One of Cambodia’s Cham Muslim leaders is Sos Mousine, who serves as Secretary of State at the Ministry of Cults and Religion in the Cambodian government. He is also president of the Cambodian Muslim Students Association (CAMSA) and president of the Islamic Medical Association of Cambodia (IMAC).
Born in Kampong Thom, Sos survived the Khmer Rouge period as a young boy and has since been active in helping Cham people receive educat-ion and health care.
“We give priority to education and health care. We want to upgrade the standard of living for all Cham people and have good co-operation with our Muslim brothers and sisters outside the country,” he says.
“We want the community to understand about harmony between religions, without conflict with other religions."
Sos says the four priorities are education, health care, upgrading living standards and good co-oper-ation with others.
“We don’t have the resources to build our society, and we need help for investment from other countries.
"We need support not only to provide education funds and give scholarships; we need to build any vocat-ional school for the Cham community in Kampot so the poor can afford to go to school. Sometimes they cannot afford go to Phnom Penh to study.”
In health care, Sos, in his role as president of IMAC, is trying to raise funds for Cham women to study to become medical professionals.
“We are appealing to donors to give priority for studies in health science. We need females to study as midwives, because it's sometimes hard for Chams to consult with non-Muslims in health care.
"That’s why we want to produce more Cham lady graduates in medical science. They can work in government health centres as well.”
Not only for the Cham people, but for all Cambodians, health science training can reduce poverty and support higher education, Sos says.
“In rich countries, the people understand that health and nutrition are important. Health education is very important because you can teach people to protect their health by themselves.”
As the economics of the Cham improve, Sos thinks people can get into other lines of work including manufacturing and sales, enabling them to go to Hajj (the trip to Mecca that Muslims must make once during their lives.)
As advisers to Muslim Aid, CAMSA and IMAC can provide loans and donations to poor families on the condition that the money they earn as a result of the support has to go towards sanitary improvements
and sending their children to school.
“If you improve conditions, your money has to go back to children. Our hope is that your children will become successful,” Sos says.
He says change won’t come rapidly to the Cham community, but by the next generation, he hopes to see more Cham people working in government, business and civil society in general.
"We hope that in 10 or 15 years, Cham people can support their own communities, not only by outside support, but they can earn their own money to pay for teachers and whatever else they need,” Sos says.
Back in 1995, only about 10 Cambodian Muslims were studying at university. Today, more than 100 a year go to university inside and outside Cambodia.
“Our planning was how to encourage our Muslim parents who are farmers to have the means to send their children to school. Now we have a hundred a year inside the country and outside the country," Sos says.
“Our activities, as they relate to Islamic affairs, and our responsibility through social activities and health care is that we have to provide the value of education and respect.”