Sun, Apr 08, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Four centuries of Muslim migration

The Taipei Grand Mosque was dedicated 58 years ago this week, but the history of Islam in Taiwan dates back to the Ming Dynasty

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

General Pai Chung-hsi, head of the Chinese Muslim Association, led the committee to build the Taipei Grand Mosque.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

April 9 to April 15

Former foreign minister George Yeh (葉公超) was pleased with his 1957 visit to the Middle East, especially because many leaders in the region had promised to visit Taiwan.

This was a big deal as the government desperately needed international support to secure its claim as the rightful ruler (in exile) of China. But there was one problem — the largest place of worship for Muslims in Taipei was a 300-ping (about 992m2) converted Japanese-style house on Lishui Street, which Yeh concluded was in no shape to house foreign dignitaries.

Once back in Taipei, Yeh and famed general Pai Chung-hsi (白崇禧), who was the head of the Chinese Muslim Association, advocated for the construction of a proper mosque. With the government’s help and donations from Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the Taipei Grand Mosque was dedicated on April 13, 1960.

“After the mosque was complete, we hung photos of leaders of various Islamic countries on the walls … It’s very important to use religious ties to facilitate diplomacy,” Pai says in an oral history compilation by Academia Sinica.

MUSLIMS IN TAIWAN’s HISTORY

Pai’s ancestors had followed the Islamic faith since the Yuan Dynasty. He was among about 20,000 Chinese Muslims who fled to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) after the Chinese Civil War.

While there had been Muslims in Taiwan since the 1600s, most of them had largely lost their identity by then, assimilating in to mainstream Han Chinese culture. According to Dru Gladney’s book, Chinese Muslims, which includes a brief section on Taiwan, the original “Taiwanese Muslims” arrived with Ming Dynasty loyalist Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功, also known as Koxinga) in the mid-1600s, as he sought to use Taiwan as a base to defeat the Qing Empire.

There were almost certainly other sources of migration, Gladney writes. During the Tang Dynasty, Quanzhou in Fujian Province was one of the four major ports open to foreign trade in China. During the Yuan Dynasty, many Arab or Persian traders settled in the area, which directly faced Taiwan and later became a major source of migration. These migrants included the descendents of merchants or the descendants of those whom they converted, bringing their religion and way of life to Taiwan. A report by the Taiwan Society of Anthropology and Ethnology adds that many Muslims made up the Qing Dynasty army sent to Taiwan to defeat Koxinga’s grandson, with many settling down after the victory.

When Gladney visited Taiwan in 1995, he found that these “Taiwanese Muslims” no longer practiced Islam, though some groups still retained vestiges of the faith, such as not using pork when worshipping ancestors.

In addition to Han Chinese assimilation, Gladney writes that Japanese discouragement of foreign religions during the colonial era (1885-1945) hastened the loss of their Islamic identity. Furthermore, while in China, Han Chinese Muslims were assigned a separate ethnic identity, this was not the case in Taiwan after the KMT retreat, further assimilating them into mainstream society.

Even with his group of newly-arrived Muslims, Pai was worried that they would also eventually lose their identity.

“I’m not sure how it is in other countries, but Islam has not promoted itself enough in China, and it’s the same situation in Taiwan,” he says. “We should let everyone know about our doctrine and practices. Even when we pray, our elders will often read the scripture in Arabic without translating. My generation already lost a lot of knowledge due to the various wars in China, and now the next generation will know even less.”

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