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Thailand, Islamic Law in

Ramizah Wan Muhammad
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Thailand, Islamic Law in

Islam spread to Thailand from the Malay-Indonesian archipelago, Yemen, Persia, Burma, China, and Cambodia. Muslim merchants from the above region probably visited centers of trades such as Malacca in Southeast Asia for business and economy reasons. However, at the same time, they preached about Islam to the original community in Malacca. In Thailand, the area where the Muslims settled and Islamic law is currently retained and practiced is in the southern part of the country, which consists of four provinces: Narathiwat, Yala, Satun, and Pattani.

History of Islamic Law in Thailand

The Kingdom of Pattani, which consisted of Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani (also known as Langkasuka), was under the Buddhist influence in the second century C.E. However, in the thirteen century Islam began to spread to the northern part of Malay peninsula including Pattani. Pattani is considered the first province in the southern provinces which received Islam and became a kingdom. The Islamization of Patani was carried out by Pasai Muslims. It was mentioned also that Pattani was once ruled by women, the so called Queens of Pattani between 1584 and 1688.

Chularajmontri or Sheikh al Islam was one of the influential Muslim figures in the reign of Phrachao Songtham (1620–1628). It is reported that the first Chularajmontri was Sheikh Ahmad and that he was from Iran. He was a merchant trader and built his business which was close to the then capital, Ayudhya. The king conferred upon him the highest status known as Phraya.

The kingdom of Pattani was conquered by a Siamese monarch in 1789. The King of Siam, however, entrusted the administration of Muslim affairs to qualified Muslim people to hold the post of judge, imam (leader in the prayer), bilal (caller for prayer) and khạtīb (person who gives sermon during Friday prayer).

The history of the application of Islamic law in Thailand can be traced to the early 1900s. However, the involvement of Muslims in helping the king in the administrative affairs can be traced back to the period of Krung Si Atthuya between 1610 and 1628. The autonomy of Pattani kingdom was curbed gradually in the eighteenth century and finally in 1902 by becoming a direct province together with Yala, Narathiwat, and Satun.

In 1902, under the Chulalongkorn Reforms, Bangkok stipulated that “no law shall be established” without specific royal consent. This move was intended to deter the royal families of the ousted kingdom of Pattani to use their influence in the area. However, in terms of religious and personal matters, these were left in the hands of indigenous rulers and traditional elites who were Muslims.

Application of Islamic law between 1902 and1931

From 1902 to 1931 there were seven principalities: Pattani, Nong Chik, Yarang, Sai Buri, Yala, Raman, and Ra Nge cities. These seven cities established the “Rule of Administration in the seven principalities,” a statute that was concerned with family law and inheritance for Muslims as well as judicial procedures. The king gave his royal command on this law but there was no report of a Muslim judge ever having been appointed between 1901 and1917.

It is reported, however, that sharīʿah court was established in Satun under King Rama V. Satun, at that time under the administration of Sai Buri Province. However, on 10 March 1909, the Thai government agreed to transfer the administration of Kelantan, Terengganu, Sai Buri (Kedah) and Perlis to British administration in Peninsular Malaya in exchange for British acknowledgement of the power of the Thai court. Satun, on the other hand, remained with the Thai Kingdom. When Satun was separated from Sai Buri province, the sharīʿah court was abolished.

In 1917, there was a demand to have Islamic law applied to all the Muslims living in Satun as well as a demand to have a Muslim judge known as Datuk Yuthitham or Datuk Kadhi. The demand was granted by the His Majesty. The right of the Muslims was well protected by all kings in Thailand until 1932 when General Phibul Songkhram overthrew the absolute monarchy in Thailand and replaced it with a constitutional monarchy.

Application of Islamic Law after 1932 until the Present

After General Phibul Songkhram came to power and became the prime minister, he introduced a new law applicable to all Thai citizens, irrespective of religion. The new law was called Civil and Commercial Code Book 5 and 6 (1934). This code abolished the application of of Islamic law relating to marriages and inheritances to Thai-Muslims. Phibul sought to incorporate the entire non-Buddhist minority into the traditional Siamese culture, including the Muslims.

Following World War II, a new Thai government introduced three important versions of Islamic law to repair the damage done under Phibul’s administration. Those laws are:

  • 1. Royal Decree Concerning Muslims B E 2488 (1945)
  • 2. Act Relating to Exercising Islamic Law in Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Satun Province B.E 2489 (1946)
  • 3. Act Relating to [the] Mosque B.E. 2490 (1947)
  • 4. Family Law and Inheritance Act B E 2489 (1946)

In 1997, another law was passed called, The Royal Act concerning the Administration of Islamic Organisations B.E. 2540 (1997) to replace the Royal Decree 1945.

Currently, there is no sharīʿah court in Thailand but there is Datok Yuthitham or Datok Kadhi. This is the title of a Muslim judge who sits together with provincial court judge to hear any dispute on Islamic law. This post was created by virtue of section 4 of the Act Relating to Exercising Islamic Law in Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Satun Province. The decision made by this judge shall be final.

The above described legal arrangement is limited to the four Muslim majority southern provinces mentioned above. Yet, there have been initiatives to introduce family sharīʿah law through the regular courts in other provinces of Thailand which have Provincial Councils for Islamic Affairs. Provincial Council of Islamic Affairs exist in provinces with a substantial Muslim minority population. This initiative was first introduced by the Wadah political faction—;a group of Muslim politicians formed in 1988. Wadah is now defunct. Subsequently, the Muslim Law Society of Thailand has continued the effort through negotiations with the Ministry of Justice on the basis of the constitutional right of religious practice to observe religious precepts, commandments, and worship in accordance with religious belief. In the absence of national family sharīʿah law courts, Thai Muslims resort to resolve their conflicts privately through the family unit, imams, or the Provincial Council for Islamic Affairs acting as arbitrator.


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  • Che Man, W. K. “The Demise of Pattani Sultanate: A Preliminary Enquiry.” In Constructing National Past: National History and Historiography in Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, edited by Putu Davies. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei: University Brunei,
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  • Muhammad, Ramizah Wan. “The Administration of Islamic Judicial System in ASEAN Conutries with particular reference to Malaysia, Ph.d. diss., Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws,International Islamic University Malaysia, 2006.
  • Muhammad, Ramizah Wan. “Shariah Court Judges and Judicial Creativity (Ijtihad) in Malaysia and Thailand: A Comparative Study.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 29, no. 1 (March 2009): 127–139.
  • Tohmeena, Den. Shariah Court in Thailand.Pattani, Thailand: Saudara Baru Press, 1997.
  • Uwanno, Borwornsak, and Surakiart Sathirathai. “Introduction to the Thai Legal System.”’ In Legal Systems in the ASEAN Region. Bangkok: ASEAN Law Association. 1987, p.88


  • The Act Relating to Exercising Islamic law in Pattani, Satun, Yala and Narathiwat, BE 2489 (1946)
  • The Royal Act Concerning the Administration of Islamic Organisations B E 2540 (1997)
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