More than 30,000 Muslims live in New Taipei City (新北市) and to enhance residents’ understanding of Islam, the city government has organized an Islam Culture Week next week at the city hall, featuring Islamic handicrafts, cuisine and other cultural elements.
“There are about 150,000 Muslims in Taiwan, of whom 30,000 live in New Taipei City, making it one of the cities with the biggest Muslim populations in the country,” the city’s Department of Civil Affairs Commissioner Randy Chiang (江俊霆) said at a press conference to announce the event.
“Although Islam is one of the major religions in the country and about a quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, it is unfortunate that many people in New Taipei City are unfamiliar with the religion and the culture,” he said.
As cultural and religious differences have led to minor disputes, the city government hopes to broaden its residents’ understanding of Islam through the culture week, Chiang said.
He added that if the event is a success, the city government may organize more community-oriented events focusing on Islamic culture.
Chinese Muslim Association secretary-general Salahuding Ma (馬超彥) said Islam is not only a religion, but also a way of life, and that Taiwan could benefit a lot from understanding it better.
“For example, many Muslim countries are emerging as new markets around the world. A better understanding of the religion and culture could make it easier for an export-oriented country like Taiwan to explore these new markets,” he said.
“In addition, a Muslim-friendly culture may also help to attract more visitors from Islamic countries,” he added.
Items that will be on display during the Islam Culture Week, such as handicrafts, halal food and a handwritten Chinese translation of the Koran completed in 1958, were displayed at the press conference.
Nasir Ahmed Choudhry, owner of Aaleja, a popular Pakistani-Indian restaurant in Taipei, was invited to show off his skills in preparing authentic Pakistani halal food, while Chinese Muslim Association assistant secretary-general Ishag Alibraheemy Ma (馬超興) demonstrated Arabic calligraphy.
Ishag Ma’s calligraphy style is especially interesting, because he incorporates Chinese elements into Arabic calligraphy. For instance, his horizontal calligraphic rendering of the Arabic word salam — meaning “peace” — becomes the Chinese characters “ping an” (平安), or “peace,” when placed vertically.
Although the event will not be launched until Monday, Ishag Ma said that they had elected to hold the press conference yesterday because it coincided with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Ramadan fasting month.
Ishag Ma said that the decision when to start and end Ramadan depends on observation of the moon, with the appearance of the new moon at the end of the month of fasting marking the beginning of Eid al-Fitr.
The Islam Culture Week will be held at the New Taipei City Hall from Monday next week through Friday, with daily tastings of halal dishes.