Funan and Oc
Much of the early history of the southern part of
Vietnam is closely associated with India. During the
first century AD, Indian merchants voyaging to China
established Hindu outposts en route, one of which
was on the southern coast of Vietnam, near the present-day
town of Rach Gia. Then known as Funan, it grew into
a city state based upon the port of Oc Eo. The History
Museum in Ho Chi Minh City has a good collection of
artefacts and relicts from the site.
By the third century,
Funan was the most important trading centre in Indochina
with links as far as Europe, but gradually declined
as new and more accessible ports developed. By the
sixth century, it had more or less disappeared.
The Cham Kingdom
At about the same time, the Hindu Kingdom of Champa
was spreading into the centre of Vietnam from the
west. At its height, the Cham ruled over most of the
southern half of Vietnam, with its base around what
is now Da Nang. The UNESCO World Heritage site of
My Son, a large complex of richly adorned sacred brick
towers and temples, was the spiritual heart of the
entire Cham Empire. Similar towers can still be seen
all over the south of the country.
Ruled by divine kings,
the Cham worshipped Shiva and other Hindu deities.
They were highly skilled sculptors – excellent
examples of their work can be seen at the Cham museum
in Da Nang, the History Museum in Ho Chi Minh City,
and on the My Son site. Later they converted to Buddhism.
In the 16th century
after the collapse of the Kingdom, most of the Cham
remaining in Vietnam became Muslims and remain as
an ethnic minority in the south, practising a highly
modified version of Islam.
There is a small Hindu
temple in Ho Chi Minh City, close to the famous the
Ben Thanh market.
There are about forty
thousand Muslims in Vietnam, mostly members of the
southern K’hmer and Cham ethnic groups.
There is a sizeable
Cham Muslim population in Chao Doc, very close to
the Cambodian border, and a large mosque. Its religious
leaders wear a fez with a golden tassel, or a white
prayer cap. Elsewhere, they wear a white robe and
a red turban. There is another large mosque in Ho
Chi Minh City, and a much smaller one in Hanoi.
of Islam in Viet Nam
Like Hinduism, Islam first entered Vietnam along trading
routes, but failed to take root in Vietnam until the
Cham and K’hmer converted from Hinduism. However,
Vietnamese Islam bears little resemblance to that
practised in more devout Muslim countries.
of Islam in Vietnam
The Cham people pray once a week instead of five times
each day and instead of fasting for forty days at
Ramadan, they abstain only for three days. Both ritual
cleansing and circumcision are conducted symbolically,
and alcohol is allowed. The burka is almost unknown
– on our last visit to Chao Doc, the only woman
wearing one was married to a Muslim from Saudi Arabia.
Islam in Vietnam follows
the pattern of other religions – although referring
to themselves as Muslims, they also worship Hindu
deities and practice animism.
Those Vietnamese Muslims
who have heard of Islamic fundamentalism look upon
it in complete bewilderment!
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