In Cambodia Muslims are a minority. There are around 600.000 Cham Muslims living in the buddhist country, which population counts more than 14 million citizens. The Chams are remnants of the Kingdom of Champa, which nowadays is located in Vietnam. In the 15th century, when their homeland was conquered by the Vietnamese, they fled to Cambodia. Most probably due to their trade connections to Malaysia around the 17th century, many of the originally Hindu Chams converted to Islam. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, the Chams were forbidden from worshipping and many of their scholars were wiped out.
Today, the majority of Cham reside in Kampong Cham, a province located 125km from the capital Phnom Penh, where many make their living from fishing in the Mekong river. Often the Cham are affected by eviction and opression.
During my stay in Cambodia for an internship at the Phnom Penh Post in 2011, I completed a longterm project on the Cham Muslim community. I visited Cham communities around Phnom Penh and in Kampong Cham. At first hand I witnessed how the Cham in Chroy Changvar commune in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district were evicted from their homes due to a government project. They had to knock down their houses, were relocated many kilometers away from their home and were given just $5000 in compensation per household.
This project is aimed to show the struggle, work ethic and indomitable spirit of the Cham, who were often forced to the margins but never beaten.