The Muslim Community in Chiang Mai

White mosque

Table of Contents

The Muslim community in Chiang Mai

Introduction

This article is about the Muslim community in Chiang Mai. I have always enjoyed the diversity of religions in Chiang Mai. During our historical walk, you will pass a Christian church, a Buddhist temple, a Sikh Gurdwara, and a Chinese temple. You will pass the Ban Haw mosque if you walk a bit further. These are five religious places of worship in an area of a couple of square km, which is remarkable.

First, it is essential to understand that this article is a project under construction. I will add information to it over time.  I knew very little about the Muslim community in Chiang Mai until I started researching the history of an old wooden house on stilts, the Wongluekiat House, opposite the Ban Ho Mosque near the Night Bazar. Then I read the book the Islamic Identity in Chiang Mai by Thai anthropologist Suthep Soonthornpasuch. In 2018, 2019, and 2021 I visited the Deep South provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala, raising my interest in the history and culture of the Muslim population of Thailand.

Old wooden building Muslim community Chiang Mai
The historic Wadil-Husen Mosque, Narathiwat province

Two distinct groups in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai City has the largest Muslim population in North Thailand. According to a census from the year 2000, there were 7,583 Muslims in Chiang Mai and 13 mosques. In Chiang Mai, there are roughly two groups of Muslims: those whose ancestors came from Yunnan in China and those who descend from muslims who migrated from India, Pakistan and from Malaysia. Of the thirteen mosques, seven are mosques of Yunnanese Muslim mosques and six from Pakistani Muslims. Up to now, I have only been able to identify four of them, two Yunnanese and two Pakistani.

The Chinese Muslims

Most Chinese Muslims in Chiang Mai belong to a group called the Chin Haw or Chin Ho, which is a combination of “Chin” (China) and Ho (“Hui”). The Hui people are an ethnic group from China who are adherents of Islam. We are more familiar with the term Chin Haw in Thailand so I will use that. The Chin Haw people in Chiang Mai are descendants of traders from Yunnan. They walked with mule caravans, transporting goods such as cotton, silks, tobacco, and opium from Yunnan to bazaars in North Thailand, Burma, and Laos in the 19th century.

Man with muslim women
Frans and a group of friends at the Krue Se Mosque in Pattani

Yunnanese Muslim mosques

The Ban Ho (Ban Haw) Mosque

The center of the Yunnanese Muslim is the Ban Ho (Ban Haw) Mosque (Thai: มัสยิดเฮดายาตูลอิสลามบ้านฮ่อ), near the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. It is one of seven Yunnanese Chinese mosques in Chiang Mai and is the largest mosque in Chiang Mai province. It might not have been the first mosque in Chiang Mai, and Yunnanese Muslims constructed this mosque in 1916. The mosque is on a side street from Chang Klan road, where the famous Night Bazar takes place. Every Friday morning, there is a market, in front of the mosque, on the other side of the street. This market is known as the Yunnan Market.

The Attaqwa Mosque in Wat Ket

The Attaqwa Mosque (Thai:มัสยิดอัตตักวา), aka San Pa Koi Mosque, is in the Wat Ket neighborhood. This is an area on the other side of the Ping River, not far from the 137 Pillars House (the former compound of the Borneo Company). A group of Chinese and non-Chinese Muslim s built this mosque between 1967 and 1969. Above the front gate of the mosque, the date 1970 is written. The founder was Yong Fuanan,  a Chinese immigrant who became wealthy by trading. This mosque is unfortunately hidden behind ugly walls.

The Attaqwa Mosque also houses the first Islamic school in Chiang Mai. This school maintains cultural and educational links with Islamic schools in Kunming, Yunnan, and it is opposite the mosque. Apart from that, the Daruttaqwa Building also houses the Center for Learning and Propagation of Islam Studies.

The Muslims from Pakistan, India, and Malaya

The other Muslims in Chiang Mai came from Eastern parts of India (part of which later became East Pakistan and recently Bangla Desh) and live in the neighbourhood just north of Chiang Phuak Gate and in the neighbourhood between Chang Klan and Charoenprathet roads. They are also known as Bengali or Pakistani Muslims. I believe they traveled through Burma and entered Thailand in Mae Sariang district, Mae Hong Son province, to continue to Chiang Mai via Hod.

The town Mae Sariang has a sizeable Muslim population of which many came from Chittagong, a city currently in Bangla Desh. Other places of entry were Mae Sod and Mae Sai. It appears that the first Bengali Muslims migrated to Thailand (then Siam) more than 200 years ago, according to Vatikiotis.

“Bengali” Muslim mosques

The Masjid Nurul Chang Phuak

Vatikiotis identifies two neighbourhoods as Bengali Muslim neighbourhoods. The first is just north of the Chang Phuak Gate and its mosque is the Masjid Nurul Chang Phuak (มัสยิดดูร์นูร์ ช้างเผือก​) aka  Kunnun Mosque. This mosque is currently under construction, and it is an impressive building. According to Suthep, these muslims migrated to Thailand to escape the violence related to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Many of them were engaged in cattle trading and there seems to have been grazing ground for cattle in those days. In the 1960s authorities started banning cattle from the city so many people in this area lost their employment. Some moved to the second Bengali neighbourhood, that is between Chiang Klan and Charoenprathet roads, not far from Chiang Land. This neighbourhood looks more lively than the Chang Phuak neighbourhood. The Chang Phuak masjid (mosque) though looks much more impressive

The Masjid Al Jamiah, Chang Khlan

On a side street between Chang Khlan and Charoenprathet roads there is is the Masjid Al Jamiah, Chang Khlan (มัสยิดช้างคลาน).  As far as I can see, it is a bit of a nondescript building without minarets. Around these mosques, some restaurants serve authentic Muslim halal food, an essential part of the Muslim Community of Chiang Mai.

Muslim markets in Chiang Mai

The most well-known market in Chiang Mai is the Yunnan Friday morning market (กาดนัดจีนยูนาน), aka the Ban Ho market (กาดบ้านฮ่อ). This market starts at 0500 in the morning and ends before noon. The location is opposite the Ban Ho Mosque between Charoenprathat soi 1 and soi 6, behind the Melia Hotel, the former Pornping Hotel. It is a unique market with a great atmosphere and lots of food you won’t find anywhere else. It is one of our favorite markets.

This small Muslim neighborhood also hosts the Halal Street Hilal Town market, which opens just before sunset and goes on until around 2200 every Friday evening. This market is only on Charoenprathet soi one and has a limited number of stalls that sell Muslim delicacies.

A new and much lesser-known market takes place on Saturday on the premises of the Muslim school opposite. This community started this market on October 1, 2022. It starts at 1700 and ends at 2200.

My trips to the Deep South of Thailand

I understand that the Chinese and Pakistani Muslim of Chiang Mai and North Thailand have no relations or any affinity with the Muslims in the south of Thailand. The Muslims in South Thailand are Malay Muslims who have their own culture and language. A small group of Malay Muslims ended up in Chiang Mai after the Pahang Uprising (1891-95) against British rule. It is an interesting story.

My first trip to the “Deep South of Thailand” dates back to 1988, when I was on a backpacking trip in Southeast Asia. We passed through Hat Yai on the way to Georgetown, Penang, in Malaysia. In those days there was no sign of any upcoming trouble in the four southern provinces Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Travelers passed through this area with the Lonely Planet guide under their arm. In 1991 I visited these four provinces on a visa trip to Kota Bharu in Malaysia.

Old brick building Muslim community Chiang Mai

The Southern Insurgency

Since the Southern Insurgency started almost 20 years ago the Deep South has become a no-go zone for which Western countries have negative travel advisories. During Songkran in 2018 we visited Songkhla, which again raised my interest in the Deep South. I was curious to find out if the Deep South was as dangerous as governments and media described it.

I made my first longer trip in May 2018 and wrote this article about it. I returned in May 2019 with my friend Koen Olie. My last trip to the Deep South was in March 2021. You can read about that trip here. I am looking forward to go back there.

References for this article

Suthep Soonthornpasuch, Islamic Identity in Chiang Mai City: A Historical and Structural Composition of Two Communities. Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, 2013

Michael R. J. Vatikiotis, Ethnic Pluralism in the Northern Thai City of Chiangmai, 1984