Pencak silat, the traditional Malay martial art, is being promoted at private Islamic schools in a bid to encourage students to spend their time usefully and turn away from unlawful activities.
Several private Islamic schools in Pattani, being closely watched by the army for suspected separatist activities, have changed their image by promoting pencak silat.
Among those schools is Azizsatan Foundation school in Pattani's Khok Pho district. The school, which has drawn the army's attention over the use of foreign funding, has urged male students to learn pencak silat and perhaps become national athletes. Teachers believe the sport protects students from being lured into separatist movements.
In the Malay martial art, an attacker is met with quick and gracefully deceptive movements. Hard contact is avoided.
Some 30 students joined the pencak silat training programme at the school, which hired former national athlete Buslee Sama-ae to train the students.
"Pencak silat training will be held every weekend so students can spend their free time usefully aside from praying five times a day. If they have nothing to do, they may be lured into breaking the law," said Sumet Adin Raksa, 17, who is studying at level 2 of Azizsatan Foundation school, equivalent to Mathayom Suksa 5 or Grade 11.
The school was locally called "pink school" since its buildings were painted pink and its students wore pink
Mr Sumet Adin said he did not want people to have a negative image of private Islamic schools in the deep South after some students were involved in the April 28 violence.
"I don't want people to view most students at private Islamic schools as bandits or separatist members as only a few students made the wrong decision to join the separatist movement," he said.
Prior to the bloody April 28 uprising, several members of a separatist group led by Ustaz Soh Isma-ae Rayalong had persuaded several students at private Islamic schools to join the separatist movement. "Playing sports is better than joining [the separatists] as sport is good for health. Pencak silat teaches us self-defence techniques," he said.
"We also preserve a local martial art. Pencak silat is a Malayu sport and we are Malayu people.
"We hope to become national athletes," said Mr Sumet Adin.
Yakoh Salae, 48, principal of Azizsatan Foundation school, said he had asked teachers to closely monitor students to prevent them from being lured into the separatist movement.
Background checks of some 160 teachers following the April 28 attack uncovered no links to the separatist movement.
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