Ramadhan in Bangkok

It’s been a week since Ramadhan started. Bangkok is a buzzing predominantly Buddhist city, but the spirit of the Muslim holy month lives in the lives of its Muslim inhabitants. The are pockets of community in certain parts of the city, with Ramkamhaeng, or areas of it, being one where there is a high concentration.  I am most familiar with the area around soi Petchaburi 7, which has the Darul Aman mosque as its religious heart.

The mosque is two-storey, carperted and air-conditioned upstairs. At around 6.15pm the marbled ground floor, which would have already had rows of food laid on on the floor, would start to be filled by the pious (and not so pious!). The selection offered is more than adequate – there are dates, several types of kuih (kanom), cold drinks, murtabak, fruits and a hot dish (eg bubur pulut kacang, lepat pisang etc). The majority are Bangkok Muslims, but there are also Malay speakers from the deep south. I’ve made friends with a few of them – and we sometimes have chat over the nearby ‘teh tarik’ stall nearby. The area comes alive with stalls selling food – it is reminiscent of the pasar Ramadhan in KL, albeit to a smaller scale. Yet perhaps because of its smaller scale, the spirit of the holy month is felt equally as strong as in KL.

On the eve of Ramadhan, I had to find some earth to ‘samak’, having been in contact a cute and overly-friendly dog in Sattahip a few days earlier. It’s not such an easy undertaking. I couldn’t just go to Lumpini Park with a shovel, could I.  Central Bangkok is very urbanised indeed and the concrete jungle does not give up its soil easily.  I found it eventually in another nearby Muslim neighbourhood, near the Saen Saep khlong.

It was a semi-slum area in the middle of the Bangkok. It is located between two BTS stations, Phayathai and Ratchathewi. Wooden houses with corrugated zinc roofs built haphazardly with wires zigzagging the rooftops, young children laughing and running around the alleyways which were mostly just an arms length wide (sedepa), the chitter-chatter of housewives washing, cleaning, cooking, just managing their daily households, the smell of spices wafting through the air, the open doorways from which blasts out Thai music from radios, the flickering of the television sets which brighten the interiors of otherwise dark houses – I felt like I was in a movie set, transported back to a romanticised version of times gone by.
I made my way to the mosque (Masjid Falah), and was greeted by two ladies who were cutting vegetables in the compound. My Thai was sufficient enough for us to have a decent conversation – mind you there are still words I didn’t understand but there was no doubting that we both followed the conversation easily.  The elder lady sent a young boy for the bilal and I heard her mention ‘kubor’. This is interesting, I thought. The lady’s name was Hajah Fatimah, and the other lady was Zubaidah. She was excited to know I was from Malaysia and she said that she was actually Cham, and had distant relatives in Malaysia .

A young man appeared a short while later, he looked like he was an ahli tabligh. We made our way through the labyrinthine alleyway, and you could just sense that he was a strong member of the community – he knew almost everyone we came across and they in turn, greeted him. We soon arrived in a walled area, and true enough, it was the graveyard. Macabre thoughts of cleansing myself with organic matter from the deceased crossed my mind, but the young bilal, Muhammad, quickly dispelled this by taking some clean earth from a surprisingly fertile area of the graveyard away from the burial area. Into a plastic bag the soil went and again he navigated me back to the mosque, from which I then made my way to the hustle and bustle of modern Bangkok a mere 5 minutes walk away…

I reckon that Masjid Falah and Masjid Aman must be within 2 km of each other but the latter is located in more contemporary part of Bangkok. There are a few restaurants owned by south Thai Muslims – I met two owners who had worked in Malaysia before, one of whom was in Shah Alam for a few years. His shop is frequented by the local lads who’d just come out from the mosque after performing 8 rakaats of the tarawih prayers. I know this as I also do 8 rakaats, dengan ikhlas 🙂

The Ramadhan feeling is not amiss in Bangkok amongst the Muslim community, but to really feel a part of it, one should know Thai.

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