The Thai state has barely learned the lessons on the conflict of Thailand’s restive Deep South, voiced experts and locals during an event to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the enforced disappearance of Haji Sulong Tohmeena, a local political icon who campaigned for the rights of Muslim Malays.
“The Thai state wants to crush and erase Haji Sulong. They don’t want people to speak about Haji Sulong. The Thai state has acted like this all along. That’s why the Deep South problem has never been solved,” said Den Tohmeena, the fourth son of the Patanian hero.
Den, a former Pattani MP, said that from his experience, the Thai state has always seen Haji Sulong as a villain and rebel and tried to erase the people’s memory of Haji Sulong. For example, documents about him were confiscated and the Thai authorities did not allow Den to register a foundation in Haji Sulong’s name. The Prof Haji Sulong Abdulqadir Tohmeena Foundation was successfully registered several years after the first attempt.
The iconic Haji Sulong’s house is under-construction.
Images of Haji Sulong in the exhibition
Former chairman of the Pattani Provincial Islamic Council, Haji Sulong Abdulqadir Tohmeena has been considered a political icon for Malay Muslim in the three southernmost provinces, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat for more than six decades. In 1947 Haji Sulong led a petition campaign for autonomy, language and cultural rights, and implementation of Islamic law. Because of the campaign in 1948, he was accused of rebellion (the case was later dismissed by the court) and later was jailed for allegedly defaming the Thai state. In 1955 Haji Sulong, along with his eldest son Ahmad Tomeena faced enforced disappearance after reporting it to the Thai authorities. The presumed murder of Haji Sulong by Thai authorities transformed him into a symbol of resistance and ignited social tension and movement in the Malay Muslim community in the Deep South against the Thai Buddhist government. This gradually became a violent social movement. The disappearance of Haji Sulong is considered as one of the root causes of the conflict in the predominantly Malay Muslim community in Southern Thailand that has erupted from time to time. Meanwhile, his disappearance also had a lot of impact on his own family members. Many of the family members became exiles and remain fearful of publicly revealing that they are part of his extended family.
Last year, in occasion of the 60th anniversary of his disappearance, the Tohmeena family united to pay tribute to Haji Sulong. The successful event led to a bigger event on the 61st anniversary on Friday.
Ismail Benjasmith, President of PUSTA Patani, said during a seminar, “Understanding Haji Sulong”, that Haji Sulong was a fighter for justice with the vision of developing his hometown by using the knowledge he learned from visiting Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He also opened a modern, standardized Islamic school.
(From second left) Ma-ae Sa-a, former key PULO member, Sett Alyufree, the Chairman of Pattani Provincial Organization, Ismail Lutfi Japakiya, rector of Fatoni University, Den Tohmeena and Ismail Benjasmith
“The petition of Haji Sulong is part of democratic culture,” said Ismail.
Meanwhile Najib Arwaebuesa, a researcher on Patani culture, began his speech by asking the audience who Haji Sulong was. Given the legend around him, Haji Sulong was not only an Islamic teacher, but also a politician and a philosopher For example, Haji Sulong created a timetable for prayer times, which can be used in any year. “This indicates that Haji Sulong was not only a tuan guru who knew about Islam, but also astronomy and mathematics.”
Regarding his political ideas, Najib said Haji Sulong was greatly influenced by the unification of Saudi Arabia when people were energetic and enthusiastic for change. Meanwhile, in Siam, the country had just undergone the forced change from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.
From Left: Nuannoi Thammasathien, Chalermchai Suebsang, Ismael Benjasmith, Najib Arwaebuesa, Muhammad Aladin Denni, and the moderator Hama Waekuejik
Najib said because Haji Sulong travelled across the region to convince children to go to his school, he saw problems and this drove him to develop the area. At the same time, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram imposed the nationalistic cultural mandates policy which greatly affected the Malays in the Deep South.
Muhammad Aldi Degni from Nusantara Patani said the Thai state created a climate of fear around Haji Sulong. People were afraid to discuss Haji Sulong because they might also be seen as rebel.
“Haji Sulong used peaceful means and then faced death. This has led to the armed struggle till today and the Thai state still suppresses us. We should ask if the Thai state has learned anything?” said Muhammad.
A short movie by Nirundorn Lokna showing relatives of Haji Sulong telling stories about him.
Nuannoi Thammasathien, a senior reporter from BBC Thai, said that from outsiders’ eyes stories about Haji Sulong presented him as a rebel or a victim. The violence in the past 11 years ironically made people in the rest of the country have a better understanding about Haji Sulong and the Deep South.
Najib said the use of violence to suppress local leaders and identity in fact created undesirable effects for the Thai authorities. Haji Sulong has become the icon of Patanian struggle and has never been forgotten in the locals’ memory.
, a native of Narathiwat who won the SEA Write Award in 2010, read a poem as a tribute to Haji Sulong.
When he built the home, a lantern was lit
Then they came to sweep and reignite the light
So its brightness would burn onward
When he sparked brilliance
Others moved to carry it forward
So that the light would radiate luminously into the future.
The rain pours, the storm rages on
Shakes the frame into fragile vulnerability
But the home within remains steadfast
If the foundation perseveres and maintains its course
Through the whole of the village
Where the voice of scriptural recitation resounds far and wide
If we believe that tomorrow retains the brightness of the sun
Death is just a temporal moment of life,
The breaking point of a traveler who enters the moment of realization
That here, at this point, the long travail has not yet come to an end.
That house toward which all drift
The first house of Ibrahim and his son
That casts a frame around the foundation of faith
Is the house of dreams and universal passion.
This is the house that built faith
That lights the lamp to illuminate learning
His obscurity must come to an end
Illuminated wisdom, thought
Will lead them from the dark,
Though he who built the house has forever departed into timelessness.
(Translated by Noah Vierness)