Thursday 7 March 2019

Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Taiwan

Republic of China (ROC), commonly known as Taiwan  is an island country that had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before the 17th century, when Dutch colonists opened the island to mass Han immigration. Islam is believed to have first reached Taiwan in the same time period when few Muslim families from the southern Chinese coastal province of Fujian accompanied Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong, Prince of Yanping, better known internationally by his Hokkien honorific Koxinga or Coxinga, was a Chinese Ming loyalist who resisted the Qing conquest of China in the 17th century, fighting them on China's southeastern coast) on his invasion of Taiwan to oust the Dutch from the southern city of Tainan in 1661 and established Kingdom of Tungning in Taiwan.

However, the Muslims were never in a meaningful size on the Island since. And whatever remained was wiped out during the Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan in 1895-1945. The Japanese government forbid the Taiwanese from practicing foreign religion, which resulted many of the local people practice their faith secretly. The last Imam that came from Mainland China to Taiwan was in 1922. After the handover of Taiwan from Japan to the Republic of China in October 1945, the tradition of sending Imams from the mainland resumed in 1948.

Today there are some 60,000 Muslims in Taiwan, of which about 90% belong to the Hui ethnic group.In addition to local Muslims, there are around 200,000 foreign Muslims working here mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, as well as other nationalities from more than 30 countries. Taiwanese Muslims, which are mostly descended from Chinese Muslims in Mainland China, are Sunni Muslims and mostly belong to the Hanafi school. Most Taiwanese Muslims today are the children and grandchildren of soldiers of the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kai-Shek. They settled in Taiwan in 1949, following their defeat by China's communists led by Mao Zedong.

Taipei Grand Mosque [Photo]
Despite the fact that Taiwan’s Muslim population makes up just 0.3% of the country’s total population, there are a surprising number of Mosques situated across the country. There are currently eight mosques in total. Two of these, the Taipei Grand Mosque (台北清真寺) and the Taipei Cultural Mosque (台北文化清真寺) are in the capital. [4] Every Friday afternoon about 1,000 Muslims gather for the weekly prayer at the Taipei Grand Mosque. However, Only 20 percent are local Taiwanese - the majority come from Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and various other countries from Africa and the Middle East.

Taiwan government always keeps the Muslims of the island in high esteem and have always looked after their interest. One of the main reason why Taiwanese government has a soft corner for Muslims is that during the 1973 oil crisis the King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia had not only reassured the oil supply to Taiwan, but also helped Taiwan in providing interest-free loans to help Taiwan completed some of its major construction projects in the 1970s.

The government of Taiwan has also been facilitating the hajj contingents of Muslims to Saudi Arabia and on a number of occasions the president of the country himself welcomed the returning Hujjaj after the performance of Hajj. In 2006, President Chen met with Taiwanese Muslims who had just come back from Saudi Arabia for performing the Hajj pilgrimage and said that Taiwan needs to have some of the Islamic spirit of standing in awe of the supreme God, upholding peace and justice, helping the weak and poor, promoting social stability, being content with what one is and working hard. In December 2011, ROC Vice President Vincent Siew welcoming back the Taiwanese Muslims Hajj contingent said that the caring and peace-loving spirit of Islam is an important asset for all mankind, and that the Taiwanese should not forget their deep friendship with the Muslim world. In April 2005, when ROC President Chen Shui-bian went to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II, his delegation also included Taipei Grand Mosque Imam Ma Shiao-chi.

Islam is generally perceived to be alien to traditional Chinese culture by the general Taiwanese population despite the fact that Taiwan is a society with freedom of religion and high tolerance. Generally there are no negative perceptions of Islam in Taiwan; additionally, Muslims in Taiwan enjoy complete freedom. About 40% of Taiwanese Muslims live in Taipei. There also have been conversions of local Taiwanese to Islam but the rate is relatively low since most of the Taiwanese Muslims in general do not actively preach their religion as do believers of other religions. According to Omar Yang, chairman of the Taipei Grand Mosque, "There is a crisis of faith among the Muslim community here stemming from the new generation's lack of education about Islam, and the prevalence of Chinese culture and traditions, which have led to the fading away of Islamic practices." "Knowledge about Islam is not being passed on to the next generation," Yang said. "That's the real problem." [1]

The working conditions of Muslims are also very conducive in Taiwan. During the 2017 Eid al-Fitr, the Ministry of Labor encouraged employers to allow their Muslim workers to observe the festivity and to have a day off during that day. The employers can also be fined if they force Muslim workers to come into contact with pork. In May 2010, wife of the owner of Shin Hua Hang Fashion Co. in Taipei County was sentenced to six months in prison for forcing her three Muslim Indonesian employees to eat pork for seven months.

Muslims in Taiwan are a useful part of the Taiwanese society and can be seen working as civil servants, military personnel, engineers, doctors, lawyers and professors at higher learning institutes, trade and industry sectors. Finding Halal food is often a problem for Muslims in non Muslim countries, but in Taiwan Halal restaurants are widely available around Taiwan, although most of them are highly concentrated in Taipei. In April 2017 Taiwan Halal Center was launched in Taipei for promoting halal-certified products, which also includes overseas branches to help Taiwanese companies to obtain the certification to export the products to countries with halal product demands. 

To help Muslims learn Arabic, National Chengchi University in Taipei has on its curriculum the Arabic language courses since 1957 under the Department of Arabic Language and Culture under the College of Foreign Language and Literature. The native language of Taiwanese Muslim is Mandarin, therefore Quran and Hadith have been translated from its original Arabic to Mandarin. However, in the absence of any formal Islamic education in Taiwan as well as with other religions, the mosques hold some Islamic courses to the local Muslims such as Arabic language, Quran and Hadith teaching and Sharia by request from the parents.

Taiwanese Muslims freely observe their religious festivals, specially fasting during the month of Ramadan, the two Eids and other religious festivals. The Eid al-Fitr prayer and celebration in Taiwan draws much attention from local media. The local government of Taipei often earmarks venues for Muslims to get together during Eid ul Fitr to celebrate their festival. Most of the Taiwanese Muslim weddings are being held in Taipei Grand Mosque. The burial  of the dead is one of the major problem for the Muslims due to scarcity of land and graveyards.
[Image Credit: - laughlin.af.mil/Taiwan News]

In view of the sizable Muslim tourists visiting Taiwan, hotels and shopkeepers make special arrangement for their specific needs and requirements. One can find prayer mats in the hotels. Hotels also provide facilities for ablutions, and toilets with water sprayers. Some also offer copies of the Koran and the Qibla (indicating the direction to which Muslim’s need to pray) in hotel rooms too.

There are problems too as far the millennial generation of Muslims is concerned. They are less interested in religion and culture, preferring to spend the little leisure time that they have in the many karaoke bars, nightclubs and cafes. "Growing up in Taiwan, I was very confused about my identity and always felt a contradiction between Taiwanese culture and Islam," 21 years old student Sharifa Yang told Al Jazeera. "I think the young Taiwanese Muslims suffer from ignorance about Islam because they don't come to the mosque to learn, but also because the Taiwanese environment influences them," she said.

You may like to watch this beautiful short video on Muslims in Taiwan:

The future of Islam in Taiwan lies with new Taiwanese converts and the arrival of foreign migrant workers from Muslim countries. According to Syrian-born Imam Omar Ayash of the Taipei Grand Mosque, it is easier to teach Islam to this new generation that has not been exposed to the traditional ways of the past. "Islam in Taiwan has been mixed with Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism," he said, adding it makes it hard to teach the older generation without infringing on their customs.

Author's Note: The data above has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | Main Source:  Wikipedia | Other Sources : | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |
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