Two Muslim prayer rooms open at Phnom Penh International Airport today, one of several measures Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Thursday to accommodate the religion practiced by the country’s ethnic Cham community.
Prayer is one of the most important obligations for Muslims, Hun Sen said Thursday morning at a mosque inauguration in Phnom Penh. He also said that now up to 60 people can pray at any time in the airport’s two prayer rooms.
“We have prepared [two prayer rooms] for Muslims who travel through the airport to have chances to pray,” he said.
A 15-square-meter prayer room is now in the airport’s international boarding lounge and the other 25-square-meter room is in the domestic arrival area, said Khek Norinda, spokesman for Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, the company that manages the airport.
About 50 Chams will visit and pray in the rooms today, said Ahmad Yahya, a well know politician and founder of Voice of Cham Radio.
“Right now, almost every other airport has a prayer room for Muslims. So a prayer room here, we copied the idea from other countries,” he said.
“We can serve the Cham people and all the Muslim people of the world when they travel back and forth,” he said.
A prayer room will also be built in Siem Reap International Airport and at all future Cambodian airports, the prime minister said.
In addition, Hun Sen announced he is personally funding Voice of Cham Radio, the nation’s sole Cham-language radio station.
Hun Sen’s promise of funding for the station follows Ahmad Yahya’s defection to the CPP from the SRP in January.
Hun Sen also said that Muslim students can diverge from school uniforms on issues sensitive to Islam, including the wearing by females of a hijab, or head covering.
Some teachers have not allowed their students to wear the hijab, Ahmad Yahya said, but it should be allowed in respect of the Cham culture.
“Before, [Cham students] had to wear the school uniform. It was very strict. They could not wear the traditional garb,” he said.
“But in their heart they wanted to wear the hijab,” said Ahmad Yahya, who asked for the uniform reforms, prayer rooms and radio aid in a March letter to Hun Sen.
Where Ahmad Yahya said he was paying $1,000 a month for radio airtime and reaching just three provinces, Hun Sen has picked up the tab and put Voice of Cham on Radio FM 103 from 8 to 9 nightly, where it now reaches 80 percent of the nation.
Voice of Cham Radio began in 2004 with a $7,000 grant from the US embassy, who continues to support the program with $1,000 monthly.
Ahmad Yahya said he is meeting with the US embassy today to discuss their support, which ends in six months.