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Cablegate: Small Baha'i and Muslim Communities Grow in Hanoi

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DE RUEHHI #1636/01 2551701
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 121701Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6338
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3686
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001636

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
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STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV SOCI VM

SUBJECT: SMALL BAHA'I AND MUSLIM COMMUNITIES GROW IN HANOI


HANOI 00001636 001.2 OF 002


SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Leaders of Hanoi's small Muslim and Baha'i communities say
the religious freedom they enjoy is leading to a growth in their
communities. They, like other faiths in Vietnam, in turn face
greater pressure to find adequate facilities for their worshipers,
leading to questions over land rights and current government
possession of former houses of worship. The Baha'is say their
relations with the GVN are good and getting better while the Hanoi
Mosque is hopeful that when the Saudi Arabian Embassy opens in Hanoi
in the fall that the local community will receive more funding to
support schools for Muslim children. End Summary.

MUSLIMS IN HANOI
----------------

2. (SBU) The only mosque in Hanoi is quietly tucked away in the old
quarter of the city. The distinct architecture of the small
building cannot be missed but blends in with the Buddhist pagoda
located near by. It was originally built in 1890 by merchants from
India and former soldiers of the French Foreign Legion who came from
Morocco. Mr. Doan Hong Cuong, who took over as caretaker of the
mosque after his father's death, was born in Hanoi of Indian
ancestry.

3. (SBU) Cuong told Poloff that members of the Muslim community hold
group prayer sessions every Friday afternoon, led by an Imam from
Pakistan. Cuong said that during his 20 years as caretaker of the
mosque, the government has never interfered in their right to
worship and sometimes government representatives attended religious
festivities - the community is free to celebrate all Muslim holy
days and festivities.

4. (SBU) Cuong said that while passages of the Koran are read in
Arabic, most of the services are conducted in English, a neutral
language that everyone can understand. Currently the Hanoi Muslim
community has 330 adherents, with about 300 believers coming from
the diplomatic corps stationed in Hanoi, most from the Indonesian,
Pakistani and Indian embassies. According to Cuong, the majority of
believers in Hanoi are women and many Vietnamese women met their
prospective husbands by working at foreign embassies and converted
to Islam before getting married.

5. (SBU) Cuong said that while the Muslim faith is recognized by the
Vietnamese government, they do not receive any funding except from
individual believers and donations from a few embassies. He added
that the Muslim community in Ho Chi Minh City is much more
established, with more believers and better financing. Cuong said
that in a few years time the Hanoi Mosque might need to expand
beyond its current site and will need approval from the government.
He is hopeful that when the Saudi Arabian Embassy opens in Hanoi in
the fall that the local community will receive more funding to
support schools for Muslim children.

BAHA'IS IN HANOI
----------------

6. (SBU) Mr. Nguyen Binh, one of the representatives of the Local
Spiritual Assembly (LSA) of the Baha'is in Hanoi, told Poloff that
the faith was recognized by the government in March 2007 but must go
through a year-long probationary period before being given
"official" status. The Baha'i Faith was first established in
Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City back in 1954 by Lady Shirin Fozdar, an
Indian national who was born in Bombay and traveled throughout
Southeast Asia before eventually settling in Vietnam. According to
Binh, before the Vietnam War there were approximately 200,000
Baha'is throughout the country but currently the registered number
is closer to 10,000 in 46 provinces throughout the country.

7. (SBU) Binh said Baha'is are encouraged to start LSAs where at
least nine adult Baha'is are living and currently there are over 30
LSAs throughout Vietnam. The community hopes that once it receives
official status in 2008, it will be able to register all 30 LSAs
with the government of Vietnam. Baha'is from all over the country
recently attended a three-day summer school event for adults and
children, which included reading and deepening their knowledge of
religious texts.

BAHA'I DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS IN VIETNAM
--------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Ho Chi Minh City is home to the National Spiritual Assembly
(NSA) of the Baha'is of Vietnam, which handles all national issues
for the community such as government relations and administrative
issues and reports directly to the Baha'i World Center located in
Haifa, Israel. The Vietnamese Baha'i community will meet in Da Nang
in October to hold their annual elections for nine NSA officers.

HANOI 00001636 002.2 OF 002


Every April the Baha'is hold elections throughout the country at the
local level in order to elect LSA members.

9. (SBU) Binh said relations between the government and the GVN are
good and seem to be getting better. During a recent trip by Prime
Minister Dzung to India, a delegation of GVN officials and the prime
minister's wife met with Baha'is in New Delhi and toured the Baha'i
Temple. Members of the Hanoi LSA are schedule to meet with the
President and Prime Minister sometime after the National Day
holiday. LSA representatives are in close contact with officials
from the Vietnamese Fatherland Front and National Committee on
Religious Affairs.

10. (SBU) Binh said Baha'is once owned several property sites but
after the war the government took ownership. The Baha'is apparently
have the titles of ownership in their possession and in one building
Baha'i inscriptions are still evident in what is now a local
government office. The Baha'i community plans to initiate a
dialogue with the GVN on this issue with a view to reclaiming the
sites in question.

COMMENT: GROWING COMMUNITIES NEED SPACE
---------------------------------------

11. (SBU) Members of the Baha'i and Muslim communities continue to
worship, educate their members, and observe holy days without
government intervention. The question of land rights and the status
of previous places of worship now in government possession, however,
is an issue for these as well as other religious communities. With
progress on religious freedom, the number of believers will likely
continue to rise and congregations now forced to worship in small or
interim locations will make more requests to the government to
expand their property or challenge the government to return former
houses of worship.

MICHALAK

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