Islam in Taiwan

Taiwan Muslims’ Struggle to Survive

2. Taiwan is a society of migration

Taiwan is an island located in the Pacific Rim. Spanish and Dutch briefly occupied the island. Dutch named Taiwan Formosa, a beautiful island. Later, Japan occupied the island for 51 years. However, for several hundred years since the Ming Dynasty, the development of Taiwan was mainly associated with the immigrants from Fukian Providence. In the 8th century during the Tong Dynasty, many Arabs and Persian merchants settled in Quanzhou, which was one of the four major seaports and a commercial center. As a result, Islam was spread to east coast cities in China as well as west cost cities in Taiwan such as Lukang, Beikaung, Danshui. At that time, most of the Muslims were fishermen and businessmen. Twice in Taiwan’s history, refugees from mainland China including Muslim escaped the collapse of the regimes by fleeing to the island of Formosa – a beautiful island. The first time occurred in 1661, led by Cheng Cheng-kung, after the fall of the Ming dynasty. The second migration took place in 1949, after Chiang Kaishek’s defeat by the Chinese Communists.In the 17th century, late Ming Dynasty and early Qin Dynasty, Muslim came to Taiwan with military. There were five major Muslim families (Pai, Ma, Kuo, King and Ding) settled on the island first. Due to the religion, their marriages were among themselves. Both Kuo and Ding families even traced back their family trees to Quanzhou, Fukien Province. Mosques were built in Taiwan at that time period.

3. The rise and fall of early Muslim in Taiwan

Due to lack of religious leaders and scholars, in the course of time, the descendants of those Muslim families drifted away from Islam. As one generation followed another, they became almost totally assimilated into Taiwanese society, adopting Taiwanese customs and the Taiwanese religion (an eclectic mixture of local spiritism, Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism). Cut off from effective contact with the large and vigorous Muslim community on the mainland, the Islamic faith on Taiwan simply atrophied. During half century’s (1895-1945) occupation by Japanese, the Taiwanese were discouraged from practicing “foreign” religions. The present-day descendants of the Muslim followers of Cheng Cheng-kung preserved some traces of Islamic practices. The Kuo family in Lukang, for example, does not include pork among its offering at the family shrine even though the family is not Muslim. Two families in Keelung place copies of the Holy Koran before the tablets of their ancestors. The present owners are not Muslims and do not read Arabic, but they honor a book held sacred by their forebears. Two or three families in Tainan observe funeral customs of Islamic origin including the ceremonial washing of the body and wrapping it carefully in white cloth—though in all other respects they are culturally Taiwanese. We regret that they are departed from the Islam.

4. The Contribution of the second wave of Muslim migrants from Mainland China

After W W II, Taiwan re-united with China and The Chinese Muslim Association was re-established in Taiwan. In 1947, Ahong Wang and Imam Chung together with some government officials, legislators and merchants moved to Taiwan with the KMT government. The first Mosque was established in LiShui Street of Taipei during that era. Several mosques funded by Muslim and donations from local and foreign friends were later built in Chungli, Taichung and KaohsiungIt. Cemeteries were constructed and regulated in a few major cities. As a result, Islam was recovering from the previous set back. With the support of the government, Muslim leaders and scholars, the idea of re-establishing ChenDar Muslim Former School was also discussed. However, due to various reasons, it was not implemented. The Chinese Muslim Association cultivates and maintains relations with Muslim leaders and groups throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia. Working through its several local branches, departments and committees, the Association engages in many activities. It publishes a monthly magazine – “Islam in China” devoted to Muslim interests for more than 40 years. The Association, through its Overseas Affairs Commission, maintains lively contact with the World Muslim League and other international Islamic organizations. It also receives and entertains many foreign Muslim visitors to Taiwan. Occasionally, in cooperation with the government, the Association organizes goodwill missions to Muslim countries.Additionally, it provides assistance and support to the Muslims and youth by organizing annual Hajji pilgrim team, summer camp, Sunday school, scholarship, and other religious related activities. The Chinese Muslim Association contributes to the Muslim society and at the same time has important impact on the development of the Muslim community.

5. The Current Situation and the Difficulty of Muslims in Taiwan

Compared to 20,000 “the first generation” Muslims migrated to Taiwan in 1949, today about 50,000 – no more than 0.2 percent of Taiwanese populations are Muslims. Many of them are recent converts due to marring to Muslim. The reason for the low growth rate of Muslim is primarily due to a lacking of Muslim community. The major reason for Islam to exist in China over thousand years is owing to Muslim community and settlement around Mosques and family education and practice of Islam. In Taiwan, due to a lack of family religious education and biased education system, “freedom of belief” contributed to the deterioration of religion. The “second generation” of Muslims, around age 50’s, was isolated and unfamiliar with the Muslim community during their upbringing age caused their marriage to non-Muslims or converters. Therefore, the belief of the third and fourth generation of Muslims is even more difficult and controversial unless their great grand parents (first generation) were extremely religious. It is extremely painful for me to watch the family members of the deceased sitting in the audience seat during the funeral. Isn’t it one of the saddest things for Chinese to lose their decedent? According to the Holly Koran, each human being and race has its lifespan. Allah shall replace us once we disobey Allah. Life without belief and tradition is worse than dying since it is meaningless and worthless. It is scary to think about that the history of Lukang families may reoccur nowadays.

6. The Role and Mission of Muslim in Taiwan

It goes without saying that the first generation of Muslims built excellent facilities, but unable to establish religious and cultural infrastructure. The second generation while received excellent formal education, accomplished in their respective career and became members of middle income had earned very little about the religion. Some even denied themselves as Muslim. In discussions with Muslim scholars from Japan and South Korea, we realize that we have inherited wealth knowledge of religious scholarship waiting to be discovered.

Some people questioned why should we not to change during this changeable time? Some thought that we should have reached out to others. In fact, some people already abandoned their religious belief . Islam is not just a belief but also practice, a way of living, which was granted by Allah for us to live a peaceful and content life by disciplining our ethical behaviors in this complicated environment. As the natural rule, the second generation Muslims not only has the mission but also the responsibility to pass on the tradition to their young. We need to rejuvenate the aging organization and involve the younger generation to establish work plans for activities such as seminars, workshops, etc. to educate our brothers and sisters. Open Mosques to the society for better understanding and culture exchange. Other activities include sponsoring festivals, volunteering in community works, participating in local and international Muslim organizations, expanding the vision and horizon, and strengthening self-confidence. Most importantly, we need to enhance the education of young people, greater emphasis on religion, more discipline on personal life and let the Mosque become livelier. In the future, we may consider center for Islam, provide teacher trainings, and create a common market to promote the modernization of worldwide Muslim. As Muslim in Taiwan, we wish to become the bridge between Islam and Chinese culture. By working together of Confucius believe in world peace with Islam’s belief in social equality and justice, Islam will be the foundation for human civilization and peaceful society. [Ma Chao-Yen]

 

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