By Ibrahim Bao
14 April, 2014
The presence of Islam and Muslims in Taiwan is not very old. Around 1949 thousands of Muslims from all parts of Mainland China migrated to Taiwan in company with the Nationalist government. Again in 1980 a big influx of Muslims from Thailand and Myanmar immigrated into this part of the world. The present population of Taiwan Muslims counts at about 60,000 which is 0.2 per cent of the total population. Most of the native Muslims are soldiers and public servants.
There is about 40,000 to 50, 00 expatriate Muslim here who came from the other Southeast Asian countries. Most of them work in manufacturing or construction industry, or in taking care of the seniors.
Historically, Islam’s arrival in Taiwan can be traced back to the later period of Ming dynasty and early period of Chin dynasty. During his seven voyages to the West in the early 15th century, the great Muslim navigator Zenghe (Abdul Sabur Ma) landed on Taiwan and preached Islam to the natives.
Cheng Ho, a Ming general, came to Taiwan with his army in 1661. There are many Muslim soldiers in his troops who had brought their families with them to Taiwan and settled down there. The design and style of the mosque they built was like the mosques in Mainland China. During the Chin dynasty, Taiwan and Mainland China had a strong link. Muslims living in Mainland coasts also went to Taiwan with the tide of immigration so that they spread over the western coast of Taiwan.
As time passed by, Taiwan Muslims in Chin dynasty lost their original faith. However, they still communicated with Mainland China. Until Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the communication with Mainland China was restricted. Their descendant said that the last Imam from Mainland China came to Taiwan approximately in 1922 and the tradition of sending Imam from the Mainland resumed again in 1948. In 1950s more and more Muslims came to Taiwan. The only mosque in Taipei was not sufficient for the growing number of Muslims. The government developed active diplomacy and contacted with Muslim countries frequently.
In April 1960 the construction of Taipei Grand Mosque was completed which was possible with the financial help of some Muslim states. This mosque and its Islamic Centre provided a place for Muslims for their social and religious gatherings such as weekly get-togethers etc. Muslim head of states, namely, King Faisal Ibn Abdul Azia of Saudi Arabia, King Hussain of Jordan and Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia and several other prominent Muslim leaders visited the Taipei Grand Mosque.
After the establishment of the Taipei Grand Mosque, diplomatic activities with Muslim counties considerably developed and trade and commerce remarkably increased. The trade relations with Middle Eastern countries played an important role on Taiwan’s economic development. Muslims from all over the world started visiting Taiwan which was helpful in exploring Taiwan and knowing about Muslims of this land.
In addition to the Taipei Grand Mosque, there are Eve more mosques in all the major cities of Taiwan. They are Taipei Culture Mosque, Long Grand Mosque, Taichung Mosque, Tainan Mosque and Kaohsiung Mosque. Taiwan Muslims spent many years and big money to build these mosques. These mosques are important places for native and expatriate Muslims for praying and social gatherings. Other activities such as weddings and teachings also take place in these mosques.
In the past ten years Taiwan Muslims could not maintain proper communication with the majority community and could not present true Islam to them. On the other hand, the Western media created among the majority community various kinds of misunderstanding against Islam. After 9/11, the shocked people rushed to the mosques and Islamic centres and showed their interest to know about the real Islam. They wanted to cross-check whether Islam teaches violence or it is a mere propaganda of the West.
Realizing the importance of showing that Islam is a peaceful religion, the Muslim preachers revived Da’wah work and presented true Islam to the local people. That time, Islamic books and literature were in full demand by non-Muslims. Actually they wanted to know why Islam was so brutally opposed by the international media. But when they knew about the Islamic teachings, which give the message of peace and tolerance, a good number of non-Muslims showed interest in embracing Islam, many of them did it.
Da’wah workers realized that It was the crucial time to preach Islam through satellite TV channels, which is a powerful source of media nowadays and it is also the need of the hour that Muslim community should cooperate with other communities. For example, Muslims can participate in TV's inter-religious debates and other programmes to express Islam's views on peace, stability and sub- mission to Allah's will and rights of co-citizens.
It is the duty of Taiwan Muslims to clarify the misunderstanding against Islam which has been instilled in the minds of many non-Muslims by the Western media. They should welcome people from other religions, officials and students from schools and universities to their mosques to show them that the mosques are places of worship and ultimately these are the places of peace and security. The purpose of the said measures may help the local non-Muslims understand Islam in its true picture.
Taiwan Muslims face two unfavourable situations. The first is, as mentioned, the misunderstanding about Islam by the non- Muslims which they have to re- move from their minds and secondly, it is the crisis of faith among Taiwan Muslims who are scattered all over Taiwan. Their young generation has little knowledge of Islam.
During the last fifty years, Taiwan Muslim society brought changes in itself as various cultures rose and flourished. Young Muslims did not have a chance to take up Islamic education. Often they did not go to mosques. As time passed by, Islamic faith and culture were gradually swallowed up by non-Islamic environment.
In 1999, the Taipei Grand Mosque had a crisis of being demolished. It was a great warning for Taiwan Muslims. It was reported that a cement company declared having the ownership of land where the mosque is located. They attempted to dismantle the mosque in order to take back the land. Muslims seriously concerned about this event. It has religious, diplomatic and economic functions. If demolished, it would hurt not only the Taiwan Muslims, feelings but also affect the international reputation of Taiwan. Under the influence of the concerned legislator of the area and from the assistance of the city government, the mosque turned into a historic building and may preserve diverse cultural development. However, the board of directors of the Taipei Mosque still struggles to solve the dispute of the land.
The education level of Taiwan Muslims is very high. In addition, the Muslim organizations have sent nearly ninety students to various countries of the Middle East for studying Islamic education. After completing their studies these students came back home.
Nearly ten of them have been working in the diplomatic field. Owing to their fluent Arabic speaking power and knowledge, they were relied by the government to contact the Arab and Muslim countries. Thus Muslims have a great contribution on diplomatic affairs of Taiwan.
The Chinese Muslim Association is the largest Islamic organization in Taiwan. Its activities spread throughout the island and it has a good reputation among the local Muslims. The mosques have set up their own board of directors which are responsible for the affairs of the mosques. The Foundation of Islamic Culture and Education is responsible for dispatching scholarship and holding lectures on Islam. In additional, they also have a volunteer organization to make up a deficiency of other Islamic organizations in Taiwan.
The Islamic Volunteer Corp of Taipei Grand Mosque is an active volunteer organization. This Corp organized and summoned some enthusiastic Muslims to do the Islamic services through the organization. At present the Corps has more than 70 volunteers. They have held several activities and helped the Mosque to perform some services for Muslims.
The economic resource for supporting the activities held by mosques or other Islamic organizations is mainly from the donations of Muslims. Sometimes, they seek subsidy from the government agency particularly for those activities relating to local affairs. In addition, the Islamic organizations such as Muslim World League (MWL) and World Assembly of Muslim youth (WAMY) also have helped in performing some activities.
Muslims do not have any formal Islamic educational institutions in Taiwan. Their children study Islamic knowledge in mosques on Sunday. The mosques regularly hold courses such as Arabic language, recitation of the Qur’an and Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). At the same time mosques also hold classes for adults to teach them meaning of the Qur’an and Shari'ah.
The Eid Al-Fitr prayer draws much attention from electronic and print media. Special features of the event are carried in the newspapers and telecast on TV. This gives a boost to Islamic activities and it happened that many people from the majority society, which mainly consists of Buddhists, have embraced Islam after realizing the discipline and message of the heavenly religion.
The economic resource for supporting the activities held by mosques or other Islamic organizations is mainly from the donations of Muslims. Sometimes, they seek subsidy from the government agency particularly for those activities relating to local affairs. In addition, the Islamic organizations such as Muslim World League (MWL) and World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) also have helped in performing some activities.
Muslims do not have any formal Islamic educational institutions in Taiwan. Their children study Islamic knowledge in mosques on Sunday. The mosques regularly hold courses such as Arabic language, recitation of the Qur’an and Search of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). At the same time mosques also hold classes for adults to teach them meaning of the Qur’an and Shari’ah.
The Taipei Grand Mosque often accepts some cooperation with the Taipei city government or other local agencies. Students belonging to other faiths often visit the Mosque. The Imam of the Mosque explains to them the tenets of Islam so that they may have a chance to understand the teachings of Islam. In addition, the Taipei Grand Mosque also holds inter-religious workshops and debates on Islam and Confucianism, Islam and Catholicism, and Islam and Buddhism to promote mutual understanding with other religions.
In recent years, the Chinese Muslim Association in cooperation with World Assembly of Muslim youth (WAMY) and the Muslim World League (MWL) held Da’wah training classes and a Muslim camp Taiwan. Teachers were sent to Taiwan to teach young Muslims the Islamic knowledge. Taiwan Muslims have good performance in international activities such as joining several international Islamic conferences. The Chinese Muslim Association sends Muslims to Indonesia, Canada, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Spain and Saudi Arabia to attend meetings. Taiwan Muslims communicate constantly with other Muslims from various countries.
In 2001, WAMY had cooperated with the Chinese Muslim Association for holding a Summer Muslim youth Camp. The camp let the Muslim brothers know each other. Especially young Muslims had an opportunity to know more about Islam in non-Muslim society. In 2004, an international seminar on Islam was held in Taipei. There were Muslim scholars and officials who read their papers on Islamic issues such as religion, economy, politics and culture. The seminar also provided Taiwan Muslims an opportunity to realize the depth of important issues in the Muslim world.
Islam in China is an Islamic magazine in Taiwan. It is published bimonthly. The magazine focuses on the Qur'an and the Sunnah, Da’wah and news concerning Islam and Muslims in Taiwan.
Haj Dawood Kuo-An Ni is chairman of Chinese Muslim Association. He holds Da'wah training classes, Arabic language classes and Muslim youth camps. Ibrahim Chao is the first Taiwanese to obtain a doctorate in Shari'ah from a Saudi university. He teaches Shari'ah to Taiwanese students. He is also the member of the Constituent Council of the Muslim World League. Ali Jin is a professor who teaches Arabic language and Islamic Studies to Muslim and non-Muslim students.
The native language of Taiwan Muslims is Chinese or Mandarin. The Qur'an has been translated in Chinese by Ma Jun. The Hadiths of the Prophet have been translated by Chen Ke Li. There are several Islamic publications in Taiwan which includes Islamic Doctrine.
Taiwan government adopts a secular approach towards every religion including Islam. The Constitution stipulates that everyone can practice his own faith freely.
In the past two Years, the country's president received the Taiwan Hajj delegation which shows the government's concern and respect for Islam and Muslims.
For promoting Islam in Taiwan, it would be better that international Islamic organizations should invite more Taiwan Muslims to join international events so that Taiwan Muslims may gain experience from other brothers. Young Muslims usually play important role in Islamic activities and development of their society.
It is also hoped that the international Islamic organizations may give Taiwan Muslims guidance so that more young Muslims may have the opportunity to understand and practice Islam in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
The first priority of Islam in Taiwan is to unite the Muslim community. The methods should be adopted as follows:
1. By holding more meetings and conferences to get Muslims closer to each other.
2. By holding summer camps regularly for young Muslims.
3. By holding Da’wah classes
4. By teaching the basics of Islam to Muslims, espec1ally the children.
5. By visiting the Muslim families to know and solve their problems.
6. By participating in social activities to remove misunderstandings from the minds of the non-Muslims regarding Islam and Muslims.
If the above mentioned measures are performed well, no doubt, Muslims may strengthen their faith in Islam and will unite with each other. In addition Islam will prosper in Taiwan and Muslims may live harmoniously with their non-Muslim co-citizens.