10,400 Thai Muslims to perform Haj
Thailand, where Muslims are the second largest religious group after Buddhists, has announced a new policy under which more than 10,000 Thai Muslims will perform Haj this year.
Wijak Chittarat, charge d’affaires at the Thai Embassy, said the original Haj quota allocated to Thailand and to many other countries has been reduced by 20 percent by Saudi Arabia due to ongoing expansion work in the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Chittarat said Thai Airways International, the national carrier, will offer 20 chartered flights for Thai pilgrims from Songkhla province to Saudi Arabia. This year, Thai Airways had arranged 10 A330-300 flights for the pilgrims from Hat Yai, Songkhla, to Madinah from Aug. 27-31, and 10 return flights from Jeddah to Hat Yai from Oct.10-19.
There are many flights Thai pilgrims can opt for to arrive in Jeddah and Madinah from Suvarnabhumi Airport and Phuket International Airport. Thailand has a quota of 10,400 people to perform Haj in 2014. A large number of pilgrims from the deep south of Thailand like Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla regions have registered for Haj this year.
Referring to the conditions of Muslims in Thailand, where 94 percent of the population is Buddhists, Chittarat said: “Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has extend at the beginning of Ramadan best wishes to all Thai Muslims.”
On July 15, the NCPO hosted an Iftar dinner to express the Thai government’s good will toward Muslims in Thailand in particular and all over the world in general. “It is also to confirm that the Thai people from culturally diverse backgrounds can live together in harmony,” he said.
The diplomat said that Thailand is mostly known to the outside world as a Buddhist-majority country.
But Thais of different faiths have always lived together in religious harmony, their religious freedom protected by the Thai king and, in modern times, by the constitution. Muslim Thais have always been an integral part of Thai society since their arrival in that country in the late 13th century, he said.
“There are almost 800 Islamic schools in Thailand ranging from small ones to universities, most of which are concentrated in the Southern Border Provinces,” said Chittarat. Records also show that currently there are 3,802 registered mosques in Thailand, of which 681, the highest in the country, are located in Pattani Province, while Bangkok alone has approximately 177 mosques, he said.
Asked about reports of unrest in the south of Thailand, Chittarat said: “The NCPO has now done some restructuring to create harmony and integration between relevant agencies. Plans, projects and works of all the relevant agencies and government units involved with security and development work will be integrated to ensure continuity and consistency, as well as addressing the needs of the people in the area.”