Be a Minority Muslim in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City

Champ Muslim Women at Chau Doc
Photo by  Adam Jone (adam_jone)
on flickr with CC BY-SA 2.0
Be a minority Muslim in a dominant Buddhism country can be a real challenge for the religion follower especially in Vietnam. I am living in Vietnam, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City since 5 years ago and most of my Muslim friends in home country will ask me about my adaptability factor toward the difference of culture, food consuming and other Muslim's necessities. 

Since 10 years ago, Vietnam had witnessed numbers or Muslim expatriates come to this country and work in professional sectors. Besides, the native Muslim Champ people in Vietnam had rejoiced Islam as a minority religion and flourishing the Mosque as a holy worshiping place. 

I used to live with a Vietnamese adopted family on 2010 and observed their mind-set about Muslim. The family will follow evening news on VTV daily and one of the news is the about the American-Islamic conflict in Iraq which more and less portraying Muslim as a terrorist and dangerous religion. If you are Muslim and your local colleague asking something about Muslim, you may explain but don't expect them to completely understand it.

Halal Food

A simple definition about Halal food is the food must be prepared according to Muslim procedure. Eating pork and consuming beer is prohibited for Muslim. Chicken and beef also must follow Islamic preparation procedure for Muslim consuming. Yes, Vietnamese like to have monthly party among working colleagues and as a Vietnamese, you cannot be offended if your Muslim guess refuse to make a toss with you or maybe they didn't touch the foods served by you. 

There are numbers of Halal restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. Those halal restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City must possess a Halal Certification from the Ho Chi Minh City Islamic Community Organisation. Some of the restaurants are owned by Muslim and some others by non-Muslim. Halal restaurant by Muslim in Ho Chi Minh City are such as VN Halal at Pham Hong Thai Street and Bon Mua or Four Season Restaurant in Thi Sach Street in District 1. These restaurants serve Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine in their menu. In the meantime, halal restaurant by non-Muslim in Ho Chi Minh City are such as the Lion City Restaurant franchise which by a Singaporean restaurateur, Halal Saigon by Malaysian and Baba's Kitchen which is serving a very authentic Southern Indian's cuisine. 

The halal foods in restaurant normally will be a bit pricey compared to local dishes. One serving of halal food can cost you around VND80,000 up to VND180,000 and it can be considered as an international cuisine. It will be more economy to cook your own dish at home as most of supermarkets in Ho Chi Minh City have a wide selection of halal product. From my experience, there are no halal chicken and beef in supermarket. But once, i have a quick glance at Cho Lon wet market, someone do sell halal meet with a limited number of supply. 

If you really want to have Vietnamese street food in halal way, I will suggest the stall which is located at the hem of 189 Hai Ba Trung Street i District 1. This stall served Vietnamese breakfast such as Bun Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle) and Hu Tieu (Vermicelli Soup) before switching their menu to halal lunch buffet. The owner of this this street stall is a Champ Muslim and some of them can speak Malay besides Vietnamese for daily conversation.

Muslim Clothing Shopping

On my first year in Ho Chi Minh City, I truly surprised when I saw so many Muslim Malaysian came to this non-Muslim to shop for clothing. Ben Thanh Market is a must-to-go place for Muslim to shop for their needs from praying clothing, daily wear, robes, scarfs and many more. Besides, there are some shops along the Nam Ky Khoi Nhia-Le Loi Street in District 1 which sale "Baju Kurung", a traditional Malay women attire, and praying cloth too. 

Prayer Places

Muslim pray five time a day. Many of my Vietnamese friends did ask me if Muslim are praying in temple. But the correct name for Muslim praying place is Mosque. One of the mosque popular mosque in Ho Chi Minh City is the one at Dong Du Street (pronounce as Dong Yu), District 1. This mosque is strategically located next to Sheraton Hotel Saigon and opposite to Halal Saigon Restaurant. Besides, there is a mosque at Phu Nhuan District at Nguyen Van Troi Street and another one at Tran Hung Dao Street which is located about 1.5 Kilometres from the Backpacker's area of Pham Ngu Lao. 

Be Extra Careful with Vietnamese Food

Some Vietnamese restaurant might be pork free or vegetarian, but I am not sure if its halal. The fried fish can be non-halal if the cooking oil or the frying pan used to cook pork dish too. Vietnamese cook normally will add some pork meat or born to broth up their vegetable soup. 

Cross Culture

Most of the concern among Muslim when come to Vietnam is about the food. Besides, the different between Muslim and Vietnamese culture can be another challenge. Muslim women need to wear scarf of "hijab" to cover their head and some local citizen will think that you are not easy to deal with, too traditional or maybe anti-social. 

In short, if you are Muslim and have a chance to live in Vietnam, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City, you should take the offer with joy. In the meantime, you need to make sure that you will receive a good pay as the cost of living especially food is relatively expensive. Modern Vietnamese had turned to be more global and diversified in adapting themselves with other world culture and belief. 


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