VietNamNet Bridge – Over the past 20 years, nearly 200 Cham people living in an apartment block in Binh Thanh District, HCM City have been preserving their customs and habits.
Apartment 86/1 on Phan Van Han Street has been the home to the Cham community for more than 20 years. According to the apartment management board, the Cham account for nearly half of the households here.
Cham people in the apartments have maintained their own cultural identity. They are Muslim so the women always cover their hair with a headscarf. “We only take off the headscarf when we shower, sleep or with the consent of our father or husband,” said Mrs. Sophia, 50.
According to Mrs. Sikho, 69, the Cham here were from Chau Doc, An Giang Province, who went to Saigon to settle down in the French colonial period. In the past, they lived in the vicinity of Thi Nghe canal. When slums in this area were cleared, they were removed to this apartment block in 1995. “Besides the Cham people here, there are other communities in District 8, Nancy area, Phu Nhuan … ,” she said.
Men usually wear long dresses or sarongs, and a hat. For the ritual ceremony, the Cham community here uses an apartment on the top floor as their mosque.
Every day, the Cham men go to the mosque to read the Koran. “While performing the ritual, no one is allowed to touch each other and they can only think of God,” said Mr. Mohamah.
Cham children are driven to Muslim by their parents.
Pointing to a clock with six time zones, Karim, 32, explained: “These clocks show the five times required for praying each day, and the clock in the middle shows the time for extra ritual. Only men can go to the mosque. The women are strictly prohibited here. Women can only enter the mosque during the Ramadan month.”
Mrs Mariyah, 49, said that her mother had just passed away. “My mother is a Kinh, so she had to change her name and followed Islam after she got married with my father. After getting married, the man must stay at his wife’s house. In this apartments, most families include members of two or more generations,” she said.
According to Islam, the Cham do not use chopsticks and eat with their hands.
Cham women do not have to do anything after getting married. But over time, women also do more work at home such as selling groceries, clothing,… Young people go to school or work at offices.
The Cham apartments are busiest during the early morning and late afternoon. People usually sit in the corridor to chat. “Today I have some clothes, jewelry from Chau Doc. In Saigon it is difficult to find traditional clothing,” said Mary.
Each evening, the Cham language class at the apartment opens to help children, women and elderly not forget their mother tongue and ethnic culture. “Young people learn to write and adults learn the Koran. The class is free and it has been open for more than 20 years,” said teacher Mohammad Amin, 59.