Islam in Hong Kong has a history of about two centuries and is currently a quite culturally significant religion in “Asia’s world city”. How did Islam first come to Hong Kong? What is life like for Muslims in Hong Kong? What are the challenges facing Hong Kong Muslims? This short article will attempt to answer these questions.
In the 19th century, Hong Kong was a British colony. There were a large number of military personnel and prison guards who came from India and were adherents of the religion of Islam. Their need for a place to conduct daily prayers in congregation led to the construction of the earliest mosques in Hong Kong, namely Jamia Mosque at Central and Stanley Mosque at Stanley prison. From the mid-19th century onwards, more and more soldiers and businessmen arrived in Hong Kong from South Asia and Mainland China. As the number of them increased, the British Hong Kong government allocated land for them to build their communities and facilities, such as mosques and cemeteries.
Chinese Muslims first arrived in Hong Kong in the late 19th and early 20th century, coming from southern Chinese coastal areas, where they had lived for centuries prior. They established their community around Wan Chai District (location of the Wan Chai Mosque). Some Chinese are also more recent converts to Islam.
According to the 2016 census, there are around 300,000 Muslims in Hong Kong, making up 4.1% of the population of Hong Kong. Of this number, 50,000 are Chinese, 150,000 are Indonesians and 30,000 are Pakistanis, with the rest from other parts of the world. The vast majority of Muslims in Hong Kong are Sunni. Muslims in Hong Kong are a good embodiment of the spirit of “diversity in harmony”, collaborating closely for communal well-being despite racial and cultural differences.
There are many Islamic organizations in Hong Kong, contributing to various aspects of the development of Islam in Hong Kong. Some of the most known organizations include the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong, Islamic Union of Hong Kong, Islamic Cultural Association (Hong Kong), Hong Kong Islamic Youth Association, Serving Islam Team (Hong Kong) and Muslim Council of Hong Kong.
As of now, there are five Islamic schools in Hong Kong that are registered with the Hong Kong Education Bureau, including Islamic Kasim Tuet Memorial College (secondary school), Islamic Primary School, Islamic Dharwood Pau Memorial Primary School, Islamic Pok Oi Kindergarten and Islamic Abu Bakar Chui Memorial Kindergarten. Apart from these schools, there are many madrasahs across Hong Kong, providing Muslim children with basic Islamic education.
Muslims in Hong Kong practice their religion freely and actively. In addition to religious rituals such as prayers, congregations, festival celebrations and so on, there are also growing efforts in introducing Islam to the general public through academic and cultural events. The Centre for the Study of Islamic Culture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong has held many conferences, lectures and activities. Kowloon mosque organizes Masjid Open Day events annually and also offers introductory courses for non-Muslims. Islamic Cultural Association (Hong Kong) has published and circulated a variety of books, aiming at raising awareness of Islam. Although there is much more that can be done, Hong Kong Muslims are working diligently to establish their presence and foster mutual learning and communication.
Plenty of academic research and media coverage has shown that there are two major problems challenging the Muslims in Hong Kong, namely obstacles in education and difficulties in social integration. Hong Kong’s current education system still lacks support for the Chinese learning of non-Chinese ethnic minorities. As a result, many non-Chinese Muslim students have limited choices of schools as well as career options. The government has realized this problem and has been working towards improving its policies regarding teaching Chinese as a second language. Difficulties in social integration refer to the fact that the Hong Kong public is significantly less aware of Islam as a world major religion than they are of other world major religions such as Christianity and Buddhism, which renders Muslims, especially non-Chinese Muslims, perceived “strangers” or “outsiders”. Implicitly discriminative perceptions and attitudes towards South Asians, which compose a large percentage of the Muslim population in Hong Kong, do evidently exist and do perpetuate negative experiences. Insufficient representation of Muslims in education and public discourse as well as infrequent interaction between the local Muslims and non-Muslims made it hard for Hong Kong Muslims to be recognized as local. In the latest revised history curriculum (secondary 1–3) in the personal, social and humanities education key learning area published by the Education Bureau, it is mentioned that “in order to broaden students’ global perspectives and enhance their understanding of other major cultures in the world, new topics such as the civilisation and historical development of other regions including the rise of Islamic civilisation…have been added to the revised curriculum”, showing that the government is making efforts to increase awareness and thereby facilitate the social integration of Muslims in Hong Kong. The process of improving educatedness, enhancing upward social mobility and therefore elevating socioeconomic status will take time, but the current trend is encouraging and gives good reason to believe that Muslims in Hong Kong will become more visible in Hong Kong society and play increasingly important roles.
As Islam continues growing globally in terms of number of followers as well as relevance and importance in international affairs, Hong Kong Muslims will also bear increasing responsibilities of representing the tremendously rich and impactful Islamic tradition in this vibrant and diverse society. There are great opportunities to seize, great projects to embark on, and a great future to look forward to.