Faith, religion and a way of life in Narathiwat [Thailand]
Speaking to Muslims and Buddhists in the rural side and in the town was not difficult, people, especially the elders are quick to invite me to their shops, homes and the odd-looking wooden bench on the street. Conversation, an act of bonding, which is usually accompanied by thick sweet tea, fizzy drink and cigarettes.
Maybe because I'm seen as a foreigner or maybe it is the truth, but no one has expressed any discomfort or tension on the different way-of-life in this Muslim-majority Thai province. Many have expressed that outsiders and even Thais from other provinces don't know (or don't want to know) about the mutual understanding and acceptance practised among population in Narathiwat. Maybe due to ignorance or perhaps the southerners (Muslim and Buddhists alike) are seen as different from the Thai norms, and the typical stereotyping of cultures. It is also common for Muslims to have relatives who are Buddhists, their kinship not torn by faith, though political and business rivalry is not rare.
Nevertheless I found the Buddhist temples to be peaceful, within walking distance to the many surau and masjid (mosques). I'm sure there are many smaller ones around the province but my limited budget prevents me from visiting most.
Naturally due to the constant violence in Narathiwat, there are visible sentry posts and soldiers close to the big temples and mosques. I suspect the authorities are told not to interfere in faith-based activities and gatherings.
Many have asked me about my faith, curious why I'm visiting a not-so-popular province and made infamous by incidences of random mayhem. Many have lived with their neighbours of different faith for decades, stating bluntly that there's no "religious war" and merely a fantasy of overzealous politicians and troublemakers.
The people are in collective need of more school facilities, educational opportunities, and governing authority of their own province. Narathiwat's faith is for the future generation. The elders say realistically positive change will not happen in their lifetime, but they hope they can set the stage for the children and grandchildren. Regardless of faith and religion, the people of Narathiwat believe this will improve their way-of-life.