Story of a Muslim Revert Islam is the
July 2008 16:23 www.daily.pk
Huda, Nadia and
Selvi-all converts to Islam, standing outside the Taipei Grand Mosque in
Taiwan, after a noon prayer service, said their faith had given them strength.
It was a list of questions that brought Huda to the Taipei Grand Mosque.
"Why can't they eat pork? Why must women cover up? And why, if men can
take four wives, can't women take four husbands?"
After enrolling in a six-week course on the fundamentals of Islam, she found
her answers, and she found religion. "When I first heard about the course,
I told myself, 'This is your time to learn something new.' I discovered how to
live my life according to the Qur'aan, and now I feel very peaceful," she
While stories of suicide attacks and beheadings permeate news coverage from
Afghanistan and the Middle East, Taipei Grand Mosque Imam Ma Shiao-chi said the
number of people visiting the mosque with questions about Islam had increased.
"The news always highlights the bad things. About 90 per cent of the news
is negative. They hear stories about people getting their heads cut off and
think Islam is a bad religion. They know very few things about Islam. They want
to know what makes people do these things," he said.
Their reasons for converting to Islam vary, but these women are finding freedom
Most of those going to the mosque are women, he said. Whether they were born
into a non-practising Muslim family, converted for marriage, or, like Huda, are
simply curious to learn more about the religion, the women Ma meets wanted to
better understand the role of women in Islam.
Perhaps they have no intentions of converting, Ma said, but at least they take
the time to dispel a few stereotypes about the religion.
Some, however, do convert. As a teenager, Sana researched various religions and
recalls visiting several temples, but it was Islam that appealed most to her.
"So many things led me to feel Islam was the right religion. Even, when I
was a child, I never liked to eat pork," she said.
After living in Pakistan with her husband and children for eight years, Sana
said she is now re-adjusting to being part of a minority religion in Taiwan.
Taiwan has an estimated 130,000 Muslims, less than half of which are
"I am Chinese and I am Muslim," said Sana giving the example of
wearing a white headscarf, a colour often associated with death in Taiwan.
Sana and Huda describe wearing the hijab as an honour and affirmation of their
faith. They agreed, however, that while its purpose is to prevent unwanted
attention to their bodies, it in fact often draws more attention. This they
said is part of learning to live in a non-Muslim society.
Likewise, Huda, who works in an international trading company, was originally
told she could not wear her hijab to work, as it might make clients
uncomfortable. "Eventually my colleagues and boss accepted it. It took
time, but they know being Muslim is an important part of my life," she
While he criticised the unfair portrayal of Islam in the media, Ma said Muslim
practitioners in Taiwan experience little persecution from the public. One
reason, he said, might have to do with the small number of followers. "We
are very few, so we are not really a risk to them," he said.
The majority of Chinese practising Islam are second-and third-generation
Muslims, whose families came to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)
in 1949. As years passed, people started to relax their religious observations,
"A lot of Muslims in Taiwan were born Muslim, but not all of them pray
everyday. But Islam is a lifestyle. You need to do the Muslim practices [the
Five Pillars of Islam] or else it is easy to lose the religion," he said.
Nadia was born into a non-practising Chinese-Muslim household. Following in her
sister's footsteps, she made the transition to a more pious observance during
college. As she learned more about the religion, she began to dress more
conservatively, covering all but her face and hands. "It was just an
outfit on the outside, but it changed my life on the inside. I felt more
confident," she said.
In addition to Muslims rediscovering their lost faith, Ma said most women
embracing Islam in Taiwan do so for marriage. Of the 20 new converts last year
12 were for marriage, he said.
According to the Qur'aan, a Muslim man can marry a woman from a monotheistic
religion (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), but he is prohibited from marrying
a woman from a polytheistic religion (Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, etc).
Marriage is how Aisha entered Islam 20 years ago. "In the beginning it was
just for marriage. I could accept that there is only one god and not eat pork.
I couldn't wear the hijab," she said.
A decade later she started reading the Qur'aan, attending classes and wearing
the headscarf and feels her relationship with her husband is better for it.
"Now we have the same way of looking at things. I can communicate better
with my husband," she said.
Each of the women said Islam places a large emphasis on respect and equality
for women. One of the most debated gender issues in the Qur'aan is the
tradition that allows Muslim men to take four wives.
Sana said she would find it difficult to share her husband with another woman,
but noted the practice is not exclusive to Islam.
"My (non-Muslim) father had three wives, but not the legal way. This hurt
my mother and me a lot. He never asked my mother and he never treated all of
his children the same," she said.
"Even if I agreed to a second marriage (of my husband), there are many
rights to protect me and my property. He must still provide for me and our
children," Sana said.
The women and the Imam said the conditions under which a man is permitted to
take four wives make it virtually impossible for him to do so. As it is
necessary that the husband must treat each of his wives equally, both
financially and intimately.