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semar
 
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Quote semar Replybullet Topic: Cambodian Muslim community may expand
    Posted: 07 April 2005 at 11:59pm
Lacey's Cham refugees hold family, faith close to home

Cambodian Muslim community may expand
By VANESSA HO

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

LACEY -- When Halimah Yousof needs a baby sitter for her two sons, she relies on relatives. They're pretty easy to find. There's her mom next door, her aunt two doors down, another aunt three doors down. Then there's her husband's first cousin behind her, her third cousin down the street and her grandfather around the corner.

Yousof, 25, is related to everyone in her large cul-de-sac of 40 families, about 200 people in all. That's because this quiet, rural community of modular homes was built by a tight-knit group of Cham refugees, who are Muslims from Cambodia.

Muslim girls compare numbers drawn in a Quran reading competition at the mosque in Cham community in Lacey.

"The next house is, let's see, my aunt," said Yousof, a transportation technician, who could map out her family on a grid and says her "ung," or grandfather, is "like grandfather to everyone."

"Family is important in Islam."

As Muslims across the country began their monthlong fast for Ramadan last night, the Cham community 60 miles south of Seattle -- the most concentrated Cham neighborhood in Washington -- is planning to expand.

Surrounded by towering evergreens, the neighborhood could be straight out of a 1950s TV show. The cookie-cutter houses are tidy. The street is wide and clean. Children play soccer on a large field, and neighbors wave to one another.

Here, the women wear "hijabs" (veils), the men wear "kufis" (hats). A call for prayer crackles from a loudspeaker at the mosque, a large modular house in the cul-de-sac's middle. Residents call the neighborhood Champa Slamad Village, after their lost kingdom and the Cham word for peace.

"We try to assimilate, but not as fast as other cultures," said Abou Rony, a 30-year-old postal inspector, as he watched his children eat candy while waiting for an evening prayer to begin.

A religious minority in predominantly Buddhist Cambodia, most Cham fled the genocide and religious oppression of the Khmer Rouge in the late '70s.

There is a less concentrated Cham community in Rainier Valley, but overall, they are a small percentage of local Muslims.

"We needed a sense of belonging," Rony said. "It's a support structure. There's always someone you can go to for help."

About a decade ago, most of the families ended up living in a shabby trailer park on a drab thoroughfare of strip malls in Lacey. But they wanted to be homeowners and were struggling to rear their children in an Islamic fashion.

So they pooled $300,000 to buy a wooded, 10-acre site nearby. They did this with meager earnings from picking floral greens and mushrooms, and without bank loans, because Islam forbids the practice of handling money with interest.

They cleared most of the land themselves. They bought cheap modular homes. They moved in six years ago, hired an imam and started an Islamic school.

"People need to live closer to others so they can teach and educate their kids Islam. When they go to the outside, the kid is affected with the environment," said the group's imam, Mohamad Joban.

Most of the Cham come from the same village in Cambodia -- Puthisat -- and practice the same customs from their home country. They have three-day weddings. They slaughter their own meat and invite the entire neighborhood for dinner. They heed the call for prayer, which Yousof said makes her feel connected.

"It makes you glad that you are a Muslim because there's a human voice calling you to come pray, to come worship God," she said. "It's not just you that's hearing that, it's everyone in the world. Everyone is feeling that feeling."

But the Cham sometimes live at odds with a non-Muslim world. Many young Cham are going to college, and some are beginning to move away, feeling cramped by living so close to relatives.

And the community's plan to build a new mosque -- a 12,500- square-foot building with a 72-foot minaret -- is riling some neighbors.

One couple across the street, who didn't want to be identified, moved in seven years ago, cherishing the rolling fields and fir trees.

Then the Cham moved in. The couple's view now includes a blue modular house, and they worry that a big mosque will deliver noise, traffic, and a more cluttered view.

"Our property value will go right down the drain," said the man, a 47- year-old program manager.

But the Cham have outgrown their current mosque, which also attracts Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Moroccans from the region. And about 26 Cham families are buying an adjacent 10-acre site to develop a similar neighborhood.

"When you find Cham, you won't find just one," said Asary Math, a 39- year-old clam digger who lives in Shelton, but hangs out in the neighborhood all the time. "Cham people never live separated."

That's especially true during Ramadan, the holy month during which Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to their prophet, Muhammad.

For the next month, Muslims will pray, give alms, fast and listen to an imam read the Quran from beginning to end.

And every night, the Cham will break their fast with dates and cream cheese. Then they'll feast. Each night, families take turns cooking for the entire neighborhood and its many visitors, for a total of about 250 people. They'll eat curried lamb, pickled vegetables, rice, red chicken and beef.

Tomorrow will be Yousof's turn to cook. To prepare, she and her mother bought seven large boxes of halal chicken that meets Islamic dietary requirements, 12 heads of lettuce, 20 cucumbers, 10 radish bunches and 2 gallons of salad dressing. Her father and husband went to a farm and slaughtered a cow, in accordance with Islamic law.

She and the women in her immediate family will get up early and spend the day in the kitchen, cooking and feeling close to the faith.

"Religion is everything to us," she said. "We live it, we eat it, we breathe it."

Salam/Peace,
Semar
The Prophet said: "Do not eat before you are hungry, and stop eating before you are full"
"1/3 of your stomach for food 1/3 for water, 1/3 for air"
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