Religion and Prejudice

Every country has its prejudices. Some countries more than others. In general these tend to boil down to religion and appearance. Some would say class, and this isn’t untrue in some places, but classes are a little fluid here (and in the US as well), so I don’t usually go into that issue.

Let us talk about religion. (Yay, fun! lol)

Depending on where you look, Thailand is anywhere between 90-97% Buddhist. I tend to go with 95% since that is the number I’ve seen the most often and it is between those extremes. To anyone from a more culturally diverse country (like myself) this seems very odd, but that is Thailand. Because of this extreme number, prejudices of religion are (in most areas) not as loud as those arguments regarding religion that I am used to back home.

It is that other 5% where things really get interesting. 4(and someodd)% identify as Muslim, and the remaining as Other. These can be Christians, people who worship at Chinese temples, Hindu, none, etc. There is also a bit of regionalism involved in Thai religion to the point where Buddhists are generally in the Central and Northern regions and Muslims have a higher number in the Southern provinces.

Muslims are not — in general — distrusted (hated) in the way that they sometimes are in the US. There are prayer rooms in some Tesco Lotus stores (like if Walmart, if that strip mall thing that’s usually next to it ((Game Stop, Sally’s Beauty, etc)) was inside the building with it.) and in all government hospitals (as well as plenty of other places). It’s not in the least unusual to see groups of children, Buddhist and Muslim running around from school to 7-11 to home. And yet there are some odd quirks to what usually seems to be a very accepting population.

For this, we’re going to talk about women. The Muslim women I knew in the USA were very strictly Muslim in that they always wore shirts and bottoms that covered their wrists and ankles. I never saw any of them in pants (always long skirts), but in this I cannot be 100% certain, that could have just been coincidence. Thai women seem to be less strict as a whole (though there are certainly women who are more … I don’t want to say devout, because I don’t want to question the strength of anyone’s religion, but they’re less strict … I’m tired of using that word.) Here, Thai women often wear shirts that are loose around their wrists. They wear pants. Some wear leggings. All, that I know of, will show their feet because some places in Thailand follow the tradition of removing your shoes before entering a room, and, really, most of Thailand is just too darn hot for socks!

But then comes the hijab. A piece of cloth — simple to breathtakingly ornate — to cover the hair. It is amazing the controversy such a small thing can cause. Most school uniforms (all Thai public schools, primary through university, require uniforms) have a uniform hijab for girls. And yet for some inexplicable reason, there are schools in Thailand that have banned wearing the hijab. There are workplaces that have banned the hijab. There are posters in my workplace that proclaim us to be a hijab safe zone.

All over Thailand there are men and women and teenager wearing shirts with rude and/or sexual writing and images. Short skirts? Awesome. Stilettos? Sure. A headscarf?

Fuck no.

Unless you are a monk, the trappings proclaiming you to be Buddhist (or Christian, for that matter) can be as simple as a pendant with a representation of the Buddha on a necklace. Perhaps the problem is that you can tuck the necklace under the collar of your shirt, but a hijab clearly stands out and proclaims you to be different? A student hijab is plain, and the color of the uniform (white if white, blue if blue, etc), so it can’t be because they are too eye  catching. The pins are simple as well, the most ornate being school pins.

Non-uniform hijabs for women in workplaces can be quite ornate. Beautiful things, works of art in thread and dye and silk and beading. But, I would think, that if you don’t want ornate headscarves in your place of business (and I hope you’re not allowing too much jewelry or flashy clothes, hypocrite), then you make it a work dress-code that they must be plain. You don’t have to get rid of them altogether.

Luckily this isn’t the norm, but anytime I hear about it I am shocked and angry! But then you get the flip side (or almost the flip side).

The Muslim women I knew in the US, you might remember me saying, were very strict and would not have removed their hijab in public. I have worked with women who freely remove the hijab for certain presentations. In mixed company. Male, female, young, old, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.

Different Islamic groups have different views on the hijab with regards to the female veil, but my understanding was that Muslim women who followed the wearing of the hijab had to wear it in the presence of males who were not family. Apparently Thai women are willing to be more flexible with this. Which to me makes the bans all that more bothersome. They choose to wear the hijab. It is an expression of their religion, which should bother no one, that they take on to satisfy their own morals and beliefs. Why ban such a thing?

(I’ll add a post script here: I am not religious in any way. I’m not trying to push some sort of propaganda, I just think this is really screwed up.)

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