Al Azhar to Offer Courses in Thailand

In an effort to provide affordable education to Thai Muslims, the renowned Al Azhar Islamic Research Academy will begin to offer classes in Thailand. Instead of traveling overseas for Islamic education, aspiring students will have a viable domestic option and, it is hoped, will be less likely to join militant groups overseas. Though officials claim that the educational endeavor is not a direct response to Islamic insurgency in southern Thailand, they hope to provide an alternative to what some have described as foreign Muslims' "false teachings," some of which encourage violence. - YaleGlobal

Al Azhar to Offer Courses in Thailand

Don Pathan
Thursday, September 23, 2004

The world's oldest and most prestigious Islamic institution of higher learning, Al Azhar, will begin teaching in Thailand by the end of this year in collaboration with a local Thai college and will eventually expand to a full university, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said yesterday.

The announcement between Surakiart and his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, was made in New York, where they are attending the United Nations General Assembly.

Surakiart said Al Azhar's launch in Thailand was not to counter the latest wave of Islamic insurgencies in southern Thailand, but to allow Thai Muslims who could not afford to go abroad to further their Islamic education at university level.

However, he acknowledged that a number of Muslims students who had gone abroad were drawn to militancy by radical groups.

Having a respected institution like Al Azhar open in Thailand could help put a stop to such instances, Surakiart said. He said Bahrain had agreed to provide support in teaching Arabic language.

Al Azhar came into being about 2,000 years ago as an Islamic university, also known as a madrasa, and later took up secular subjects, offering degrees in a wide range of subjects including science and literature.

Surakiart said it was a "misunderstanding" hat had led to Egypt being branded a hotbed for terrorists.

Deputy Prime Minister Thammarak Issarangkula has been reported as saying a significant number of Thai Muslims students who studied in the Middle East, including Egypt, turned to terrorist activities.

But Surakiart said the two countries now agreed that such views were inaccurate.

Surakiart told an audience at the Asia Society in Washington, DC on Monday that the violence in the deep South, which has claimed more than 300 lives since the beginning of the year, was the result of false teachings by some "foreign Muslim teachers" who lured young men to take up arms.

Vested interest in illicit activities in the region and abuse at the hands of authorities were also factors that pushed young Muslims towards militancy, he said.

Surakiart is leading a Thai delegation to the UN General Assembly, for bilateral talks with a number of countries, including Peru, Belgium, France, Russia, Greece and Bulgaria.

A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was high on the agenda in talks with his counterpart from Peru.

Surakiart said it was likely the two countries would sign the pact in November during the Apec summit in Chile.

Surakiart also signed an agreement on cultural exchange with Greece yesterday and discussed an invitation for French President Jacques Chirac to visit Thailand in 2005, with his French counterpart.

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