OK Baytong (2003), directed by Nonzee Nimibutr,
addresses troubles in Muslim southern Thailand.

In recent years, with increased attention to Muslim-attributed violence, Islam has become of greater interest to the scholarly community. Scholars who have had no prior interest in Islam are now suddenly fascinated enough to start submitting grant proposals. Granting agencies are more interested in Islam, as are publishers. No where does this seem to be more true than in Southern Thailand. The unrest in the southernmost provinces, especially Patani, in the past two years has led to an unfortunate double association of Violence (which has now become a Social Fact, like Anomie and Bureaucracy) with Islam and Southern Thailand.

The province of Nakhon Si Thammarat in Southern Thailand presents itself as a perfect setting in which to study the peaceful coexistence of Muslim and Buddhists. Unlike Bangkok, in which explicit expressions of Islamic identity such as mosques, Muslim food stalls, and women wearing hijab get swallowed up in a sea of Buddhism, state cults, and global capitalism with all its trimmings, the Muslim community is a real presence in NST. On Fridays, men adorned in the best prayer clothes head to the mosque. Women regularly wear hijab and every major foodcourt has at least one Muslim food stall. Also, unlike Pattani, the community is not strongly associated with a Malay identity; many Muslims here speak Thai sometimes to the exclusion of Malay. NST was once the home of a major Islamic kingdom and is also seen as the entrée point for Buddhism into Thailand. Today, about 10% of the community is Muslim.
Possible Directions for Research
Here are a number of possible directions for research.
1) The place of the pondok in the Muslim community. Elsewhere in the region (Java, Patani) the pondok is the central institution of the traditional Muslim community. The headmasters of these schools (kyai in Java, tok guru in Patani) are the leaders of the Muslim community. Pondok are seen as important places to generate future Muslim leaders and deeply moral and committed Muslims. Do pondok play a similar role here? How does the minority status of the Muslim community affect their role (change it or reify it). Where do tok guru for this community come from? Are they educated locally? Are they local young men who train elsewhere? Or are they imports? And if so, from where? What are the educational histories of the Tok Guru in NST? How has pondok education been changing in NST? At least one pondok (Mohklan) within the past few years added the kingdom’s recognized curriculum. This kind of curriculum change has significant impact on the nature of the religious instruction even in Muslim majority Indonesia (Lukens-Bull 2005). How are such accommodations to the state affecting pondok in NST? How does this compare with Patani and with Indonesia?
2) Oral histories. This project will involve collecting oral personal and family histories to look at the nature of Islamic identity and practice in this reason. The received and perceived family history of NST Muslims will help understand the emergent profeccesses of identity construction. There has been some theorizing on this which suggests that language become a important marker. In this model, we can speak of Malay Muslims in Patani and Thai Muslim in NST – or more realistcally both Malay and Thai Muslims in NST. A possible avenue of research is the shift in language. I was told that there are villages (kampung) in which the oldest generations (those in the 60s and 70s) speak only Malay (dialect), the middle generation (those in their late 30s and early 40s) speak both Thai and Malay, and the twenty-somethings and younger speak only Thai. Two questions suggest themselves – a) what is the precise nature of this linguistic shift; b) how does this shift affect Islamic identity? Is it possible that this shift is not really significant? This would be a significant finding because in general Islam and Malay and language and culture are strongly associated on this peninsula.
Ron Lukens-Bull