I have always wanted to meet the Cham people to see how they live.Being a small minority, I was told, they are the most disenfranchised and marginalised group.They suffered genocide under the Khmer Rogue with almost half the population wiped out under the government ethnic cleansing policy.Islam was banned and some were even forced to eat pork by the Khmer Rogue.
The Cham people speak their own language but a significant number can speak the Malay language and looked as much Malay as any Malay from Peninsula Malaysia.They are the remnants of people from the Kingdom of Champa that once ruled a major part of Vietnam before the Vietnamese defeated them and the Chams and their king migrated to what is Cambodia today and some to Trengganu in Malaysia and the island of Hainan in China .The Cham king and his followers converted to Islam in the early 1600.
I was lucky that a friend who lives in Phnom Penh managed to arrange me to meet a Cham family just two days before Hari Raya Haji.They live within the city limit in a place named Beng Kork, a small enclave of Cham people
Haji Mohammad Yunus who is head of the family is also the Imam of a mosque in the area.He is an affable man,soft spoken and speaks Malay with a Kelantanese accent.His daughter Mukmina, whom I find easier to understand, did Islamic study in Malaysia and is now an ustaza.She teaches young Muslim children how to recite the Koran and say the daily prayers.They live at subsistence level but seemed to be happy and comfortable with their lives.
Haji Yunus's son Fatih is married to a West Malaysian girl and lives in Malaysia and come to visit his parents here whenever the opportunity arises.All of them can read and speak Bahasa Melayu fluently and adopted the Malay customs and culture no difference from the Malays in Malaysia.
Malaysia appears to be the leading influence of Cham Muslims in Cambodia and is the educational centre for Cham children studying overseas, particularly in Islamic study.It gives them the same pride and joy of young Malaysians who studied overseas in UK,US or Australia.