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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A short course on Islam in Cambodia

A short course on Islam in Cambodia

Islam is changing in Cambodia. Muslims are financially benefiting from aid from global Islamic institutions, often at the expense of traditional practices, which are quickly changing according to the preferences of international donors.

Cambodian Islam is composed of three main groups: the orthodox Islam, who make up a 80% of Cambodian Muslims, the Chvea Muslims of coastal regions and the Imam Sann group. The first group has the closest connection to Muslims around the world, and their practices most closely resemble those seen in other the majority of Muslim populations. Most orthodox followers, for example, forbid keeping dogs as pets as it is considered unsanitary.

Orthodox Muslims are believed to descend from Champa, and their beliefs are largely influenced by the elite Chams who initially came to Cambodia. Recently, however, they are being increasingly influenced by the belief systems of charity organizations from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia and local cultures are withering away.

The second group of Muslims, about 40,000 people, lives mostly along the Cambodian coastal area, do not speak Cham and are believed to be the original Muslims who converted Cham refugees from Hinduism to Islam when they first arrived in Cambodia in the 15th century.

The third group are followers of Imam Sann, an old and devout Muslim, who died and was buried on Oudong Mountain (the old capital of Cambodia). With 38,000 followers, they are the smallest group, live mostly in Kampong Tralach district, Kampong Chhnang province, and are seen as being the least devout in the Islamic practices. For example, they do not wash their face when they pray, men do not need to keep beard and they do not cover their heads or faces as is Orthodox Islamic practice. They pray one time in seven days.

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