Historical imagination, diasporic identity and Islamicity among the Cham Muslims of Cambodia

Document
Description

Since the departure of the UN Transitional Authority (UNTAC) in 1993, the Cambodian Muslim community has undergone a rapid transformation from being an Islamic minority on the periphery of the

Since the departure of the UN Transitional Authority (UNTAC) in 1993, the Cambodian Muslim community has undergone a rapid transformation from being an Islamic minority on the periphery of the Muslim world to being the object of intense proselytization by foreign Islamic organizations, charities and development organizations. This has led to a period of religious as well as political ferment in which Cambodian Muslims are reassessing their relationships to other Muslim communities in the country, fellow Muslims outside of the country, and an officially Buddhist state. This dissertation explores the ways in which the Cham Muslims of Cambodia have deployed notions of nationality, citizenship, history, ethnicity and religion in Cambodia's new political and economic climate. It is the product of a multi-sited ethnographic study conducted in Phnom Penh and Kampong Chhnang as well as Kampong Cham and Ratanakiri. While all Cham have some ethnic and linguistic connection to each other, there have been a number of reactions to the exposure of the community to outside influences. This dissertation examines how ideas and ideologies of history are formed among the Cham and how these notions then inform their acceptance or rejection of foreign Muslims as well as of each other. This understanding of the Cham principally rests on an appreciation of the way in which geographic space and historical events are transformed into moral symbols that bind groups of people or divide them. Ultimately, this dissertation examines the Cham not only as an Islamic minority, but as an Islamic diaspora - a particular form of identity construction which has implications for their future development and relations with non-Muslim peoples. It reconsiders the classifications of diasporas proposed by Robin Cohen and William Safran, by incorporating Arjun Appadurai's conception of locality as a construct that must be continuously rendered in praxis to generate the socially shared understanding of space, geography and its meaning for communitarian identity. This treatment of Islamic transnationalism within the context of diaspora studies can contribute to the broader conversation on the changing face of Islamic identity in an increasingly globalized world.