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Cablegate: More Friend Than Foe? The Cham Muslims of an Giang

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 000210

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

Dept for EAP/BCLTV, DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV VM KIRF RELFREE ETMIN
SUBJECT: MORE FRIEND THAN FOE? THE CHAM MUSLIMS OF AN GIANG
PROVINCE

REF: 03 HANOI 01554

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. An Giang Province's small ethnic minority Cham
Muslims expressed delight at U.S. interest in them and a
willingness to meet again. Poloff informally visited three Cham
Muslim mosques on February 20, 2004, meeting with lay followers
and one Imam. The Cham shared current information on their
practices, funding and religious activities while eagerly showing
off their facilities. Malaysia provides some funding to the
community, while Saudi Arabia has funded the hajj for several
followers. Muslim representatives in HCMC indicated that Muslim
groups nationwide currently have 72 students studying abroad --
including six in Saudi Arabia, 16 in Indonesia, 42 in Malaysia,
six in Libya, and two in Egypt. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Poloff visited the Jamiul Azhar mosque in Phu Tan
district and the Moubarak and Nia Mah mosques in Tan Chau
district, all directly across the Hau Giang River from the town of
Chau Doc, An Giang. According to believers, each mosque attracts
40-50 believers for each of the five daily calls to prayer. About
200 people attend the two additional Friday services at each
mosque. Followers also attend classes, including Arabic courses,
every day except Friday.

3. (SBU) Initially, the three mosques were empty except for the
caretakers, who reside on the properties, but groups of up to 15
people quickly formed at each location. The Imam of Nia Mah was
waiting to receive Poloff personally, since the other mosques had
called ahead to tell him "a delegation" was coming. None of the
people at the mosques identified themselves by name. Followers at
each mosque proudly showed off their facilities, including the
main worship area. The Imam invited Poloff to his house later in
the day, after prayers ended, to meet his family and discuss Islam
further (because of time constraints the invitation was politely
declined). Still, the Imam said he hoped Poloff would return in
the future.

4. (SBU) The caretakers of both the Jamiul Azhar and Moubarak
mosques reported that funding for their mosques came from three
primary sources: ethnic Cham in other provinces, overseas Cham in
America, and unidentified entities in Malaysia. The provincial
Committee for Religious and Ethnic Minority Affairs also
identified Malaysia as a primary source of funding for the Muslim
community. The mosques have sent students to train in Saudi
Arabia, Libya, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. The two mosques
combined currently have six students in Malaysia, three in
Indonesia, and one in Libya. According to Mr. Idress of the
Muslim Representative Board in HCMC, Vietnamese Muslim groups
nationwide have sent a total of six students to Saudi Arabia, 20
to Indonesia, 48 to Malaysia, six to Libya, and two to Egypt since
1995. Four of the students in Indonesia and six students in
Malaysia have returned to Vietnam already, while the others
continue their studies overseas.

5. (SBU) Some members of all three mosques had gone on the hajj
within the last three years. The Imam had performed the hajj in
2000 and his wife had just returned from the hajj this year.
According to the Committee on Religious and Ethnic Minority
Affairs, nine Muslims in An Giang province went on the hajj in
2004. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia funded the hajj for these
individuals. Two other individuals had been denied Saudi Arabian
visas.

6. (SBU) The three mosques appeared to have good relations with
the local government and the followers did not report any
problems. The Moubarak mosque has been registered as a Vietnamese
historic landmark. The head of the district government joined the
group at Nia Mah and even participated in some theological
discussion. Security personnel (some plainclothes, some
uniformed) quickly arrived at each mosque, however, and could be
seen questioning individuals after Poloff departed.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: The Cham Muslims seemed genuinely pleased to
have an American visitor and were even more excited to discuss
basic Islamic theology with an American. This attitude is similar
to that of the leadership of another Cham mosque in the province
(reftel). The Imam and one of his elders also touted the
commonalities between Christianity and Islam, as believers of both
religions were "people of the book." Lay followers did become
nervous, however, after local security arrived. Questions remain
about the extent of foreign influence on the Cham Muslims,
including the sources of their overseas funding and the number of
students they are sending abroad.

YAMAUCHI

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