My wife and I are glad to be able to join with all of you, Excellencies, Lok Chumteavs, ladies and gentlemen for the inauguration of the Al Serkal Mosque today. I thank the report of Minister of Religious Affairs HE Min Khin and that of HE Osman Hassan. This location was in fact commenced since before 1970 after the visit of head of state of Mauritania to Cambodia. It was built into a mosque. It was because of the coup in 1970 that it had become a military office. Pol Pot later destroyed religions in Cambodia – Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. From 1979 through to 1992, there were not many people living in this area. I did not know that the mosque was here since before 1970.
I may recall for our foreign guests that Phnom Penh was a no man’s land. Not only in this place that I did not know but the whole Phnom Penh capital was evacuated. When I returned in 1979 I met only about 70 people. It was a situation that went along with the Buddhist prophetic text of there would be houses but no one lives in and roads upon which no one travels. It was till 1992, there was a request for a resettlement of the issue. I thank HE Osman Hassan for the brief historical facts he brought up on the construction of the mosque.
Religious Harmony for Development
Please allow me to stress on the correct policy of the Cambodian People’s Party and the National Front for Solidarity and Salvation of Cambodia on religious and ethnic issues. One of the best lessons learned from the case of Cambodia is perhaps the harmony of races and regions. Under the leadership of Samdech Preah Borom Ratanak Kaod, we never had racial or religious issues. Under Pol Pot, all religions were banned and destroyed. 7 January 1979 liberated everything. I said this many times already.
In Pursat province there was this Muslim man – Soh. He died a while ago. Mr. Ros Sreng, then governor of the province, met with Soh. He posed a question to Soh between Allah and Buddha, which of them was born first? Soh said in reply that no one was as they were born altogether on 7 January 1979. They all have same age, he said. It was a true story and Soh came all the way to see me in Phnom Penh. On this forum today as you can see we have people from many different religions – Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and perhaps Hindu.
According to the experience of the Cambodian People’s Party, the National Front for Solidarity and Salvation of Cambodia, the former Government of the State of Cambodia and the current Royal Government of Cambodia, differences on issue of races and religions are no obstacles to national development. It is important to let all different races and religions to live together in harmony without discrimination. What HE Osman Hassan has said is true about harnessing peace by toppling down the regime of genocide, conducting peace negotiation and implementing the Paris Peace Agreement, and the win-win policy. However, it would not be sufficient if there were discrimination in the Cambodian society on issues of races and religions.
Muslim Traditional Code, Quran and Pray Place – No Restriction
In order to provide chance for female Muslim students in pursuit of their studies to become intellectuals without hindrance, the Royal Government made a decision for them to use traditional Muslim dress in school. Some civilized countries have not done so. They require female Muslim students to use students’ uniforms. In Cambodia, they can use their traditional dress. I asked some of the students over there what dress they use when going to school. Some said they do not use traditional dress in school. Well, they may like a different model or style. In order to avert obstacle in dress code, I made a decision for all tertiary education institutions – state and private, to allow Muslim students to use their traditional code.
We also allow broadcast of Islam teaching on radio. It is not a simple matter. As far I could remember they broadcast on FM 96 and 103 MHZ for Muslim community and Islam followers. Though Buddhism is the state religion obliged by the Constitution, there were no hindrance to Islam in freely using and distributing Quran.
I may also share with you that in a building where international meetings are organized, not far from here, which is also the office of the Prime Minister there is also a room for Islam people to pray. I have told heads of state and government of ASEAN countries and others where they can go for their pray session. One is for female and one is for male guests. We must also lay out plan for prayer rooms at the airport in Phnom Penh and Siemreap province. I also urge those involved in hospitality to set out prayer rooms so as to attract Islamist guests./.