Mon, Dec 21, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Muslims vexed by prayer room

INADEQUATE:The Muslim prayer room at the Taipei Main Station is too small and lacks nearby washrooms, which are needed for pre-prayer ablutions, Muslims said

By Huang Li-hsiang and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

The Muslim prayer room opened in January by the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) at the Taipei Main Station is inadequate, several Muslims said.

The prayer room was seen as a conciliatory gesture after the agency’s controversial handling of Muslims who gathered at the Taipei Main Station to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, in 2012, when station staff blocked off most of the lobby on days migrants were expected to gather at the station.

The room, which had previously been a military police office, is not suitable for religious purposes, Muslim migrant workers said.

Yuni, an Indonesian who works as a caregiver, said the main problem was the prayer room’s distance from washing facilities.

Before prayers, Muslims must perform the lesser ablution — the washing of face, hands and feet — at the very least, Yuni said.

However, the nearest restroom equipped with water-spray toilets — necessary for Muslims who use the toilet before prayers — is 80m from the prayer room, which makes it impossible to perform the basic hygiene requirements before prayer, she said.

Because walking that distance makes one’s feet ritually unclean, “it becomes pointless to wash your feet” in the facility, Yunis said.

Iss, Yunis’ sister, who works at a nursing home complex, said that the 2 ping (6.6m2) prayer room is too small and lacks customary gender segregation.

As a result, they were forced to pray in the lobby, perform ablutions with bottled water and use newspapers for prayer mats, the sisters said, adding that they had to pray one at a time, because one of them had to be on the lookout for onlookers and male police officers.

They said that bystanders were not always polite and that the TRA’s solution was the result of a “better than nothing is good enough for Muslims” mindset.

The Chinese Muslim Association of Taiwan said it had notified the TRA that the station’s prayer room needs to be gender segregated and that the station should provide washing facilities for lesser ablution.

The TRA was cited by the association as saying that there was no room for expansion and that the station’s wiring and plumbing layouts did not permit the construction of new washing facilities.

The association said it appreciated that the TRA was taking a step in the right direction, adding that it hopes improvements would be made.

Meanwhile, Taipei Main Station Master Huang Jung-hua (黃榮華) said that the utilization rate of the prayer room is low, about 50 to 100 people per day during holidays, adding that the TRA has “done its best to accommodate the needs of Muslims.”

Huang said he will work to improve the room.

According to Muslim migrant workers, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport’s and the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) Taichung Station’s prayer rooms are better than the one at the Taipei Main Station, with the THSR Taichung Station’s prayer room providing folding chairs and facilities for washing and drying feet.

The Tourism Bureau said it has constructed facilities for Muslims to perform lesser ablution before prayers at 13 national scenic areas.

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