The Sheikhul Islam Office and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center are joining hands in organizing a familiarization trip program to promote relations between Thailand and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member countries.
The program will be held on 22-23 June 2013, when a group of diplomats and representatives from the embassies of 17 OIC member countries in Bangkok join a study tour of northern Thailand to observe the lifestyle of Muslim Thais. It is intended to create better understanding between Thailand and the Muslim world. The Thai government is determined to improve the situation in the southern border provinces, where unrest has been dragging on for nine years now.
The Secretary-General of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center, Police Colonel Tawee Sodsong, said that the program would take the group to Chiang Mai to help them find first-hand information about the living conditions of Muslim Thais, who are free to teach and practice their religion.
Apart from visiting various mosques, he said, the group of OIC diplomats would be briefed on the introduction of Islam in northern and southern Thailand and the resolving of problems in the southern border provinces, which are predominantly Muslim. They will be provided with opportunities to learn more about Muslim communities in Thailand. Police Colonel Tawee said that the Thai government has supported the empowerment of Muslim communities, whether it involves education, employment, or justice. With better understanding about the situation, he hoped that Thailand and Muslim countries would move more closely together for wider cooperation in various areas.
Muslims, Buddhists, and followers of other faiths in Thailand have lived in peaceful harmony and tolerance for centuries. There are constitutional provisions for religious freedom that effectively guard against religious discrimination and restrictions. Although the majority of Muslim Thais are ethnically Malay, the early Muslim community in Thailand also included those who were hereditary Muslims, Muslims by intermarriage, or recent converts. From their many years of living in Thailand, it is evident that they have blended with other cultures and lived in peaceful coexistence with Buddhist Thais.
In other developments, Police Colonel Tawee said that the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Indonesia has offered 50 scholarships to students in the southern border provinces of Thailand to study at six Indonesian universities in Islamic studies and other fields at graduate and post-graduate levels. The educational support is intended to strengthen people-to-people contact between the two countries, help develop human resources, and reduce conflicts in southern Thailand.
The offer came after the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center and the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Indonesia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for educational, religious, and cultural cooperation in April 2013. Concerning the promotion of the Malay language, Police Colonel Tawee said that the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Indonesia expressed its support for the establishment of a Malay-language institute at a university in the deep South of Thailand and that it would send experts to teach Malay at the institute. Indonesia would send television and radio signals for Malay-language broadcasts in southern Thailand, as well.
Regarding economic cooperation, both sides agreed to cooperate in halal industrial development and the setting up of a business association between the Indonesian business community and business groups in southern Thailand.
The Thai government attaches great importance to southern border provinces development in accordance with the local way of living and aspects of culture and identity.