PHOTO ESSAYS/Muslim Community finds Taiwan a comfortable home

12/06/2015 07:51 PM

Muslims have increasingly been appearing in news headlines around the world, often because of a few bad actors out of 1.57 billion total adherents. While Muslim communities have turbulent relationships with many countries, both with majority and minority Muslim populations, they have found Taiwan a comfortable home for them.

Islam first came to Taiwan during the 17th century. It was brought by soldiers from the Chinese mainland helping to oust the Dutch from the island. They eventually integrated with Taiwanese culture and religion, though some signs remained such as Islamic funerary rites preserved by some families or weathered copies of the Quran kept at an ancestral shrine.

Islam returned to the island when the Nationalist-led Republic of China government was relocated to Taiwan in 1949 and about 20,000 Muslims came with them.

Islam represents a small fraction of religion in Taiwan, accounting for only about 0.1 percent of Taiwan's total population of 23 million. The figure does not include the 200,000 Muslim immigrant workers from Indonesia. Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia also contribute to this along with immigrants from even farther abroad.

Most Muslims in Taiwan are Sunnis from the Hanafi School. However,there have not been conflicts between the different sects in Taiwan. They tend to focus less on the specific sect of Islam, but rather more on wider brotherhood.

There are six official mosques in Taiwan and two private ones. Located next to Da'an Park. the Taipei Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in Taiwan. It was constructed in 1960 and was designed by Yang Cho-cheng, the architect of the Taipei Grand Hotel, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and the National Theater and Concert Hall.

Jeff Tsai, who handles public relations for the Taipei Grand Mosque, explained that Muslims in Taiwan have faced very little discrimination, though the difference in culture can be stressing. It is not easy to find halal, pork free food in Taiwan and because it is a minority Muslim country there is no time set aside for daily prayers, especially the Friday prayer.

For Taiwanese Muslims, reconciling their beliefs with the traditions of their society is a personal matter. It can seem weird not burning incense for ancestors with the rest of the family. As Tsai put it, "I'm not stressed; I just feel that I live in parallel space and time with them."

He described most Taiwanese as having a very rudimentary understanding of Islam; they know Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol, but do not know why. They are curious though, and he believes that even if a radical attempted something in Taiwan, the Taiwanese people would search for the truth about Islam.

Walking around the mosque is a multicultural crowd of Taiwanese, Indonesian, Pakistani, Middle Eastern (mainly Turkish and Persian), and African faces. Many people will talk warmly of Taiwan and how they are free to practice their religion as it suits them.

The people at the mosque are friendly and open to sharing about their religion. In addition, the mosque provides interfaith dialogue such as talking to groups from the Catholic Church that is a block away so they can better understand each other.

(By CNA intern Seth Corbett)


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