Multiculturalism News Series: NCKU Lifts the Veil of Islam and Creates First Muslim-Friendly Campus
In the three years since the foundation of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at NCKU, exchange and communication with Muslim students around the world has proliferated. The opening of the prayer room in 2016 was considered a major milestone. For many Taiwanese people, Islam has always been a mysterious and even fearsome religion. However, our in-depth talks with Muslim students revealed that these foreign students, who strictly adhere to their doctrines, find strength in their faith. Born in societies governed by Islamic law, they were shocked when they travelled abroad and saw the misleading impressions caused by the media about their faith. This has prompted their determination to spread understanding of their religion.
“Becoming a Muslim Was the Result of Contemplation and Rational Analysis; Islam Is the Best Training for Purifying One’s Mind and Body”
Several Muslim students pointed out that their devoutness was not because the families they were born in follow the Islamic faith. Rather, they chose to be Muslims after deep contemplation and rational analysis once they reached adulthood. Issa, a Muslim student who has been in Taiwan for three years and is pursuing his PhD in clinical medicine at NCKU, explained that his mother is a Christian and his father is Muslim. He experienced both religions growing up. In the end, he chose Islam. “Islam has strict doctrines, but if you think about them carefully, you will realize that their purpose is to make you stronger. For example, alcohol is bad for the body and causes illnesses. We abstain from drinking to keep our bodies strong.” Leaving their homes to live in a non-Islamic country, Muslim students must face various inconveniences brought by their adherence to their religion, such as praying five times a day. This serves as a test of their perseverance and ability to resist temptation. Islam can help train its followers to purify their minds and bodies.
However, stereotypes and discrimination are commonplace. Nursing student Dewi shared something that happened to another Muslim student at NCKU when she was out shopping. A multiracial couple entered the store with their daughter not long after she did. The little girl was so adorable that the female Muslim student gave her a small wave and a smile. To her dismay, the Caucasian father of the girl said to her, “What a fxxking terrorist!” The female Muslim student was so shocked that she did not know how to respond and cried all the way back to her dorm. Dewi said, “We can feel how friendly Taiwanese people are to us. We had no idea that we would meet such discrimination in Taiwan or that it would come from someone who was also a foreigner to Taiwan.” Rizki, a Muslim student studying for his PhD in politics at the College of Social Sciences, said emotionally, “This is what real terrorism looks like; it’s a terrorist attack on the mind.”
The Founding Purpose and Mission of MSA Is To Teach More People about Islam
The purpose of the MSA is to ensure and protect the rights and safety of Muslims in Taiwan and to spread awareness and understanding of Islam. The NCKU Student Union began collaborating with National Tainan Chia-Chi Senior High School and De Guang Catholic Comprehensive High School this year, arranging classes to give younger Taiwanese a deeper understanding of Islam. MSA president Faizal said, “We also held a halaal cooking contest with these high-school students this April to see what they learned from these classes.” They undertake this kind of activism not as missionary work, but rather to offer information on Islam, and step by step, clear up the widespread misunderstandings associated with their religion.
Faizal, who will graduate and return to India this year, introduced us to Theo, and said that he would be the next president of the student union. Theo laughed and humbly denied this, but the gleam in his eyes showed us that these Muslim students, who are strong in their hearts due to their faith, are devoted to promoting understanding of Islam in Taiwan and that this spirit and sense of purpose will continue to prosper.