Muslims Call for Review of Proposed Buddha Park in Thai Deep South

160120-buddha-meeting-620 Developers and Pattani officials discuss the Buddha Monthon Pattani Park project, Jan. 17, 2016.

Developers of a Buddhist park and local officials should ask Muslim residents for input before going ahead with the project in a historically sensitive area of the Deep South, an Islamic leader and academic said.

A sketch of the proposed Buddha Monthon Pattani Park, to be located in Pattani province, shows a Buddha statue at least three stories tall as its central feature.

“For Muslims, building a big Buddha image is an important issue. Muslims cannot accept a construction of big Buddha image” in this area, Waedue-ramae Mamingji, chairman of the Islamic Committee of Pattani, told BenarNews.

“There are a lot of things that we will co-develop to bring about prosperity, peace, happiness to the Deep South. Therefore I call on agencies or parties involved to review the plan for the sake of peace,” he said.

Private developers envision building a 160 million baht ($4.6 million USD) Buddha Park on 40 acres on a scenic cape in Pattani.

In a meeting on Jan. 17, developers and provincial officials discussed the park design along with plans to establish a project committee and a fund-raising scheme.

Multiple cultures

Pattani province has a mixed population of ethnic Chinese, Thai and Malay-Patani people, and 87 percent of its almost 720,000 residents are Muslim.

Malay-Patani claim they owned the kingdom of Patani Darussalam, comprising what is now Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkla province, for hundreds of years before it was annexed by the then-Kingdom of Siam in 1902.

A separatist insurgency waged by different armed groups and factions has wracked the region for years, claiming at least 6,500 lives since January 2004.

Waedue-ramae said residents were not bothered by temples constructed in Tambon Naruesamilae, which is the heart of what had been Darrussalam. But the huge Buddha and park will not be accepted as easily, he said.

“In the past, we were like brothers. We respected each other on this land of multiple cultures. But to build a big Buddha image is inappropriate because we have Muslims around and we shouldn’t create hard feeling among Buddhist Thais and Muslim Thais,” Waedue-ramae said.

Worravit Baru, who represented Pattani in the Senate, said the province should ask for opinions from local Muslims before allowing the Buddha Park.

“I would like to ask the developers, building this for what reason, and how important it is. There are quite a number of ways to promote Buddhism rather than adhering to religious symbol which may cause a religious rift,” he said.

“Don’t think when people do not protest, it means they agree. We shouldn’t push them to align with the other side. We are reconciling for peace. All of us should realize this point,” he said.

Questioned by reporters in Bangkok on Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha recommended the province avoid any possible religious conflict.

“This project must be lodged through the ministry of interior, this is the ministry’s responsibility,” Prayuth told reporters at the Government House. “Whatever can be done to create [mutual understanding], please find a way to make it happen,” Prayuth said. “I just want to make sure there will not be conflicts between two religions.”

A flyer features an artist’s sketch of the Buddha Monthon Pattani Park project on a 40-acre land plot.

Local voices

Pattani Buddhist Sarawuth Srisong, 47, said the project should not cause disharmony.

“The construction of Buddha Monthon Park should not cause any problems. Thais of two faiths are friends. We help each other whenever we have religious ceremonies,” he said.

“But the province must promote understanding of the project to Muslim community and that the park may be used for public purposes for both religions.”

However, Pattani Muslim Hasuena Wae-doloh, 45, said she is uncomfortable with a huge Buddha image at the park.

“But if this project was to be built elsewhere that would be fine,” she said.

A developer who asked not to be named told BenarNews that he may need to change the proposed name of the project because Buddha Monthon Pattani Park can be translated as a Buddha’s precinct of Pattani.

“I admit the naming of Buddha Monthon Pattani sounds gigantic and intruding. But if people feel offended and as I talked to the province, we can rename the project Stupa of All Thai Hearts, the project with a big Buddha image and a quiet place for people who seek tranquility,” he said.


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