The Newsletter 69 Autumn 2014

Mamun and the 'Kaum Imam San' of Cambodia

William Noseworthy

Discourse on syncretic Islam could, according to recent scholarship, explain the practices of a Cham community known as the ‘Kaum Imam San’ by some and the ‘Bani of Cambodia’ by others. This community, numbering about 50,000 today, has gained great attention; perhaps due to the following reasons. First, the community has attracted scholarly interest through the newfound efforts backed by the American embassy to increase basic literacy in the endangered Cham script. Second, the community has attracted the attentions of the purification efforts of Salafi- or Tablighi-influenced elements of Cambodia’s Islamic community. Finally, it is likely that the Kaum Imam San have also attracted a potentially disproportionate amount of scholarly attention (per population) as a result of their vibrant religious traditions, which mix elements of Islamic, Khmer and ancestral worshipping practices with the unique historical memory of the saint named Kaum Imam San, in order to produce a truly lively experience.