Muslims leaders across Thailand's southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat are urging people to return to the teachings of Allah as a way to end insurgent violence. At least 14 people died in near-daily attacks during the first nine days of Ramadan alone, with 27 people injured, according to the police. And the number continues to rise.
The Islamic holy month began on July 20th and will continue until Eid-ul-Fitr on August 19th.
Though Ramadan is meant to be a time of fasting, prayer and spiritual insight, it has seen an upsurge in bloodshed – including the slaying of workers in paddy fields, local villagers, and Thai police officers. A Pattani school was set ablaze Wednesday, according to Reuters, leaving local students without a place to continue their education. On July 31st, insurgents targeted a Pattani hotel and a local power substation, plunging the area into darkness.
Speaking from Yala, the chairman of the municipal Imam's Council condemned the violence, saying it is especially important to pass the teachings of Islam to local youth.
"People around the world know that Ramadan is a time when all Muslims try to improve themselves through the teachings of Islam," the chairman, Ma Samae, told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"Unfortunately incidents of unrest occur very often during Ramadan, which has an impact on religious activities because it makes many villagers afraid to come to the massayit," he said.
Even so, he said, participation has been strong. "The number of people coming to the mosque this year is more than last year. I think most of them brave the journey because they want to pray to Allah and ask for his blessing and restore peace and harmony to our society," he said.
In an effort to steer insurgents and their sympathisers away from the life of violence, meanwhile, Yala Town has launched an outreach programme to facilitate religious observances. Some 209 people signed up for the programme, in which locals facing security-related charges can come together for iftar, the evening meal which concludes the daily Ramadan fast.
Provincial governor Dejrat Simsiri presided over the first iftar event. Also taking part were district chiefs and officials, religious leaders, and army and police personnel. The goal, organisers say, is to create understanding and trust and improve relationships as a way of solving the unrest in the region.
"The use of violence by insurgents destroys the lives and property of innocent people as well as government officers, compromising the trust and economic base of our society," Governor Dejrat said. "We need everyone's help in guiding those who have gone astray by joining the insurgents to come together to help rebuild a safe and law-abiding society through strict adherence of religious principles."
Invitees to the outreach programme included a wide range of people including those who have in the past been detained in security cases, those on bail in such cases and people suspected of involvement or support of insurgency, or have otherwise run afoul of the law.
In the compassionate spirit of Ramadan, the project is intended to help all participants improve themselves through participation in the ancient rituals taught by the Prophet Muhammad, thus helping them become law-abiding members of society.
Additional reporting by Ahman Ramansiriwong