One man’s struggle to keep Islam alive in Taiwan

Mohammed Ma stands outside a halal butcher shop in Taipei, Taiwan.

Mohammed Ma stands outside a halal butcher shop in Taipei, Taiwan, on January 12. Photo: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian/Axios

Taipei, Taiwan- Fewer and fewer Chinese Muslims in Taiwan practice the religion of their ancestors. The grandson of a famous Chinese Muslim general tries to keep the faith alive.

The big picture: Chinese Muslim communities in Taiwan are small and dispersed, which can make it difficult to pass on their traditions from one generation to the next. But a recent wave of migrants from Southeast Asia has breathed new life into Islamic life in Taiwan.

What is happening: Mohammed Ma, a member of Taiwan’s Hui Muslim community, travels across Taiwan to educate Muslims on the basics of Islamic practice. He is also a self-taught halal butcher and provides fresh Taiwan-raised halal meat and halal certifications for Taipei’s handful of halal butcher shops.

  • Ma’s maternal grandfather is Bai Chongxi, one of the most famous Hui Muslims of the 20th century, who served as China’s Minister of National Defense from 1946 to 1948 before fleeing with Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan in 1949. Bai is also revered among Hui Muslims for founding numerous Hui associations.
  • Ma’s resemblance to his grandfather is striking, and he seems to take his grandfather’s legacy seriously. He is the president of the Taiwan Hui Association, as well as the supervisor of the Association of Muslim Life Support Taipei.

What he says : When Hui Muslims came from China, “they spread out around Taiwan rather than forming concentrated communities,” Ma told Axios in an interview. Many intermarried with members of the majority Han ethnic group. Three or four generations later, many of their descendants don’t know the basics of Islamic practice, Ma said.

  • So Ma teaches classes to teach Muslims in Taiwan what is halal (permissible) and haram (prohibited) in Islam.
  • He also serves as an informal social worker for Muslims here, including many migrants, when they face problems at home or with authorities.
  • “Most of what the Quran teaches is about relationships between people. … So when Muslims here have problems, they come to me and ask me to help them,” Ma said. “People call me their father. Muslim.”

Background: About 40,000 Hui Muslims fled China to Taiwan in 1949. Most were soldiers and generals from the central and northwestern regions of China, where Hui Muslims are concentrated.

  • The Hui are a unique ethnic group in China. Their ancestry dates back to Persian and Arab merchants and militias who arrived in northwest China about a thousand years ago and intermarried with local Han Chinese women.
  • Several Hui Muslims figure prominently in Chinese history, including Zheng He, a 15th-century admiral who led huge fleets on expeditions to Southeast Asia and India, sailing as far as the Horn of Africa and perhaps, according to some historians, even as far as the California coast.

But now, said Ma, there are now only about 20,000 people who identify as Hui in Taiwan.

  • “In Taiwan, the Hui population is too small to support any cultural group,” said Ma Haiyun (no connection to Mohammed; Ma is a common surname among Hui Muslims), a professor at Frostburg State University. in Maryland, whose research focuses on Chinese Muslims. said Axios.
  • “The good thing for Hui Muslims in Taiwan is that they have a tolerant political and cultural environment,” Ma Haiyun said, adding that in China, by comparison, Hui communities are much larger but Islam is tightly controlled.

Where is it : Immigration is breathing new life into Taiwan’s Muslim communities.

  • The Grand Mosque in Taipei, the country’s most famous Muslim place of worship, was built under Bai’s supervision to accommodate the influx of Hui Muslims from China. But now most of the regular Friday prayer attendees are Indonesians, Malaysians and Pakistanis.
  • Today, there are 11 mosques in Taiwan, several of which were founded to support new immigrant communities.

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