Sat, Sep 06, 2008 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Muslims learn to deal with hurdles living in Taiwan

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Muslims attend Friday prayers at the Taipei Grand Mosque last Friday. 

PHOTO: LOA IOK-SIN, TAIPEI TIMES

Anyone who has seen the Jum’ah congregational prayers being performed on Fridays at the Taipei Grand Mosque may believe that Islam is well-accepted and prosperous in Taiwan — however, the reality is just the opposite.

“O ye who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday, hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business: That is best for you if ye but knew,” the Koran extols the followers of Islam.

And thus, when the muezzin — the person chosen to call the Friday prayer — cried out the adhan, or the call for Jum’ah, last Friday, hundreds of Muslims from more than 30 countries entered the Taipei Grand Mosque, cleansed themselves and began their weekly congregation and worship inside the main sanctuary.

“I often ask people to guess which event that takes place every Friday in Taipei attracts hundreds of people from more than 30 countries to the same place, at the same time and to do the same thing,” said Caroline Kuo (郭麗敏), secretary-general of the International Organization of Folk Art in Taiwan, an international organization that promotes cross-cultural learning around the world.

“The answer is the Jum’ah,” she said.

After the Jum’ah was over, people greeted one another, chatted with friends and bought food items at the small Halal market located in a hall in the mosque.

Halal refers to food that does not contain forbidden substances and meat slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.

One of the issues that Muslims in Taiwan face is a shortage of clergy at the six mosques around the country.

“Many local Muslim families send their children to study Islam or in other fields in Arabic countries, but after completing their studies, they don’t necessarily want to join the clergy — many of them are working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Ishag Ma (馬孝棋), deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Muslim Association.

“To resolve the issue, we hire clergy from Myanmar and Thailand, because they are equally qualified and are able to speak Mandarin as well,” Ma said.

He said that many people from Muslim communities in China’s Yunnan Province escaped to neighboring Myanmar and Thailand because of wars and turmoil during the 20th century.

Many children of the Yunnan Muslim families studied Islam in Arabic countries and became qualified clergy, Ma said.

Musa Ma (馬子誠), former chairman of the Longgang (龍岡) Mosque in Jhongli City (中壢), Taoyuan County, is one of those who moved here from Myanmar.

The Longgang area, where around 300 Muslim households live in the vicinity of the mosque, is home to a rare practicing Muslim community in Taiwan.

Most of the community’s residents are refugees from China’s Muslim regions who followed the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime when it lost the civil war in China and fled to Taiwan, Musa Ma said.

The Muslim population in the area has grown from only seven to eight households in 1949 to 300 because the building of the mosque attracted families and friends of the original households to move there.

For Musa Ma, lack of Islamic education for children in Taiwan’s Muslim families is a big problem.

“Without Islamic education, children would not take Islam seriously, and when they grow up, they would forget about their tradition,” he said.

Muslims in Taiwan face many more challenges than just education and a shortage of clergy.

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