Pattani is the most well-known province in the southernmost Thailand in which its majority population is Malay Muslim. The history of Greater Patani (Malay spelling) dated back to the 9th century when the dominant cultures were Hinduism and Buddhism before converting to Islam around the fourteenth century and became a vassal state under Ayutthaya Kingdom. The Sunni-Malay Muslims of the South never assimilated into the Siamese/Thai world.

Unlike the Shiite-Muslims who came from Arab and Persia in the seventeenth century, they engaged mainly in trade and commerce in urban settlements and were successfully assimilated into the noble class of Siamese by marriage and by serving the Siamese monarchs from the Ayutthaya in the 17th century down to the Bangkok kingdoms in the 18th century. Siamese Kings usually appointed the leader of the Muslim community in central Siam to be Chularajmontri (Sheikhul Islam) overseeing the activities of the Thai-Muslims in the kingdom.

Formerly, the Malay Muslim territories in the Northern part of the Malay Peninsula were ruled under Islamic Malay Sultanates; Narathiwat and Yala under the Sultanate of Patani and Satun under the Kedah Sultanate. Patani kingdom (c1350-1909) was the largest and most populous among the Malay principalities. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Patani was an important port-city conducting trade between European and Arab traders as well as Indian and Japanese merchants. Reputed with many Islamic scholars, Patani was also known as the “cradle of Islam in Southeast Asia. Even though, Patani throughout its history was a vassal of the Siamese court from Ayutthaya (1350-1676) to Bangkok (1783-1909), its rajas or kings were able to maintain an autonomous role in the government and financial administration of its kingdom and people. Because of the long distance and indirect rule by Siamese court, Patani which had rich resources and manpower revolted against the Siamese dominion many times. Patani thus became the leader and symbol of Malay Muslim resistance to Siamese rule. In the nineteenth century, the Bangkok court decidedly subdued Patani and divided the kingdom into seven principalities.

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The final reorganization of the Patani kingdom was in 1902 when King Chulalongkorn (r. 1868-1910) imposed its direct rule over the vassal states through the new provincial administration. The drastic integration of its peripheral territories came as an attempt to protect the territorial integrity of Siam in the face of the British and French encroachments. Patani then became a region or province under the Siamese Superintendent Commissioner sent from Bangkok. The authority and sovereignty of the Patani raja, including rights and revenues in the kingdom, were abolished.

He was given a fixed pension from the Siamese court. Symbolically, the Malay rajas were no longer required to send tribute of the bunga mas [golden tree] to Bangkok any more. Obviously, such attempted changes met with fierce resistance from all Malay rajas, particularly the Patani raja who was subsequently arrested and jailed in a Northern province of Phitsanulok for fear of local disruption. The last raja Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin of Patani was released from prison after spending more than two years there.

His return to Patani was on one condition that he would refrain from involving in politics. Eventually in 1915 he left Patani to take up residence in Kelantan, which was under British rule, because he was suspicious by Siam as plotting rebellions against the country. In 1906, Patani was again reorganized. The seven provinces were reduced to four: Pattani, Bangnara (the old name for Narathiwat), Saiburi, and Yala. More importantly, Siamese laws were applied while sharia and adat customary law were abolished, except those cases involved personal matters of inheritance and marriage.

The final and historic turning point was the year1909 when Siam and British agreed in the Anglo-Siamese Treaty, recognizing Patani region plus Satun, which formerly was under Kedah, under Siamese sovereignty whereas the rest of the Malay states were under British Malaya. The Treaty thus demarcated the border between Siam and British Malaya, thereby making the Malay Muslims a minority citizen of the Thai nation. The Treaty also put an end to any hope of the Malay rajas that the British would intervene on their interests. From then on issues and uestions on administrative, political, cultural and linguistic autonomy became internal Siamese affairs and must be exclusively dealt with by the central Siamese government in the same manner as other Thai provinces in the territorially defined nation-state. Although the concentration of the Thai-Muslims is heavily in the southernmost provinces, they constitute about half of the total population of the Thai-Muslim community in the country, the other half of the Muslim communities were scattered around various regions of the country, of which the central region is the most populated.

Their relations to the Thai state and society are rather different from those of the South. Although they are sympathetic to the plight of the Malay-Muslims of the South, the central Muslims tend to imagine themselves as Thai national and citizens. Their existence thus gives an impression that Muslims are able to live peacefully alongside the Thai Buddhists, except in the Malay South. By the turn of the twentieth century, the resistance of the Malay Muslims in Patani region became a popular movement. Two uprisings took place in 1909 and 1911 led by Haji or religious leaders who had made a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The uprisings involved a number of followers who went rampage and burnt down government offices. One leader of the 1909 uprising was arrested but the 1911 leaders were not. Though the motive of the uprisings was unclear, the interesting thing was that the leaders were not from an elite family like it used to be in the past. The next general rebellion called “Patani Region Crisis of 1922” was an abortive rebellion because the government forces were able to put down the hundred villagers in their attempt to attack the police stations.

This time the government was able to find the causes of the popular revolt. Chief among them were taxation, compulsory education, conscripted labor and the inefficient Thai court system. The government arrested about 150 Muslim culprits but able to convict only 15 of them on treason and rebellion charges. The main source of this resistance was the government policy on compulsory primary education with no exception to the Malay provinces. In practice, the Malay pupils must learn Thai language and curriculum in Thai chools. This ran against their wishes to learn in the pondok and in Malay language. Furthermore, it is said that some of the leading Patani Haji were involved in the movement called Jamaiyatul Fathanmiyah which was created in 1916 in Mecca with an aim to liberate the Malay people from ‘imperialism’ and ‘colonizers of all nationalities’. The final goal was to establish a unified Islamic state in the Northern Malay Peninsula, including Patani, Kelantan and Trengganu.

That incident reflected the popular Malay Muslim’s dissatisfaction with the Siamese state and its policies and practices in the region. In June 1932, the Siamese absolutism was overthrown by a coup group, the People’s Party [khana rasadorn], consisted of leaders of armed forces, civil servants and business people, including four Bangkok Muslims. The new constitutional monarchical system opened up an avenue for direct participation in the government to the Malay Muslims in the deep South.

Soon they began to realize that national democratic politics required much more effort and cut into their own cultural life and beliefs, that democracy was actually not a panacea to their plight and injustice. Worse the project of nation-building under Field Marshal Phibun, who came to power in 1938 and got the name of the country changed to Thailand, decidedly turned everything into Thai-ism. As a Thai citizen, one must speak Thai, had a Thai name and dressed in a Thai costume. Such policies ran against the practices of the Malay Muslims whose language and custom were Malay.

Phibun asserted in 1941 that, “In an effort to build a nation with a firm and everlasting foundation, the government is forced to reform and reconstruct the various aspects of society, especially its culture, which here signifies growth and beauty, orderliness, progress and uniformity, and the morality of the nation. ” Furthermore, the term, “Southern Thais” and “Islamic Thais” (which was strongly objected by the Malay Muslims who argued that there is only one Islam), should be referred to simply as “Thais. Penalties were prescribed for those who failed to observe and follow the proper national dress, behavior and etiquette when appeared in public places. Government officials refused to deal with those Malay Muslims who appeared in their Malay dress and spoke non-Thai. But the most sensitive law was the repeal in 1944 of Islamic family and inheritance laws (sharia), which were allowed following the first democratic government in 1932. The Malay Muslims in the area response by travelling across the border to the Islamic courts in Kelantan, Kedah, Trengganu, and Perlis for justice.

Furthermore, the government made Sunday and Buddhist day as public holidays. The Muslims were no longer allowed to observe Fridays as public or school holidays. Finally, there were Thai attempts to convert Muslims to Buddhism. In 1944, some members of Parliament, after the failure to get the government to address the issue of cultural persecution, left Thai political system for asylum in Kelantan which was in the neighboring Malaya state.

The two prominent leaders of the movement for Patani cause were Tengku Mahyiddin, the youngest son of the last raja of Patani, and Tengku Abdul Jalal bin Tengku Abdul Mutalib, son of the late raja of Saiburi. In February 1944, the exiled leaders of Malay Muslims in Kelantan founded the Gabongan Melayu Pattani Raya (GAMPAR) or the Association of Malays of Greater Patani aimed at the final liberation of Greater Patani. It received support from Malay groups in Thailand as well as from the Malay Nationalist Party in Malaya.

Religious leaders on both sides of the border were calling for a Jihad (holy war) against the Thai authorities. At the same time, inside Patani there emerged another movement, The Patani Malay Movement (He’et alNapadh allahkan alShariat) under the leadership of the popular Haji Sulong, a native of Patani who had spent twenty years studying and teaching in the Middle East including Mecca. In 1927, he came back to found a modern Islamic school in Patani. The PMM’s objects were to promoting Islam and encouraging cooperation among Muslim leaders in order to fight against the government’s anti Islamic way of life.

Phibun, however, fell from power in 1944. The next government under the leadership of Pridi Banomyong, a key leader of the People’s Party and founder of the Free Thai Movement during the World War II, who was sympathetic to the Muslim cause. The government redressed the wrong doings by issuing the Islamic Patronage Decree in 1945, resulting in the establishment of national Islamic institutions and a Chularajmontri (shiekul Islam) as head of the Muslims in the country. In addition, previous Islamic traditions and practices were reinstated or allowed, including the Islamic amily and inheritance laws. More important was the opening of an open dialogue between Malay Muslim leaders and the government over their grievances.

But these positive developments were thwarted following the unexpected Coup in November 1947 which ended the civilian-led government under Pridi and paved the way for the coming of the military-led government under Phibun. Yet the meetings between the leaders of the Patani Movement and the government in the months of 1947 eventually produced the first political demands later known as “The Seven-Point Plea. Essentially, the Muslim plea proposed to the government that a chief officer in Patani should be elected by local Malay Muslims, local taxes should be spent in the region, primary education done in Malay language, the Malay and Siamese languages were official language in the area, maintain Islamic laws and customs and the separation of religious court from the civil court in the region. Clearly, the plea was the first demand by local citizens for self-government or decentralization of the Bangkok rule. The government was willing to accept religious freedom but not separate rights and regional autonomy.

The Seven-Point plea would go down in Thai history as an evidence of Muslim separatism. In 1948, Haji Sulong led the protest against the general election. He was arrested and charged with treason and rebellion against the Thai state. While the situation in Patani was tense, suddenly there occurred an outburst of violence between a group of Malay Muslims in Duson Nyior, Narathiwat and the police, leading to the widespread of clashes in the villages. The two incidents in 1948 were known as the “Haji Sulong Rebellion” and the “Duson Nyior Rebellion”.

As a matter of fact, the two uprisings were not directly related or planned. The latter disturbances were purely accident. A group of police spot a gathering of a group of Malay Muslim villagers in a village, performing religious oil bathing in a welcome ceremony to the returning Haji from the pilgrimage to Mecca. The police tried to disperse the gathering, suspicious of their ill intent which led to stone throwing and soon clashes between the two. But reports to Bangkok sent an alarm of the Muslim uprising all over the region and even attacking and seizing police stations.

Bangkok then sent troops and navy down to suppress the uprising. Thousands of villagers escaped for fear of capture by government forces to Kelantan. These incidents attracted international attention, including many Muslim and Arab organizations and the United Nations. In the meantime, Haji Sulong was sentenced to four years and eight months for attempted rebellion against the state. After his release in 1952, he returned to Patani and started teaching at his school again. Then in 1954, he reported to the Special Branch Police in Songkhla and went missing together with his elder son and two other companions ever since.

Disillusioned with peaceful democratic means, the radical Malay Muslims resorted to armed struggle. By the 1960s, various separatist organizations were established and operated in the Southern Muslim provinces. The prominent ones were the Barisan Nasional Pembebasan Pattani (BNPP) which originated in the 1940s with headquarters in Kelantan; The Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) organized in 1974; The Bertubuhan Perpaduan Pembebasan Pattani (PPPP) or the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) was set up in 1968 and is considered to be the most influential Muslim separatist armed organization in the South.

By the 1990s, political transformations in the Middle East and the rise of the fundamentalist Muslim groups following the Iranian revolution also influenced some of the separatist organizations in the area, for example, the Sabelillah and the Gerakan Mujahideen Islam of Pattani (GMIP). GMIP’s objective is to establish an Islamic state in southern Thailand. In 1989, GMIP joined with other separatist groups to form Bersatu or the United Front for the Independence of Patani.


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