IV-3. “Buddhists and Muslims in Theravada Societies in Mainland Southeast Asia: Historical and Anthropological Studies” (R1-2 FY2019-2020)

  • Project Leader : Ikeda Kazuto (Osaka University, Graduate School of Language and Culture)
  • Collaborators : Murakami Tadayoshi (Osaka University, Graduate School of Language and Culture)
  • : Yamane Sou (Osaka University, Graduate School of Language and Culture)
  • : Sugahara Yumi (Osaka University, Graduate School of Language and Culture)
  • : Kuroda Keiko (Kagoshima University, Center for General Education)
  • : Kobayashi Satoru (Kyoto University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies)
  • : WANG, Liulan (Doshisha University, Faculty of Global and Regional Studies)
  • : Yoshimoto Yasuko (Kyoto University, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies)

Outline of Research

Contrary to the image in various media of a recent and “problematic” spread of Islam, Muslims have been a part of Theravada Buddhist societies in mainland South-east Asia since their arrival in the late first millennium. This arrival is mainly a result of historical communications and migrations from the neighboring three Islamic areas of maritime Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and southwest China. However, recent essentialist discourses such as “Buddhists and Muslims are as incompatible as oil and water” are becoming dominant and easily turn to historical essentialism to fortify hostility. This trend reveals an absence of basic understanding of the historical interactions between Buddhists and Muslims. This research project aims to present an overall picture of the historical and social relationships between Buddhists and Muslims in Theravada societies in mainland Southeast Asia.


Muslims from the Indian subcontinent, maritime Southeast Asia, and China have visited, migrated amid, and been integrated into Theravada societies in mainland Southeast Asia for many centuries. As a whole, co-existence has been the predominant reality. Despite journalistic attention on recent eye-catching cases, such as that of the Malay Patani in southern Thailand and the Rohingya in western Myanmar, Muslim communities in general have been living without major problems under or in the vicinities of Theravada kingships, colonial regimes, and subsequent nation-states in the region.

The goal of this project is to provide an overall historical perspective and picture of Buddhist and Muslim relations in mainland Southeast Asia. It will combine 1) a historical perspective to better understand the characteristic and evolution of Buddhist-Muslim relationships during the past few centuries with 2) an anthropological approach to observe different phases of contact, acceptance, and conflict between the communities.

The significance of this project lies in establishing a standard historical and social understanding of Muslim communities in mainland Southeast Asia. First, it aims to provide a general picture of the historical relations between Buddhists and Muslims. This includes the process of cognitive transformations of the parties involved, who may not in the first place recognize themselves as belonging to religious categories such as Buddhist or Muslim. Secondly, the hidden realities of ordinary co-existences, which are currently overshadowed by sensationalist coverage of violent incidents in major media, will be re-evaluated in terms of the mechanisms of co-existence and conflict.

Fortunately, our application for Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research was accepted this April and we are now able to start a fully financed research project. It seems that we cannot conduct research trips in 2020 due to COVID-19. Instead, we will focus on the tasks of collecting basic bibliographies, statistics, and information on Muslim communities scattered across the region, and to construct a basic hypothesis regarding the relationships and interactions between Muslim and Buddhist communities. The results of these tasks will be used during the second year of the IPCR and serve as the groundwork for our project. The subjects of our field research are Burmese, Bengalis, Rohingyas, Indians, and Chinese in Myanmar, Malays and Chinese in Thailand, Chams and others in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and other Muslim minorities.

Dato Kramat image in Muslim costume at a Buddhist temple in Kedah, Malaysia

Talaih (Ramuwan end ceremony) of Cham Bani in Vietnam