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The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967], at

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Islam, the religion founded by the Prophet Mohammed in 612 A.D. in the Arabian deserts, is also found in Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. It seems to have reached this area in two distinct waves. The first incursion was during the heyday of Arabic development when sea-faring Moslem traders carried both merchandise and their faith as they traveled and traded along the coastal areas of the sea. Evidences of their presence are still being discovered in Vietnam and elsewhere. The second wave of Islam to enter the Southeast Asia area, including Vietnam, was that created by the Indian Moslem merchants of Gujerat and Bengal. These adherents of the fiery desert prophet of Allah, like their Hindu fellow merchants, were skillful tradesmen and exponents of their faith so that Islam became a part of the religious scene, and is still interwoven in the lives of many Vietnamese.

The adherents of Islam in the Middle East blunted and stalled the drive of the Crusaders to free the Holy Lands from the "infidel" Moslems; therefore the Moslems of the Far East including Southeast Asia offered tempting targets to the Portuguese of the 14th and 15th centuries. The attempts to overwhelm the Moslem settlements and to destroy the Islamic influenced trading areas undoubtedly hastened and encouraged the amalgamation of the stern doctrines of Mohammed with the pervasive religious forces in Vietnam and other areas of Southeast Asia. This union of religious concepts and practices has so changed Islam among some of its Vietnamese adherents that it is doubtful if a Moslem from the Bible Lands would have much affinity with them.

To the western observer of the religious scene, it is quite obvious that the Vietnamese variety of Islam is influenced by Animism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and other concepts or practices quite different than those found at Mecca, Medina, Damascus or Cairo. The Islamic mosque in Saigon is quite similar to those found in other areas of the world, but most of the mosques found in Vietnam have Hindu-influenced architecture, as illustrated by the Hindu-type "onion" bulb minarets from which the Muezzin or temple crier might call the adherents to worship and prayer.

Within Vietnam there seem to be few, if any, ethnic Chinese or Vietnamese Moslem adherents. The faith within the country is made up basically of those who come from Moslem countries as business men or government employees, and human remnants of by-gone glory like some of the Cham. But since the Cham are found in a number of locations within Vietnam, even as they once controlled the entire coast of Vietnam northward to Canton, China, awareness of Islamic presence may help to provide understanding and a more accurate evaluation of the religious dynamics of personality revealed in the complex culture of Vietnam.

Since the Cham are the people apparently most influenced by Islam in Vietnam now (the same is true also of the Cham and Hinduism), extended discussions of Islam in faith and practice among them is a part of the Cham study in THE PEOPLE OF THE TRIBES OF SOUTH VIETNAM.

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Buttinger, Joseph, The Smaller Dragon: A Political History of Vietnam, New York, Praeger, 1958

Cady, John F., Southeast Asia: Its Historical Development, New York, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964

Cressy, George B., Asia's Lands and Peoples, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1951

Danielou, Jean, Introduction to the Great Religions, Notre Dame, Indiana, Fides Publishers, Inc., 1964

DeBary, William (Editor), Sources of the Indian Traditions, Introduction to Oriental Civilizations, (2 Vol.), New York, Columbia University Press, 1964

Ferm, Vergiluis, Encyclopedia of Religion, Patterson, New Jersey, Littlefield, Adams and Co., 1959

Hammer, Ellen, Vietnam Yesterday and Today, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1966

Karnow, Stanley, and the Editors of Life, Life World Library: Southeast Asia, New York, Time Incorporated, 1962

Noss, J. B., Living Religions, Philadelphia, United Church Press, 1962

Vietnam, Past and Present, Saigon, Government Printing: Department National Education (n.d.)


Next: VII. Roman Catholicism in South Vietnam