and Oc Eo
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.
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 Chau 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 Chau 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.
Muslims who have heard of Islamic fundamentalism look upon
it in complete bewilderment!