台灣大百科全書

A General Survey of the Development of Islam in Taiwan
臺灣伊斯蘭教發展綜述 中文版本

Classification:Religion > Introduction of Religious Development in Taiwan
Contributor: Lin Changkuan Bio
There is no record of “Taiwan Islam” or “Taiwan Muslim” in the history of the expansion of the Islamic (Muslim) world, because the expression “Islamic world” refers largely to areas (from west) including Northwest Africa, Central Africa, North Africa, East Africa, Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, India, Pakistan, Bengladesh, Malay region of Southeast Asia, and Uyghurstan (Xingjiang, 新疆) in China. Those areas are nations or regions with large Muslim populations. Consequently, Taiwan is not regarded as part of the Islamic world. Chinese-speaking Muslims in Taiwan (as in China) form religious minority groups. Even Chinese language historical records contain little data on Muslims moving to Taiwan. Some indirect sources indicate only two periods when there were some Chinese Muslims moved to Taiwan. The first period was around 1661 (the late days of Ming Dynasty) when Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功) retreated to Taiwan and established his reign here. During this period some Muslim families followed Koxinga to Taiwan from Fujian Province (福建). The descents of these Muslims’ live in cities and towns on the west coast of Taiwan, such as Lugang (鹿港), Keelung (基隆), Suao (蘇澳), Danshui (淡水), and Zhanghua (彰化). They tend to be fishermen. These were the first wave of Muslims in Taiwan. However, since they were cut off from Muslim communities in China and the Islamic world, they were assimilated into Chinese religions and customs and shed their Islamic identities.

During the Japanese period, no records were kept of Islamic communities in Taiwan. Most Muslims lived in wider Chinese communities instead of living together as an independent group. According to the Taiwan Tong Shi (臺灣通史, History of Taiwan), there were no Islamic missionary activities in Taiwan in the early 20th century. According to the Taiwan Tong Shi, very few Muslims were in Taiwan, most of whom were from China. Taiwan Muslims lived with Han people and were assimilated into the Han community. The most obvious instance of this is the fishing village of Guo family (郭家漁村) located in Lugang. Although most of villagers in the village there have converted to Buddhism or other Chinese traditional religions, and have no concept about the content of Islamic religion, they still acknowledge that their ancestors were Muslims. However, when they worship their ancestors, they do not use pork so as to respect to their ancestors’ religion. This is a very instance of assimilation and yet acknowledgement of roots.

Most Chinese Muslims did not know about the Islamic laws and doctrines because they lived in the environment lacking in Islamic culture. They did not receive traditional Islamic education on the teachings, so they even did not know about the Qur’an or al-Hadith, not to mention Islamic law. This situation lasted until the establishment of the ROC which let Islamic and other foreign texts and artifacts enter the country.

In Keelung, some descendents of Muslims put copies of the Qur’an in Arabic on the worship tables of their ancestors. They do not understand Arabic and do not know the book is the Qur’an. They simply recognize the book as holy heirlooms from the ancestors. mSome western scholars also found some families in Tainan who follow Islamic funeral rites. They clean the corpses and then wrap them up in white cloth. Nonetheless, these Muslim descendents are completely assimilated as Taiwanese Han people. They only preserve certain Islamic rituals, which could be observed as marks of their roots. The assimilation was caused by their isolation from the Islamic world and intermarriage with non-Muslims. Hence, even though Islam spread from China to Taiwan through Chinese Muslims, the traditions of Islam were not maintained due to the lack of missionary activities and organizations in charge of religious education.

The second period was in 1949 when 20,000 Muslims from around China (some estimate 70,000) retreated from China with the KMT government. They settled mainly in the main cities, such as Taipei (臺北), Taichung (臺中), and Kaohsiung (高雄). These Muslims were mostly KMT members and were public officials, especially in the military, diplomatic and legislative sectors. After arriving in Taiwan, they formed Muslim communities to form a national minority. With such rallying cries as, “loyalty to the party, love for the country,” “separation of church and state,” and “honor Confucian philosophy,” Islam made no real progress. The “modern” (or “secular”) Muslims had nothing to do with developing Islam in Taiwan. This was perhaps due to a political compromise among the political powers of the day. Western scholars observed that the Five Pillars (五功) of Islam (the shahadah, daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting during Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca) are not performed fully and the religious rites exert little restraint on local Muslim behavior.

After the May 4th Movement, Chinese scholars emphasized science and reason and opposed superstitious religion. The official KMT government attitude on religion remained the same as that of the Han dynasty; they solely honored Confucianism (and Neo-Confucianism). Consequently, some pagan religions, especially new religions or non-Han religions were either not recognized or regarded as heresies. However, because many of the Muslims moving to Taiwan were important public officials and the ROC government also kept diplomatic relations with Arab nations in the early days, Islam could be practiced unmolested. Although the Taipei Grand Mosque was financed by donations from Arab nations, it was run like the Niu Jie Mosque (牛街清真寺) in Beijing. That is, the Taipei Grand Mosque was a window for the ROC government to expand its diplomatic relations. Still, the construction of the Taipei Grand Mosque did not advance the development of Islam in Taiwan.

During the Chinese Revolution, Sun Yat-sen propagated the idea of cooperation by the five races in China. The establishment of ROC led the Muslims (Hui citizens, 回民) into a liberal, modernized, and sinicized era. Subsequently, Chinese Muslims divided into two groups: westernized (secularized) Muslims and fundamentalist Muslims. Generally, Muslims in the northwest China belonged to the latter group, while Muslims in Jiangnan and the southeast belong to the former group. The Chinese Muslim Association, which came to Taiwan with the KMT government, was originated from an organization founded in China in 1937. Many of the association members were public officers (who accepted Neo-Confucianism). Their principal religious achievements after 1959 were the publication of two translations of Qur’an and a book of basic Islamic doctrines. They also published the bimonthly Zhong Guo Hui Jiao (中國回教, Chinese Islam) for the Muslim community. Although the Chinese Muslim Association was not an official organization, it helped the ROC government in many diplomatic matters, especially with petroleum exporting Arab nations

“Chinese Islamic Youth Association” (中國回教青年會) was another Muslim group in Taiwan. It was established in the northeast China during the Sino-Japanese War to unite Muslim young men for the war effort. Young CIYA members are more assimilated than are Chinese Muslim Association members, especially regarding the salah and other rituals. They use Chinese as the language for salah and follow some Han customs, as in funerals. The CIYA built the Culture Mosque (文化清真寺) in Taipei. Although it is not large, this mosque propagates Islamic culture to the young. Religious identification of CIYA members is often denied by Chinese Muslim Association members, who call the CIYA heretical. In the view of Muslims who live in the non-Islamic areas (Dar al-Harb) but intend to keep the Muslim faith, the CIYA makes too many compromises with the infidels. The principal reason for this is their isolation from the Islamic world.

Although both the Chinese Muslim Association and Chinese Islamic Youth Association never actively sponsor missionary work, they still host some conversions, mostly for reason of marriage. However, whether these converts are serious about Islamic doctrine and law is uncertain. After all, Taiwan is not like other Islamic countries in which Muslim groups exert peer pressure on the converts to influence their faith and lifestyle.

Islam in China is always not unified in its customs. Every Muslim group comes from different regions, and the extents of assimilation differ from inland regions to border areas. Therefore, they differ in their observances of religious rituals. When the ROC was established, not every Muslim community in China supported the central government. Later, during the warlord period and the Sino-Japanese War, the Muslim community in China was divided over political ideology. This division followed them to Taiwan with the KMT government. While the Taipei Grand Mosque (臺北清真寺) accommodates Taipei Muslims for the salah, there is another mosque in Taipei. The Culture Mosque in Taipei was sponsor by the local forces. The founding of the Taipei Grand Mosque was directly related to the imam (Akhund) from Beijing Niu Jie Mosque (牛街清真寺), while the supervisor of Culture Mosque was from the northeast Muslim community in Shenyang Province (潘陽). These two communities adhered to different forms of Islam, especially regarding modernization.

The intrusion of political power caused the split of these two mosques. The original reason to establish the Taipei Grand Mosque was for receiving important visitors from Muslim countries. The mosque was run as a diplomatic conduit, so the ROC government and KMT both donated substantial resources to support its operations. It ran like a quasi-official organization and hung the ROC flag during the national festivals. By contrast, the Culture Mosque was supported by private donations. It is a purely “civilian mosque,” so members of the Culture Mosque do not cooperate seriously with the authorities but concentrate on religious affairs. Consequently, members of the Culture Mosque accuse supporters of theTaipei Grand Mosque of being political stooges who lack pure Islamic faith.

As to rituals, Taipei Grand Mosque and Culture Mosque took different religious activities, especially holiday and funeral rituals. Since Taipei Grand Mosque had more intercourse with Arab countries, their position on imams was set by religious scholar Ma Jixiang (馬吉祥) during the 1970s. Ma Jixiang is of Chinese descent, with Saudi nationality. After Saudi Arabia was founded, it adopted Wahhabiyyah fundamentalism and exercised strict Hanbalism. So, they often criticize the impure practice of Islamic rituals and traditions by non-Arabs. Under the leadership of a Saudi Arabian imam, Taipei Grand Mosque inculcates the versions of Islamic doctrines and rituals practices in the Middle East. However, when imams in the Culture Mosque practice religious rites, they often adopt some Han traditions, such as holding incense, visiting graves, receiving money for reciting Qur’an, etc.

Many of the religious rituals inherited from the old Chinese Muslims in Taipei Grand Mosque were purified after the Mosque made contact with Arab nations (such as by sending students to study Islamic doctrine and tradition in Saudi Arabia and Libya). Besides this, political intervention caused conflicts to break out between the two mosques. But, an administrator eventually died and the Culture Mosque went into decline. Now only a few Muslims practice salah in the Culture Mosque, and just a few foreign workers from Southeast Asia and South Asia still go to the Culture Mosque for group activities.

Unlike the Middle East, in Taiwan we find only Muslims but no Islam. According to ROC Ministry of the Interior data, the local Muslim has population declined greatly since the 1970s. Officially, only 2,000 registered Muslims reside in Taiwan. In the early days, many young Muslims went to Arab countries to study Islam, but nowadays the young in Taiwan shows no intention to do this. Consequently, most imams in the Mosque are not local citizens. The Mosques in Taiwan have become places for a few pious Muslims to practice religious rites. Among participants in the jum’ah (the Friday prayer), the number of foreign Muslims is higher than that of domestic Muslims, and most of the domestic Muslims are seniors. In the early 21st century, the Muslim communities in Taiwan have declined, as have their Islamic traditions. Many of the Muslim youth leave the religion and even convert to other religions. Others emigrate to China or other countries. There are many reasons for the decline of Taiwan Muslim communities. Although the number of Muslims from China is declining, foreign Muslims are forming their own Muslim communities in Taiwan through intermarriage, business or work. However, the new Muslim communities have little or no intercourse with the old Muslim groups.

Copyright © 2011 Council for Cultural Affairs. All Rights Reserved.  

Chinese Keyword
清真寺 , 臺灣穆斯林社群 , 穆斯林

English Keyword
Mosque , Taiwan Muslim Association , Han Muslims

References

  1. Gowing, P. G