Thirty years after approval was granted, construction of a mosque in Phuket is progressing, thanks to funding from benefactors in Brunei and a decision by the government to allow the use of public land for the project.
Work on the Al Madina Mosque, named after the holy city in Saudi Arabia, started in October with a budget of Bt. 18m ($574,400) and is expected to be completed in November.
The new mosque is being constructed on the outskirts of the Saphan Ruam Community on the gritty east side of Phuket Town.
A driving force behind the project is Imam Kitti Islam, who had a strict Muslim upbringing before moving as a youth to Egypt to study Arabic. From there he taught languages for 15 years in Selangor, Malaysia. After mastering Melayu, he decided to return to his native Phuket.
The Phuket he returned to had changed dramatically – the area on which the mosque is being built was once an expansive mangrove forest. Little of it remains due to a massive influx of people from throughout Thailand and elsewhere.
"There are a lot of Indonesian fishermen living in the area, as well as Burmese and local villagers who work in the local fishing industry. Sometimes they stay here for three months at a time when their ship is in port. Some have married Thais and settled in the area," he said.
"There was once an Islamic community living on public land in the Poon Pon area in downtown Phuket Town, but the tessaban (Phuket City Municipality) needed the land to build a new municipal school to meet the needs of the city's rapidly growing population," said Kitti. "The members of the community at the time agreed to move to this location."
However, due to lack of funding, the community's dream to build a mosque was put on hold for several decades, during which a huge area migration created an expanse of one-room flats nearby.
"I would estimate that about 30% of the people living in the area around the mosque are Muslim, and many of them have contributed generously to help make the mosque project become reality," Kitti, now deputy chairman of the Phuket Provincial Islamic Council, told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"This is government land, but they have allowed us to build our mosque here. We set up a mosque committee to oversee contributions from community members to fund the construction, and we are grateful to some of our generous sponsors that included Bt. 10m ($319,300) from the Royal Family of Brunei and Abdul Aziz Latif."
Despite not yet having their own mosque, the community has long had a prayer room and teaching facilities to offer weekend training in Islamic morals to local youths.
"Six teachers, including myself, take turns leading instruction to some 150 children, who range in age from primary year 1 (age 6) to secondary school. We also teach languages – Malay, Arab and Qur'an reading, and English," said Pornchai Matusot Abdullah, a civil servant originally from Krabi who teaches Islam and English on the weekends.
Sufee Lamai, a 10-year-old student at the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation's Ban Taladneua School, told Khabar, "I study English and Malay here on Saturdays and Sundays. When I grow up I want to open my own roti restaurant."
Her classmate, 12-year-old Tanitta 'Yubaida' Techaniyom, is in her first year at Satree Phuket School, widely regarded as one of the island's best secondary schools.
"I come here to study how to read the Qur'an in Arabic. I would like to be a pharmacist when I get older so that I can help people who are suffering," she said.