Officials say newly appointed imams will aid economic development and strengthen the teaching of the Koran in Cambodia's Muslim communities.
THE country's leading Muslim community body has appointed more than 400 imams in an effort to strengthen the moral fabric of the Cham and Khmer Islam communities, communtiy representatives said this week.
The Highest Council for Islamic Religious Affairs in Cambodia (HCIRAC) made the appointments at a conference Tuesday and Wednesday to counteract the loss of religious dedication among Muslim youth.
"Our youth are overjoyed with materialism, and some of them have committed evils against God," Sos Kamry, the Grand Mufti of Cambodia, said Wednesday during the second annual conference, attended by 585 Muslims from across the country.
"The imams' role is to educate people about the social morality as contained in the Koran. We believe that these imams will not only improve the Cham people's and Khmer Muslims' morality, but will also cooperate with all the activities of the authorities to develop and reduce poverty in our country," Sos Kamry added.
Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An said that despite the fact that Buddhists and Muslims had different religious beliefs, they have the same obligation to defend the country and help in its development.
"We live in the same country and under a National Constitution, so we need to make an effort to develop ties of friendship in order to develop [it],"
she said, calling on the newly appointed imams and Muslim community leaders to implement government policy in the rural areas.
Sos Mousine, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religions, said that HCIRAC organised the conference to disseminate the government's development strategies.
"A country can be developed when the participants join together without discrimination on the basis of race, colour and class," he said. "Khmer Islam and Cham people have contributed in all sectors to the nation's development."
Cambodia is currently home to around half a million Muslims, 70 percent of whom are fishermen, farmers and craftsmen, Sos Mousine said.
But with Cambodia's weak border controls and growing links with the Middle East, there have been fears that Cambodia's Muslim population could become a target of foreign-born Islamic radicals.
Othsman Hassan, president of the Cambodia Muslim Development Foundation, rejected the idea that Cambodian Muslims had "contributed to the al-Qaeda movement", but said the government would remain vigilant.
"We should be cautious about the issues and must report them immediately to the authorities if we know anything because [radicals] might attempt to separate us from the government," he told participants at the conference.