Issue 46, December 2005
Thailand: Buddhism-Islam dialogue aimed at ending violence
O Mahidol University, along with Mahidol University Research Center for Peace Building, the National Reconciliation Commission [NRC], the Civilian Affairs Department of the Thai Supreme Command Headquarters, Religious Studies College and Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities hosted a seminar entitled: "Buddhism-Islam Dialogue -- Violence and Reconciliation" at the Salaya campus, Nakorn Pathom, on 24 November.
The seminar was held in response to the continuing violence in the three southern provinces of Thailand where more than 1,000 Buddhists and Muslims had become victims of violence since January 2004. The seminar had the following objectives:
The seminar was divided into two parts – morning and afternoon sessions. During the morning session, six Buddhist and six Muslim speakers were each invited to speak for 10 minutes and asked to answer questions by two moderators from Mahidol University, namely Prof. Dr. Parichart Suwanbubbha and Prof. Niran Pantarakit. The morning session was also recorded by the government's Thai TV Channel 11 so as to be aired later. Before the morning and afternoon sessions started, the moderators read the 10-point Rules of Dialogue based on a format developed by Leonard Swidler, as follows:
1. there should be no hidden agenda during the dialogue.
2. interact with each other as human beings, not as material objects.
3. both sides will give and take, avoid sense of superiority, and no one is superior or inferior to others.
4. state one's views and position clearly and willing to listen to others' views.
5. will not use one's conviction, culture, and status to judge other people as wrong.
6. willing to listen to other people's different views.
7. avoid "lazy tolerance".
8. accept the fact that others also have good reasoning and solution to problems.
9. when others talk about principles and practices, one will also reply in terms of principles and practices.
10. dialogues should serve as a process and an option toward the solution of a problem.
The Buddhist speakers in the morning session:
Phra Ratchakunatarn, chief of the Narathiwat Provincial Clergy
Phra Maha Charat Uchujaro, deputy chief of the Pattani Provincial Clergy
Phra Pisarn Wisalo, a monk from Chaiyaphum province.
Phra Maha Wuthichai Wachiramaythee, guest lecturer at Mahachulalongkornrajavitayalai University, residence of Wat Benjamabopit.
Maechee [Buddhist nun] Sunsanee Sathirasut from the Sathirasut Dhamma Foundation.
Maechee Wimutiya, The President of International Tripitaka Tower, Chulalongkorn University.
The Muslim speakers were:-
Acharn Winai Samauoon, Islamic Committee of Thailand.
Acharn Dr. Ismail Lutfi Japakiya, rector of the Yala Islamic College and an NRC member.
Acharn Ismae Ari, Director of Islamic Studies, Prince Songkhla University, Pattani.
Acharn Munrayum Samoh, headmistress of an orphans' school in Pattani.
Acharn Muhamad Adam, Nurul Islam phumividhaya, Pattani.
Acharn Soawanee Jitmuad, lecturer from Thonburi Rajaphat University.
During the morning session, Buddhist speakers urged their Muslim counterparts to do more to prevent militants from promoting violence in the three southern provinces. However, one Buddhist speaker, Phra Maha Charat Uchujaro, also admitted that lack of proper information and widespread rumors and misunderstanding also contributed to violence.
In response, Saowanee Jitmuad pointed out that "Muslim brothers and sisters have been continuously abducted and killed", citing the disappearance of Muslim lawyer Somchai Nilapaichit. Meanwhile, Dr. Ismail Lutfi Japakiya noted: "The problem did not occur just two or three days ago. It goes back to hundreds of years ago when the kingdom of Pattani was annexed. At times, we have managed to reduce tension, but now, the symptoms are emerging again. The problem is related to the governance of the area in which many mistakes have been made. The patience of the local people has eventually run out."
Maechee Sunsanee regretted the lack of youths among the approximately 200-strong participants in the seminar because many youths had become victims of violence, adding that youths were also often led astray to commit violence. She also proposed a meeting of "parents and relatives of victims, both Buddhist and Muslim, in the three southern provinces to discuss and share their plight of losing their beloved ones."
After lunch-break, the afternoon session consisted of discussions between Buddhist and Islamic scholars with seminar participants allowed to submit written questions only. In their reply to questions from the floor, Muslim scholars pointed out the facts that Muslims also suffered from acts of violence, such as what happened at the Kru Sek Mosque and in Tak Bai. One Muslim scholar also pointed out the need for Buddhists to understand some aspects of Islam. He cited the example of a Thai woman office worker who used two copies of Koran to sit on the chair so she could type her work comfortably. In response, one Buddhist scholar objected to the description of the Buddha as nabi [Prophet] and rasul [Messenger], saying that such ideas would be allowed "within this seminar room", but "outside this room, it will bring about grave consequences." The moderator quickly interrupted him and reminded him of the Rules of Dialogue mentioned earlier.
After the afternoon session, a conclusion speech was delivered by Professor Emeritus
1. how to stop daily killings.
2. how to create a condition which leads to the laying down of arms.
3. how to build everlasting peace in the three provinces.