As mosques are replaced, Cham minority could see heritage fade

Cambodia is home to some 400,000 Cham Muslims. The ethnic group, like many others, suffered terrible losses during the Khmer Rouge regime. Lives were lost and cultural landmarks destroyed. Now, as mosques and heritage sites around the country are demolished to make way for more modern buildings, one organisation has launched a campaign to save them. ...

The Chvea ethnic group, who moved to O-Trav from Kampot in the 19th century, brought with them Islamic teachings that have been handed down to the present day. The village is home to one of the country’s oldest mosques – the pre-Khmer Rouge Al Mubarak – which, until this week, looked likely to be destroyed.

Heritage campaigners say the postponement of its demolition represents a small victory in a greater battle to preserve the country’s dwindling collection of Cham Muslim historical landmarks. The campaign, named the Cham Identity Project and Museum of Memory, has been set in motion by the Documentation Center for Cambodia, the country’s primary archive of Khmer Rouge history commonly known as DC-Cam.

Their aim is to preserve the cultural landmarks and crafts of the predominantly Muslim Cham minority ethnic group which first settled in Cambodia some 500 years after the breakup of the central Vietnam Champa Empire. O-Trav, in Andaung commune, was one of three villages selected to take part in the project. ...

Kae Sann, the commune council member for Andoung Thmor, said the damage to Al Mubarak is so much that he has become afraid it could injure worshippers. The preference among the village had been to ask the US-based donor to fund a new mosque, though a final decision has not been made, he added. ...

DC-Cam received a letter on October 25 announcing they will make a decision about whether to accept a new construction proposal or retain an old architectural style.

“This is not only a good message for other old mosques, but also other Cham cultural landmarks in Cambodia which are facing a replacement,” Farina So, head of the Cham Oral History Project at DC-Cam, wrote in an email from Massachusetts, where she is based. ...

New mosques have been constructed with funds from countries such as Malaysia, the Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.

According to So, most donors prefer to fund the construction of new buildings rather than give money for restoration. ...

Poppy McPherson and Mom Kunthear
http://www.phnompenhpost.com/7days/mosques-are-replaced-cham-minority-could-see-heritage-fade