Cham Muslims Struggle in Vietnam

Endure, my friends, for this too shall pass

By A. Rahman Champa

May/June 2023

In the beginning, Covid-19 struck many countries very hard — but, surprisingly, not Vietnam. According to Huong Le Thu’s blog post of April 30, 2020, the nation adopted a “unite to fight, talking about COVID-19 like a battle. Within Vietnam, it has become a matter of patriotism to wash one’s hands and stay home”. Moreover, Vietnam, having learned from the 2003 SARS outbreak, quickly imposed travel restrictions, lockdowns, testing and tracing. According to Max Walden, writing for on Sept. 22, 2020, Vietnam stopped the virus in its tracks — for a second time! 

The pandemic has left many Cham and Vietnamese people in a difficult situation. In Tay Ninh province, one of Vietnam’s four major Cham Muslim populations, a Cham friend remembers walking through the streets of his neighborhood and seeing the signs of funerals everywhere — Vietnamese hold funerals at home, instead of trying to conceal death. Vietnamese friends who live in the same area told me that the vaccine was available — for US$800! When people lose their jobs because the government closes their places of employment for weeks, who has such a vast sum? When they are ordered to stay home or face arrest by patrolling soldiers, who can get vaccinated? When one family member is infected, the entire family and sometimes even the nearby neighbors were removed to an isolated quarantine camp. People died.

 Today we can look back and remember the images of ambulances coming to take people to quarantine centers, seeing the sorrow and pain of those who weren’t allowed to comfort their dying loved ones or even say “Goodbye, my beloved” for the final time. Everything was heartbreaking, an individual and family tragedy.

Many Cham families who were already struggling lost their savings and other things that they will never be able to recover. Thus, they are forced to rely on the government and the kindness of strangers. But the government, as seems to be the case in so many lands, may have other priorities.

I used to receive their pleas for help, “Baby, please help me, brother help me, uncle help me. Just save me this one time, uncle, son. Uncle, I’ll be grateful to you, grateful to you, grateful to you until I die.” This is what they texted to me, pleading for help to survive their personal ordeals. 

Surely, none of us can turn away from such distress, even if it’s someone we’re not very close to. Most people are proud of being able to take care of their family. Imagine their shame at being forced to beg. My three friends in Tay Ninh province told me so many times, “Please don’t look down on us because we are poor. Please don’t tell your friends about us. Please don’t forget us.”

I can stop drinking coffee for a month during Ramadan. I can give up a meal so I can share a meal with people who are hungry, no matter who they are. After all, the Quran reminds us that all of us are brothers and sisters, all human beings made of flesh and blood.

As for me, I can only do so much to help. I can only contribute a very small amount of money, equal to no more than a grain of sand, along with other people to help them. I called on my brothers and sisters three times in 2021 to help our hometown’s Cham community.

This year we collected enough money to feed 150 families of our Cham relatives and friends during Ramadan. We sent them rice, sauce, instant noodles and a little money to meet their needs. As a Vietnamese proverb states, “One piece when hungry is equal to one pack when full.” We can have a meal, a morning coffee or a small snack for suhur to get us through the day, never realizing how many days our fellow Cham can stretch that which we take for granted during Ramadan.  

I have tried to do what I can to help my people. I pray for this accursed Covid-19 to end so they can resume their normal lives, their health and their jobs. I look forward to the day when they will no longer have to bow their heads in shame and beg.

I wish everyone good health. I wish that Muslims could actually put their differences aside and help their fellow brothers and sisters get through these difficult times. I wish that we would remember that a charity lunch box in difficult times is worth more than a million dollars.

I cannot say anything more. I can only share these few words with you. As another Vietnamese proverb says, “Hearing a hundred times is not equal to seeing once.” 

A. Rahman Champa lives in the U.S.

Tell us what you thought by joining our Facebook community. You can also send comments and story pitches to Islamic Horizons does not publish unsolicited material.