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Research Focuses on Muslim Women Under Khmer Rouge

An estimated 500,000 Cambodian Muslims died under the Khmer Rouge, through overwork, starvation or execution.

Cambodia’s women Muslims are increasingly embracing their own identities, as the minority group as a whole struggles with the impacts of the Khmer Rouge, according to new research.

“Cham Muslim women were cut off from the traditional roles of taking care of their households and children,” Farina So, a researcher at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, told “Hello VOA” on Monday.

So has now completed four years of research and compiled a book, “The Hijab of Cambodia: Memory of Cham Muslim Women after the Khmer Rouge,” soon to be released.

“When they were deprived of these roles, it affected them not just socially, but religiously and racially as well,” she said. “Because their religion states that as mothers and wives, their role is to bring happiness to the family and then they will be blessed.”

Under the Khmer Rouge, Muslims were forced to break major tenets of their religion, including eating pork and frequent prayer. Some complied, but others practiced their religion in secret.

So, who began interviewing Muslim women in 2007, said she had encouraged women to describe the woes of the past.

“Speaking out about one’s bitter experiences, or sorrow, is difficult, but it provides one with long term healing,” So said.

So said she had learned through her research the Khmer Rouge had made obvious attempts to eliminate minority groups like the Muslims, the majority of whom are of the Cham ethnic background. Up to 400,000 Chams died under the regime.

However, Cambodia’s Muslims are now healing over time. They are getting over what they see as a “nightmare,” So said, and are working to rebuild their communities.

“We have seen that Cham Muslims tend to embrace their religious identities, rather than their racial one,” she said.