Hà Nôi Al-Noor masjid


The mosque in Hànôi is known as 'Indian pagoda'. Its Arabic name is Al-Noor masjid.

It was built in 1890 and renovated in 1950 (see pictures).

Its address is 12 Hàng Luoc street, Kim Ma commune, Hoàn Kiêm district, Hànôi.

This masjid has Indian architecture and used mainly by Muslims from overseas. The Imams of this masjid are the Afghani-Arabic teachers from Al-Fath Islamic primary school close by.

Muslims in Hànôi are mainly the Embassy workers from Brunei, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, and so forth. It is possible that they make up over 90% of Muslims in Hànôi.

As for the Vietnamese Muslims themselves, most of them live near the masjid. There are about 3 Muslim families whose grandfather is a Pakistani, one couple consists of Bangladeshi and Vietnamese, one old revert, one young revert and myself. At the moment there are about 15 of us.

by Trân Lê Hà Fatiha


Q : How was Islam introduced into Central and South Viêtnam?

A : Southeast Asia is known as one of the main lands of Islam. The number of believers in the region accounts for 60% of the total populations. In Indonesia, it is 85%, Brunei 65%, Malaysia 55%, Singapore 17%, the Philippines 8%, Cambodia 7%, Myanmar 5%, Thailand 4%. Yet, in Viêtnam Muslims account for only a small percentage.

As early as the 11th and 12th centuries, Arabian and Indian traders brought Islam to Southeast Asia via business contacts. The new religion was later mixed with local beliefs and customs. In Vietnam, its emergence coincided with the decline of the Chiêm Thành Dynasty in the 15th century. However, according to the Chinese Song historians, the religion was present in Viêtnam during the turn of the 10th century to the 11th century.

In Viêtnam, Islam is practised mostly by the Cham people (50,000 adherents), who concentrate in Ninh Thuân, Binh Thuân, An Giang, Sàigòn, Tây Ninh and Dông Nai.

According to legend, the Cham people, whose indigenous religion was Brahmanism, first familiarized themselves with Islam around the 10th and 11th centuries. But this religion became more visible only when the Chiêm Thành empire declined in the 15th century, which caused a massive migration of the Cham to Cambodia.

After regular contacts with Malaysian Muslims, the Cham immigrants soon became converted to Islam. Furthermore, later, they tried to encourage their compatriots in Central Viêtnam to follow them but their effort was not much successful as there were in the Cham community at the time heavy vestiges of matriarchy. Consequently, the Cham were divided into two main groups: Islamics and Brahminic followers.

In the 18th century, the Nguyên Court's army led by Truong Minh Giang, the protector of Chenla (Chân Lap) was driven back to Châu Dôc (a province of Viêtnam) in a battle with An Duong and his Cambodian soldiers. Among the former were the Cham and Malaysian Muslims, who started settling in this region. Later, they were joined by the Malaysians and the Cham who had participated in an unsuccessful uprising led by Tuôn Sêt It (1854-1857) to counter Chenla Kingdom. Thus Châu Dôc became the 2nd region of Muslims in Viêtnam.

Different factors account for the birth of different Islamic groups. The group in Tây Ninh was founded in the 18th century by two leaders who had escaped from Cambodia. The group in Sàigòn appeared during the French domination as the result of migration into the City. The group in Dông Nai came into being when the Republic of Viêt Nam regime pursued the policy to "disperse" the populations towards the suburbs to prevent the deep penetration of the Liberation forces.

Such factors as geographical conditions, circumstances of the diffusion of the religion, living conditions and extents of communication with the outside world helped to form two main groups of Vietnamese Muslims: 1) The Cham Muslims in Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân constitute the non-Orthodox Islamic group (or Cham Ba Ni); 2) Those in Châu Dôc (Sàigòn), Tây Ninh and Dông Nai constitute the Orthodox Islamic group (Cham Islam).

Q : What are the differences between the two groups of Vietnamese Muslims ?

A : Generally speaking, there are some considerable differences between the two groups as follows: Islam in Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân is strongly influenced by local traditional customs and beliefs. Mixed with elements of Brahmanism and matriarchy, it has now become deformed and non-orthodox. Many Islamic dogmas are interpreted incorrectly. For example, the followers of this group place Mohammed on an equal footing with fairies, or identify him with Allah; consider Mecca as paradise of fairies; or consider Allah Mohammed as the ancestor of the Cham.

Islamic rules have been deformed and are not fully observed. The five Pillars of Islam, major festivals and interdicts are observed symbolically by the clergy. The pilgrimage obligation is not fulfilled and thc relationship with other Islamic centers is not maintained. They appear to be isolated from the rest of the Islamic world. The followers (including Arabian speakers) do not learn by heart the Koran and Sariat. Instead, the Koran has been turned into prayers to be chanted during services. The practice of cutting children's prepuces (SurLat) has been abolished. Adolescents when reaching the age of 16 undergo the haircut ceremony (Nga Oroh) to become Muslims. Theclerics of Cham Ba Ni have a great role under the impact of the regime of castes. They are entitled to many material and spiritual benefits and govern the social and religious life of the followers. However, the sphere of their influence on believers is confined to a set boundary, mostly to the mosque village.

The Muslims in Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân show great respect for women who have the right to go to the mosque like men. Furthermore, they decide on the material aspects of ceremonies; they are allowed to go out; they do not have to wear a veil when going out; they have the right to ask for young men’s hand in marriage. Matrilocality is practised and the husband is greatly dependent on his wife and parents-in-law.

The Islam in Châu Dôc, Sàigòn, Tây Ninh, Dông Thap and Dông Nai (Cham Islam) seems to be opposite to the aforesaid branch in many regards. The religious life here is orthodox and boisterous. Islamic rules and rituals are fully observed. The local Muslims maintain contact with the Islamic world through their pilgrimages to Mecca or via their children sent to Saudi Arabia for education. This is the important factor that helps Islam to be kept almost unchanged here. Formerly, the community of Châu Dôc Muslims was regarded as a miniature Islamic world in French-governed Indochina.

We should mention the influence of Malaysians on Cham Islam. Though not numerous in Châu Dôc and having assimilated by the Cham, this group exerts a rather great impact on many aspects ranging from the social structure to religious activities and in general, the spirituality of the local inhabitants. The Koran is read in Arab but interpreted in Malay. Most of the clerics who teach the Koran are Malaysians. Religious publications are also imported from Malaysia. Even the tendency to renovate Islam is also subject to the impact from Malaysia.

Q : Were there any radical changes in the socio-economic life of Vietnamese Muslims after the northmalization of South Viêtnam ?

A : Islam is wide-spread among the Cham community. Out of the total of about 60,000 followers, 30,000 live in Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân where Cham Ba Ni (non-orthodox) is practiced. The rest are concentrated in Châu Dôc, Sàigòn, Dông Nai and Trà Vinh and practice Cham Islam (orthodox).

The Church of Vietnamese Muslims, which was set up during the time of French rule, existed until 1975. This religious organization also represented the Cham as an ethnic group in the relationship with the government.

The Cham are rallied around the mosque whose organizational structure and rules have been preserved almost unchanged for hundreds of years.

Q : What can you say about the relationship between Vietnamese Islam and world Islam ?

A : Vietnamese Islam maintains close relationship with world Islam, especially with Malaysian Islam. In addition, it also has contacts with the Islamic communities of Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. This relationship has become an issue on the agenda since Viêtnam joined ASEAN because this is one of the regions inhabited by the largest number of Muslims in the world (particularly, Indonesia).

In 1975 some wicked Muslims set up the socalled Front for Champa Liberation, which diffused the idea of restoring Chiêm Thành Kingdom, and participated in the FULRO. A number of Cham people in An Giang and Sàigòn were allowed to repatriate to Malaysia according to their wish.

At the 6th Communist Party of Viêtnam Congress (1986) the policy on Islam was designed. It allows mosques to teach Islamic dogmas. Arab and to set up mosque boards. At present, there is the Islam Representative Committee based in Sàigòn, which sends Muslims to Koran-reading contests and pilgrims to Mecca. However, there are pending issues in the implementation of the policy on Islam concerning the State management thereof. Islamic Churches are yet to gain a legal status to establish contacts with the regional countries. Regarding the religious rules, rites, the repair of mosques and publishing of scriptures, there is no problem. But there should be a nation-wide unified and concerted solution thereto.

The Vietnamese State is making necessary preparations for publishing the Koran (Quran) in Vietnamese.

Vietnamese Muslims are allowed to take part in pilgrimages to Mecca, regional Koran-reading contests, international conferences on Islam, and training courses at foreign Islamic Universities. Foreign Muslims have the right to visit the Islamic places of worship in Viêtnam.

Q : What Islamic organizations are there in Viêtnam ?

A: As mentioned earlier, Vietnamese Islam is subject to the influence the traditional customs and practices, the peculiarities of the history and political regime of Viêtnam. In Indochina, under the French rule, the supreme representative of Cham and Malaysian Muslims was the Say-Khon Islam (Siakh Khut Islam).

During the time of the Republic of Viêt Nam regime, there was the office of Vice-President of the Cham State in the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs (South Viêtnam). This man represented the whole Cham group including the followers of Brahmanism and Islam.

In 1955 - 1960, the Ngô Dinh Diêm regime established the Cham Viêtnam Muslim Association (CAMA) whose office was located in Sàigòn. At first, the Association had three affiliates with some hundreds of followers. In 1964, there were affiliates in all the Cham Islamic regions with 1,500 members. In 1975 the number of affiliates grew to 16 with three Representative Boards.

The birth of CAMA and the introduction of a new "religion" from Malaysia had brought about internal contradictions between the "old" and the "new" Islamic sections. Finally, in 1966, two of them reached an agreement on the foundation of a new organization called "Viêtnam Great Islamic Council" whose office was located in Châu Dôc province. Both the CAMA and the new organization existed until 1975, exerting influence on only Islamic Cham and not on the Cham Ba Ni.

Vietnamese Islam is different from the Islam in this region as it has assimilated by the Cham to become their main religious faith. In its turn, Islam has contributed to creating the local customs, practices, psychology and lifestyle imbued with the Cham ethnic identity.

In Sàigòn, the community of Muslims numbers more than 5,000 persons attending services in 14 mosques and other local small mosques. On 7th January 1992, the City People's Committee issued Decision N° 28 / QD - UB allowing the establishment of the "Board Representing the City's Islamic Community" whose office is located at N° 52 Nguyên Van Troi Street, Phu Nhuân District. This Decision meets the aspiration of Muslims and facilitates their further integration into the life of the City's population.

Q : How many Muslims are there in Viêtnam at present ?

A: Currently, there are 50,000 Muslims in Viêtnam, mostly among the Cham. Out of them 28,000 are Islamic Cham. There are 257 clerics (112 are Islamic Cham).

(Source: Religious problems in Viêtnam, Thê gioi Publishers, Hànôi 2001)

General overview
of religions in Viêtnam
(According to the summary report and statistics of 1997)

I. Followers :

1. Buddhism 7,620,803
2. Catholicism 5,028,480
3. Evangelism 412,344
4. Cao Dài 1,147,527
5. Hòa Hao 1,306,969
6. Islam 93,294

Total 15,609,417

II. Religious dignitaries and clergy :

1. Buddhism 27,884

Most Venerables (Upadhyaya) 241
Chief nuns 32
Venerables 452
Nuns 331
Bhiksu, Bhiksuni, Novices 26,828

2. Catholicism 14,942

Bishops 33
Priests 2,200
Monks 1.514
(legitimate 1,137;
illegitimate 317)
Nuns 10,647
(legitimate 9,901;
illegitimate 1,556)
Seminarians 548

3. Evangelism 661

Ministers 161
Missionaries 450

4. Different sects of Cao Dài 5,608
5. Islam 734

Total 50,000

III. Places of worship :

1. Buddhism 14,017
2. Catholicism 5,456
3. Evangelism 499
4. Cao Dài 1,037
5. Hòa Hao 196
6. Islam 89

Total 21,294

Source: Government Committee for Religious Affairs


CHAM, EASTERN [CJM] 35,000 in Viet Nam (1990 govt. figure). 99,000 all Cham in Viet Nam (1993 Dang Nghiem Van). Population total both countries 35,000. Alternate names: TJAM, CHIEM, CHIEM THÀNH, BHAMAM. Classification: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Sundic, Malayic, Achinese-Chamic, Chamic, South, Coastal, Cham-Chru.
More information.

CHAM, EASTERN: a language of Viet Nam
SIL code: CJM
ISO 639-2: cmc
Population 35,000 in Viet Nam (1990 govt. figure). 99,000 all Cham in Viet Nam (1993 Dang Nghiem Van). Population total both countries 35,000.
Region An Giang, Nghia Bình, Phú Khánh, Sàigòn and Thuân Hai provinces. Also spoken in USA.
Classification Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Sundic, Malayic, Achinese-Chamic, Chamic, South, Coastal, Cham-Chru.
Comments An official ethnic community in Viet Nam. Remnants of a once powerful kingdom. Austro-Asiatic influences. Literacy rate in first language: 5% to 10%. Literacy rate in second language: 60%. Agriculturalists. Traditional religion, Christian. Bible portions 1973.

CHAM, WESTERN [CJA] 25,000 in Viet Nam including 4,000 in Saigon (1990 govt. figure). Near Châu Dôc and Tây Ninh and 4,000 in Sàigòn Cholon. Alternate names: CAMBODIAN CHAM, TJAM, CHAM, NEW CHAM, CHIEM. Classification: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Sundic, Malayic, Achinese-Chamic, Chamic, South, Coastal, Cham-Chru.
More information.

CHAM, WESTERN: a language of Cambodia
SIL code: CJA
ISO 639-2: cmc
Population 220,000 in Cambodia (1992 govt. figure). Population total all countries 253,100 or more.
Region Near the major cities and along the Mekong. Also spoken in Australia, France, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, USA, Viet Nam, Yemen.
Classification Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Sundic, Malayic, Achinese-Chamic, Chamic, South, Coastal, Cham-Chru.
Comments The language differs somewhat from Eastern Cham of central Viet Nam. Devanagari-based script. Roman script under discussion in USA and elsewhere. Muslim.

Also spoken in:
Thailand Language name CHAM, WESTERN
Population 4,000 in Thailand.
Comments The language differs somewhat from Eastern Cham of central Viet Nam. Recognized fairly recently as Cham. They are thought to be remnants of Cham who fought in the Thai army about 200 years ago. There are conflicting reports about whether the people in Thailand still speak Cham or have shifted to Central Thai. Austro-Asiatic influences. Old Devanagari-based script used. Roman script being discussed in USA and elsewhere. Muslim. See main entry under Cambodia.
Viet Nam Language name CHAM, WESTERN
Population 25,000 in Viet Nam including 4,000 in Saigon (1990 govt. figure).
Comments The language differs somewhat from Eastern Cham of central Viet Nam. Muslim. See main entry under Cambodia.


The Cham

The Cham are also called Cham, Chien Thanh and Hroi. They have a population of about 99,000 people inhabiting in concentration in the provinces of Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân. An other part of the Cham lives in An Giang, Dông Nai, Sàigòn and Tây Ninh . The Hroi small group alone settles in southwest Binh Thuân and northwest Phu Yên.

Cham language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian Group. The Cham follow Islam and Brahmanism. Here Islam is divided into two groups: Ba Ni (old Islam) and Islam (new Islam). Brahmanism's doctrine drew about three-fifth of Cham population in Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân.

The Cham who live in the plains have a tradition of farming in submerged fields. They are experienced in intensive farming with irrigation, sowing seeds and applying fertilizers. The Cham are involved in business. Pottery making and cotton cloth weaving are two well-known sideline occupations.

In the past, the Cham did not plant trees within the villages. They have a habit of arranging the houses in shape of the chess-board. Even each lineage, a group of relative families or an extended family may get together in a square-or-rectangular-shaped piece of land. These pieces of land are separated by the paths. The houses face the south or the west. Most of the Cham villages contain about 1,000 - 2,000 inhabitants each.

Matriarchy has still existed in the Cham group living in central Viênam. Though men play major role in the family but the heads of the families are often the aged women. Cham custom dictated that the daughters must take the family name of the mother. The woman family marries the groom for its daughter. After marriage, the groom comes to live in his wife's house. The right of inheritance is reserved for the daughters only In particular, the youngest daughter who must foster the aging parents is divided a greater part of inheritance than her sisters.

The Communist Vietnamese Party and State pay great concern to restoring and preserving the traditional culture of the Cham? However, the life of the Cham, especially the Cham in Binh Thuân and Ninh Thuân, is facing many difficulties and the backwardness still exists among them.

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