Imam Sulaiman Wang and Islam in Hong Kong
Mspiration speaks to Imam Sulaiman Wang from the Islamic Union of Hong Kong. He sheds light on the Chinese city’s settled Muslim community.
I have been living in Hong Kong for 14 years. Before that I was in Taiwan. I was born Muslim. My father, his name was Yaqoob, was an imam in Taiwan, may Allah have mercy on him. Growing up in Taiwan, actually even as recently as ten years ago, there was not many Muslims around. The Taiwanese just didn’t know what it was. When you look back at Chinese history we had another name for Islam. Translated into English, Islam was called The Religion of Hui and Muslims were called people who follow the religion of Hui. A long time ago, over a thousand year ago, in China we had many tribes and one of them was Hui. This tribe was believed to be a mix of Arabs, Persians and Chinese. Now these people were already Muslims but they couldn’t explain the religion to the Chinese because they didn’t speak the language of the time. So the Chinese people called them The People of Hui. These were the first Muslims in China.
Hong Kong’s history is only about 150 years old. It was only small villages when the British came – a lot of them came from China – and they discovered Hong Kong and they decided this was good destination for business and trade. So once deciding to settle here they brought staff and a lot of them, particularly the prison guards, were from India and what became Pakistan. So you can say the first people after the British were Indians and from Pakistan. These were the first Muslim communities to settle in Hong Kong.
There are a lot of similarities between the Chinese way of living and the Islamic life. There are lot of similar themes and concepts. Family is very important for the Chinese. Sometimes you will go to a house and find three or four generations of the family living together. Another similarity is the respect and looking after our neighbours. The teachings of Confucius, which is widely influential here, is similar to the teachings from the Hadith by the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. So we touch upon this when we are making dawaa, but that comes later. The focus is tawhid first and the akhlaq is after that.
In Hong Kong we have from 100 to 120 people converting to Islam each year and ten percent from that are Chinese. The rest are from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and sometimes Vietnam. The Chinese that want to become Muslims, a lot of times it starts from a friend. Now what we are seeing is that a lot of brothers and sisters are coming to Islam just through the internet. They see the religion online and then they become interested, they find our center online and they come to visit us. We had a person who when he came to the center to enquire about Islam he already knew how to pray and how to fast and he never even entered a masjid yet – all of this from the internet.
Chinese people are looking at Islam now because nowadays the information is very widely available online. Also, you can say the Chinese don’t have (an established) faith or a religion. So they need it. It is their fitrah calling them. The thing is they just don’t know which religion to find. The people that are looking have the hardest experience because they are some Chinese who are born into faith, whether it is Christianity or Buddhism, so for them they always knew where to go for worship. For those with no religion it is harder, they feel empty or feel lost. I find they know they have to believe in something, but they don’t know which. Also now here in China people are working harder and harder for material gains. Their spiritual life is empty. Everyone is feeding their body but not the soul.
Being a Muslim in Hong Kong, alhamdulilah, is easy. This is because the local population have been exposed to Muslims for a long time. Also from the beginning Muslims had respectable positions, they were prison guards, involved in the army and the police force. This helps when Chinese become Muslims because they know the community and it is not so strange for them.
The center of the Muslim community here in Hong Kong is the Islamic Union of Hong Kong in Wan Chai. It’s the place that you should visit when you come here. We have eight floors full of many offices and activities. We have a male and female prayer room, kindergarten, restaurant, library and also Tai-Chi. It is here where you will have the only halal Dim Sum in Hong Kong and many non-Muslim Chinese come here to try the food. While we have yet to find someone become Muslim because of how good the food is, at least it is a friendly and safe place to have meals as well as learn about Islam as there is information everywhere.
If I am to send a message to the brothers and sisters living abroad is that we have to try our best to put on a good image. All of us have to be aware of our actions and that is more important than donations sometimes. Alhamdulilah, sadaqah is good but that’s easy. You just put the money in the box and that’s it. But what we need here in China from people abroad is good character. When we do da’wah here people tell us ‘well how about the Muslims living in here or there and they tell us thank you but go away.’ The ummah abroad must understand that their actions effects us and by their good character they are helping us spread the message of Islam here too.