In Hong Kong live around 200,000 Muslims. More than 100,000 of them are Indonesian domestic helpers. The other 100,000 are mainly Hong Kong residents.
Mufti Muhammad Arshad, the Chief Imam of Hong Kong, is himself a Hong Kong resident. He came to Hong Kong in 2001 and became a Hong Kong national several years later.
With a master’s in Islamic Studies, Mufti Muhammad Arshad moved with his wife and three children from Pakistan to Hong Kong and started as a senior Imam at the Kowloon Mosque & Islamic Centre.
Mister Arshad feels that Hong Kong is a much better place than Pakistan, because it is a multicultural and very peaceful society. He learned to appreciate the broad spectrum of the Hong Kong society and the acceptance people have for other people is one of the good things he learned in Hong Kong. He still needs to get used to the fact that people here keep themselves in a restricted mode. They are not particularly friendly when you approach them. Maybe it is because of the language barrier, but if you ask for directions or about a product in a shop, people are reluctant to tell you. Many people are quiet and distant. This in contrast to the many other countries he visited, where people love to guide you or just say hello; or unlike for instance Beijing, where people are very friendly.
The original mosque was built in 1896. In the 80s a new mosque was built at the same place and it opened its doors in 1984. Muslims from many different nationalities – from Asia, Africa and Europe – visit the mosque.
The mosque does not identify with a single denomination or Islamic school. Muslims of every Islamic denomination or movement are welcome.
The most important roles of the mosque are to maintain peace and love between different communities and to be a friend of the people. The doors of the mosque are open to everyone. Almost every day groups are visiting the mosque, and so do people from different institutions like NGOs and schools. They will see the activities of the mosque (like the Kindergarten or programs for needy people), they learn about the prayers and the teaching of the Holy Book Qur’an.
On Friday’s the mosque is very busy. Around 3,000 Muslims fill the three floors of the mosque. The preaching on Friday is focused on current affairs related to family life, the community and how to be good in daily life situations. Political affairs are not being discussed.
The emphasis is on virtues like patience and honesty and on subjects like serving the needy people, respecting the parents and looking after your family and children. These are the most important subjects to be discussed and people need to be convinced to do the right thing.
Hong Kong is an open society, so in the Friday sermon one of the topics could be about a man who is having an extramarital relationship. In that case his family is suffering and the Imam will tell the people that they have the responsibility to look after their children and their family. Similarly, if someone is working in the market, he should not cheat his customers.
The responsibility of the younger generations to look after their parents at old age, who depend on them, is also a topic addressed in sermons.
Unlike other religions, there is no international hierarchy in the Islam. The Hong Kong mosque is independent. There is no frequent exchange of ideas with imams in other countries. For instance, there is no contact with imams from Beijing. Sometimes an imam from Mecca will visit the mosque and Mr. Arshad and his colleagues love to go to Mecca or Medina or listen to Imams from these holy places.
A main focus of the mosque is on good relationships with the different communities in Hong Kong. There are frequent dialogues with Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews; all faithful people. In Mr. Arshad’s native country one couldn’t imagine that you go to other places of worship, but here in Hong Kong they are visiting temples, churches, synagogues. Mr. Arshad says this is the good thing in Hong Kong. To meet different people, contact and talk with them directly; instead of only getting information via indirect sources. By being in frequent direct contact, one learns to understand people with different backgrounds and religions. Mr. Arshad feels it is enriching and enables communities to learn from each other.
Text and photos © Anton Hazewinkel 2011