who may have moved away. Some of them stay for a few days at their relatives’ homes.
Before suhoor, young people and children stand outside their houses with fruits as well as carry lanterns made of tree bark and lit with oil, making them look more like torches.
When it is suhoor time, the streets are empty.
People believe that on Lailat Al-Qadr (Night of Power) there are clear universal signs, and that if you see one of those signs and you say a prayer, whatever you ask for will be accepted and God will respond to one of your prayers.