Muslim Aid, a London-based Islamic charity, has opened an office in Phnom Penh with around $196,000 in funds to distribute in its first year of operation.
“Cambodia’s critical situation undoubtedly falls under Muslim Aid’s mission of ‘serving humanity,’” Hamid Azad, the organization’s head of overseas programs, said in a statement released Monday.
Cambodia has few Muslims—most estimates put the country’s population at around 5 percent of the overwhelmingly Buddhist population—and Muslim Aid officials emphasize that the organization helps Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“The project is not just for Muslims,” said Sos Mousine, Muslim Aid’s acting country director and an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development, on Tuesday.
One of the organization’s four employees in Cambodia is a non-Muslim, Sos Mousine said.
Muslim Aid plans to support microcredit, small business and educational programs.
During their regime, the Khmer Rouge singled out Cambodia’s Cham community for brutal persecution; Islamic charities have been helping the nation’s Muslims rebuild ever since.
“After Pol Pot, everything started from zero,” Sos Mousine said. “The Cham could not build mosques on their own.”
Assistance from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia—mostly coming from groups affiliated with stricter forms of Islam than Cambodia’s—has grown since the early 1990s, he said.
Still, Sos Mousine pointed out, total aid from the Islamic world is minuscule compared with money pouring into Cambodia from China.
Many Cambodian Muslims eagerly study abroad on scholarships in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, often bringing back new, more orthodox ideas when they return.
No serious dispute, however, has erupted within Cambodia’s Muslim community as a result of growing foreign influence, Sos Mousine said.
“We worried a little in the past, but not any more.”
In addition to donations from Muslim communities outside Cambodia, Muslim Aid has received funds from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, Sos Mousine said.