Tue, Oct 02, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Local Muslims hope peace prevails

Muslims in Taiwan, like their brethren all over the world, have been forced to question the effects last month's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have had on their religious identity

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Grand Taipei Mosque, built in 1960 and located on Taipei's Shinsheng South Road, is a meeting place for Muslims from many nations.

PHOTO: DAVID FRAZIER, TAIPEI TIMES

Above the urinals in the men's room of the Taipei Grand Mosque there are several signs posted to remind Muslims of what the Islamic doctrine says about urination from a standing position. According to the religion, the practice soils both "cloth and shoes" and destroys the salat, or prayer. Thus the signs' final admonition is, "Please use the toilets."

One Senegalese Muslim who has attended prayers at the mosque for several months since he last arrived in Taiwan describes the Islam practiced there as "very orthodox." Bathing facilities are provided for purification before prayers; prayer areas for men and women are divided to prevent distractions in worship; women who come to pray do not wear veils, but do wear clothes that cover all but their faces and hands; and more signs warn against bringing non-Islamic food, such as pork, inside. Mosque-goers, most of them male, are also uniformly insistent about purity in behavior, believing in abstinence from alcohol and the sinfulness of sex outside of marriage.

Historical legacy

As a monument, the Taipei Grand Mosque is both a legacy of Chinese Muslims who emigrated to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek's armies and Saudi support for the spread of Islam. Located on Taipei's Hsinsheng South Road across from Ta-an Park, the structure of domes and minarets was built in 1960 by a local Islamic community with assistance from Saudi Arabia, which even today remains a major source of financial support for Taipei's main Islamic center of worship.

Ties between the mosque and Saudi Arabia, the nation in which Islam was founded, have been strong throughout its entire 41-year history. Visiting Saudi imams preach in the mosque each year during Ramadan, and many of the mosque's past homegrown imams have traveled to Saudi Arabia to learn Arabic and undertake religious studies. In several instances, Taiwanese imams have also spent part of their careers in Taiwan's diplomatic service in Saudi Arabia. In 1971, Taipei's Grand Mosque was even visited by Saudi's King Faisal.

At present, the worship center serves as a meeting point for expatriate Muslims from all over the world. According to Ishag Ma (馬孝棋), who studied in Libya and has served as the mosque's imam for the last two years, there are between 140,000 and 150,000 Muslims in Taiwan, of which around 60,000 are Chinese and 80,000 Indonesian laborers.

Although the two groups predominate on the island, Friday prayers at the Taipei mosque draws a more international audience, including Muslims from the Sudan, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana, Pakistan, Thailand, India, Turkey, the US and several other nations. This event is the weekly focal point of their spiritual activity and includes group prayers and lessons from the imam in both Chinese and Arabic. It draws around 300 worshippers on a typical Friday and as many as 1,000 during Ramadan.

Coming to unite in prayer to Allah, this sampling of the Islamic world joins a small contingent of elderly ethnic Chinese. Taken as a whole, the group is a fair picture of the diversity to be found in the world's 1.2 to 1.6 billion Muslims (estimates vary, but generally fall within this spectrum).

"There are no divisions in Islam," said Ma, in regard to the compatibility of Muslims from so many traditions for worshipping together under one roof.

Nevertheless, he also discounted non-Sunni Muslims, such as Shi'ites, as unorthodox sects. Sunnis account for the vast majority of Muslims the world over.

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