Wed, May 29, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Life as a Muslim in Taipei

In the Grand Mosque, Muslims have a safe space removed from their daily encounters with fear and ignorance

By Davina Tham  /  staff reporter

About 2,000 worshipers attend prayer services at the Grand Mosque in Taipei each week.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

When Zaharah Chen (陳俞如) converted to Islam in the summer of 2013, it was a momentous decision that she intended to honor in all aspects of her life. But when she wore a headscarf to work the next day, the sight shocked her employer, who at first thought that Chen was dressing up for cosplay.

After being informed of its religious significance, “he said, ‘You’ve become a Muslim? Do you know that Islam is a terrorist religion? Why would you join a religion like that?’” Chen recounts.

Chen was dismissed later that day on the grounds that her work was unsatisfactory. She decided not to dispute the firing so as not to put her long-time employer in a difficult position. But the experience was dispiriting.

“I felt very sad. Why would you negate a person because of her religious beliefs, especially when what you think about her religion is not correct at all?” she tells the Taipei Times.

In a society where ignorance and insensitivity toward Islam are still common, Taipei’s Grand Mosque has become a sanctuary where Chen and other Muslims find community and understanding, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

THE GRAND MOSQUE

Chen is a lifelong native of Taipei. But on the day of her conversion at the Grand Mosque, she, like many locals, found herself in a part of the city she had never set foot in before.

The Grand Mosque, with its full green dome and two minarets, has been part of the cityscape since 1960. It is the largest of eight mosques in Taiwan. Chairperson Feng Tung-yu (馮同瑜) estimates that 2,000 people pass through the mosque’s doors each week.

Attendance peaks during Ramadan, which falls between May 6 and June 4 this year. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims who are physically able are required to abstain from all food and drink.

Event Notes

What: Taipei Eid al-Fitr and Muslim Festival (臺北開齋節暨穆斯林嘉年華)

When: June 9, 10am to 5pm

Where: Daan Forest Park (大安森林公園), 1, Xinsheng S Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市新生南路二段1號)

Admission: Free

On the Net: www.travel.taipei/en/news/details/20016


Following Islamic custom, the Grand Mosque provides complimentary iftar — a communal evening meal to break fast — throughout Ramadan. Donations from the congregation, ranging from NT$30,000 to NT$50,000, cover the cost of each meal. On the day that I visit, a group of Pakistani volunteers are preparing curries, salad, rice and flatbread.

During the holy month, Juniata, an Indonesian domestic helper working in Hsinchu County, makes a special weekend trip to the Grand Mosque for prayers and iftar.

When I meet her, Juniata is huddled together with other young Indonesian women, all of whom she has just met earlier that day during prayers. The women chitchat among themselves in their mother tongue, but switch to a colloquial Chinese outside of their group.

The iftar mainly draws people from low to middle-income brackets, migrant workers and exchange students. All of this makes for a strikingly international congregation, where strangers of myriad ethnicities sit shoulder-to-shoulder at the dining table.

But not everyone is there for God alone, nor even for the free meal. The prospect of being in a space where Muslims are the majority, moving freely among fellow worshipers, can be a salve to the daily stress of living as a minority.

BRIDGING THE GAP

Juniata and Shofia, another domestic worker, consider themselves fortunate because their employers respect their right to practice their religion.

Both women fast during Ramadan, wear headscarves at work and sometimes cook and store their own halal meals in their employers’ kitchens.

When I ask if fasting makes it hard to carry out physically-demanding tasks, Juniata replies that it’s no more difficult than usual.

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