|TOMB OF SHEIKH AHMAD QOMI
|Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - April 2010
|Sheikh Ahmad Qomi (Qummi) was born in 1543 in Paeene Shahar district of Qom
(Qum) (1), Persia.  Bearing the title sheikh, Ahmad was highly educated and
qualified in the teachings of the Islamic religious scriptures. He belonged to the Twelver
Sect or Imami Shi'ism (2).
The exact year that Ahmad came to Siam with his younger brother Muhammad Said, is
disputed. Some sources stated 1602, other 1603 and 1605. Both brothers and their
retinue set up their residential and trading quarters in Ayutthaya. The sheik married a
Siamese woman named "Chuey" and got two sons and a daughter. The eldest son, was
named Chun (4), the second one died at young age, while the daughter was named Chi.
 Ahmad's trading prospered and he became wealthy; increasing his influence at the
court during the reign of King Ekathotsarot (r. 1605-1610/11).
Around 1610, the two Persian Muslim brothers helped to reform the Phra Khlang
Ministry (Ministry of Finance and Foreign Affairs). The division of this ministry in a 'left'
and a 'right' department was apparently their credit. As a result of his contribution to the
development of the port administration, Sheik Ahmad received the title of Phraya
Ratana Rachasetthi by the King. Muhammad Said returned to India , while Ahmad
was appointed head of the 'Krom Tha Khwa' or head of the "Harbour Department of
the Right", one of the departments he created himself. Ahmad and his retinue were
granted a site in order to build houses, a mosque and a cemetery. This area appears to
be still known today as Ban Khaek Kuti Chao Sen. (3) 
Was it the reform of the Phra Khlang Ministry which led Japanese traders in 1611 to
stage a rebellion and tried to capture King Songtham (r. 1610/1611-1628) inside the
Grand Palace premises? The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya state that the Japanese
traders gathered with around five hundred in the royal courtyard. King Songtham was at
that moment at the Jom Thong Royal Pavilion of Wat Sri Sanphet, listening to the
monks explicating books. Seemingly there was not much organization nor co-ordination
in the bunch of rebels as monks from the Monastery of the Pradu Tree and the Hall of
the Law could come in and escort the king out, right in front of the Japanese. Phraya
Ahmad managed to assemble his troops and attacked the Japanese. The Japanese were
routed from the Grand Palace, boarded their junks and fled to Petchaburi. The
Ayutthayan Chronicles state that due to his armed intervention and its fortunate
outcome, the Sheikh was appointed Chao Phraya Kalahom Suriyawong . Shortly
after he must have been installed in the function of Phra Khlang and became the
Mahatthai (Minister of Civil Affairs) by the end of the reign of King Songtham. (5) 
Sheikh Ahmad passed away in 1631 at the old age of 88 years.
During the 1990s, a memorial had been erected marking the supposed burial location of
the Sheikh. The monument was built on the compound of the Rajabhat Institute in
Ayutthaya at the Ayutthaya's Teachers' Training College close to the Ayutthaya
Historical Study Center. Prof Charnvit Kasetsiri is said to have his doubts concerning
the accuracy of the Sheikh's burial location and seemed to advocate a place outside the
city area.  Although not confirmed, this writer presumes this place could be the Takia
Yokhin Racha Mitjinja Sayam Mosque.
There is quite a lot disputed on the Sheikh's subject, starting with his origin. Most of the
sources stated his origin from Qom, Persia; Professor Leonard Andaya although refers
to him as being from southern India ; Wyatt states he came from the Persian Gulf
; we also come across the expression "from Arab lands' referring somehow to the
Middle East. Following Marcinkowski, the southern Indian Muslim kingdoms could
have played a role in the immigration of Persians to Siam. Especially the Deccan-
kingdom of Golconda under the Qutb-Shahis (1512-1687) were Twelver Shi'ítes and
potential political allies of Safavid Persia. Golconda became a haven for Twelvers, in
most cases Persians from Persia, but also Shi'ite refugees from Sunnite northern India.
 It is not unlikely that being a Persian, Sheik Ahmad came from Southern Muslim
India, as trade links between Golconda's main port Masulipatam and Tennaserin in
Siam existed already by the second half of the 16th century. All this however remains
guesswork due to lack of sources from Iran.
Sheikh Ahmad is often mentioned to have introduced the Ithna Ashariyyah or Imami Shi
‘ism (know in Siam as the Chao Sen Sect) to Siam in the beginning of the 17th century.
Marcinkowski questioned this, writing that it seems rather doubtful since there were
already Persians living in Siam prior to this and Persia changed from a Sunnite into a
Twelver Shi'ite state under the rule of the Safavid Shah Ismaíl I (r.1501-1524) toward
the beginning of the 16th century.  Ibn Muhammad Ibrahim did not even once
throughout his account (The Ship of Sulayman) refer to Sheik Ahmad. 
Though, likely not the founder of the Persian community in Siam, Ahmad is believed to
be the first Chula Rachamontri (6) or Shaykh'ul Islam; a position offered to him by King
Songtham. The Chula Rachamontri was at the same time the leader of the Muslim
community, the adviser to the King on Islamic matters, and responsible for the settling of
disputes among foreigners other than Chinese. The office is still in existence today. 
The Ahmad family line controlled from the 17th century onwards the "Department of
Western Maritime Affairs" known in Siam as the "Krom Tha Khwa". The head of the
Krom Tha Khwa sat to the right of the King at the court, higher than his colleague of the
'western department', who sat to the left of the Siamese monarch and who was
regarded lower in rank. The "Department of Western Maritime Affairs" was one of the
four departments from the Phra Khlang, reorganized with the assistance of Sheikh
Ahmad and Muhammad Said during the 1610s and employed by the Ayutthayan Kings
to maintain Ayutthaya's status of as a profitable center for trade. The three other
reformed departments were the "Department of General Administration, Appeals and
Records", the "Department of Royal Warehouses" and the "Department of Eastern
Maritime Affairs and Crown Junks".  The Krom Tha Khwa was essentially the
Kingdom’s method to engage profitably with the Muslim trade networks throughout
Asia. The new structural division placed all areas that were of primary concern to
Muslim traders, within a single department, encompassing all the ports on the northern
and eastern rim of the Indian Ocean, as well as the Muslim trading centers in the
Indonesian world. The department had various territorial responsibilities, in particular
with regard to the Siamese Indian Ocean ports on the west coast of the peninsula
(Tenasserim, Mergui). The power of the "Department of Western Maritime Affairs"
which was larger and more complex than its 'eastern' counterpart, declined towards the
later 18th century .
(1) Qom is the capital city of Qom Province in Iran, 156 Km southwest of Teheran.
Qom is the second most sacred city in Iran and a significant destination of pilgrimage.
(2) The Ithna Ashariya or the Twelver Sect follows the teachings of Imam Jaafar Al
Sadeq, the great-grandson of Hussein. Jaafar was born about 699-700 or 702-703 in
Medina and died there in 765. The Twelver Sect hold the line down to the 12th Imam,
Mohammed Al Muntazar, who is said to be gone into hiding in 878 and is expected to
return as Mahdi before the Last Judgment.
(3) The website http://www.bunnag.in.th (retrieved on 31 March 2010), put the site of
Sheikh Ahmad Qomi's residence, trading post and Kuti Chao Sen (Mosque) in the
location of the present day Ayutthaya Teachers College, in front of a river landing
known as Tha Ghayee or Tha Kayee. On Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map drafted in
1926 we find that this area is called "Thung Khaek" or "Muslim Field". In this area there
is a structure indicated as Khok Khaek situated on the north bank of the now defunct
Khlong Pa Mo. To its east was Wat Am Yae, a denomination indicating some Muslim
influence. Khok Khaek could have been Sheikh Ahmad's former location. More
information need to be gathered on this issue.
(4) Chun will succeed his father around 1630 in the same position of Mahatthai with the
title Chao Phraya Aphairacha. In 1670, Chun's eldest son Sombun succeed him with
the title Chao Phraya Chamnan Phakdi. 
(5) On a commemoration tablet at the Rajabhat Institute is mentioned that Sheikh
Ahmad received the title of Chao Phraya Bovorn Rachanayok (Emeritus Councilor for
Civil Affairs) at the age of 87 years, during the reign of King Prasat Thong (r. 1629-
(6) Chula = Shura (Islamic Council), Racha = Royal, Montri = Adviser, hence Royal
Adviser on the Islamic Council.
 From Isfahan to Ayutthaya: contacts between Iran and Siam in the 17th century - Muhammad Ismail Marcinkowski (2005).
 Ayutthaya and the Persian and Indian Muslim Connection - Leonard Y. Andaya (1999) - page 125.
 The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 208 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
 Thailand, A short history - David K. Wyatt (2003) - page 95.
 Ayutthaya and the Persian and Indian Muslim Connection - Leonard Y. Andaya (1999) - page 127/128.
 Bridging the ocean: Some aspects of the Iranian cultural presence in southeast Asia with emphasis on the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya - Muhammad
Ismail Marcinkowski (2001).
 The Ship of Sulaiman - Persian Heritage Series No. 11 - John O'Kane (1972)
 Muslim Influences in Seventeenth Century Ayutthaya: A Review Essay - Peter Hourdequin.
|(Detail of Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map - Anno
|(Tomb of Sheikh Ahmad Qomi)
|(Tomb of Sheikh Ahmad Qomi)