Thai Islamic Bank's Buddhist Chief Helps Build Trust

February 17, 2007

Source: The Buddhist Channel

Wire Service: Reuters,3742,0,0,1,0

Bangkok, Thailand -- The boss of Thailand's only dedicated Islamic bank has a unique job description: work in one of the most dangerous corners of Asia, go to mosques to drum up business and become an expert in chicken-farming.

A knowledge of Islam is essential, but being a Muslim is not.

"I am a non-Muslim," Dheerasak Suwannayos, the Islamic Bank of Thailand's softly spoken chairman, told Reuters on the sidelines of an Islamic finance seminar in Singapore.

Suwannayos, 56, is a Buddhist from northern Thailand who is leading a state-backed enterprise to improve the lives of Muslims in the country's south, where poverty and unemployment have been blamed for fuelling a bloody insurgency by Muslim separatists.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in the past three years in the region, which has closer cultural and religious ties to its mainly Muslim neighbour, Malaysia, than to the rest of Thailand, a Buddhist kingdom.

Gun and bomb attacks are launched almost daily. Schools have been torched and Buddhist villagers beheaded.