With ISIS's terrorist attack in Paris and the inappropriate comments by Donald Trump, I feel there is an urgent need for people around the world to understand Muslims and Islamism. People in Hong Kong generally have two ways to get to know Muslims in person. One, there is a growing number of Indonesian maids in Hong Kong. Second, there are noodle restaurants in Southern China run by Muslims (Hui or Uyghur) whose complexion is significantly different from Han Chinese. I have been trying to understand them more in person, firstly through my family's and my relations' Indonesian maids; as well as through personal communications with Halah restaurant operators in Southern China . Besides the practice of Sufism is an internal discipline that I have an interested in and actually wrote about in this blog, the study of which also leads me to seek further understanding of Islamism.
Indonesia being a secular society allows their Muslims to have a wider choice of actions or behavior. One example is that an elder sister of my Indonesian maid was a Muslim who later became a Christian after she married an Indonesian-Chinese Christian. Her family and village members (maids usually come from poorer rural areas) have accepted such change of religious belief. Indonesian maids in Hong Kong enjoy lots of personal freedom and material goods that they cannot get in their home village. Some behaviors local Hong Kongers frowned upon while most are welcomed. The latter include their participation in group mind-body exercises, one I previously mentioned is Zhan zhaung chi-kung and the other is Yoga (see photo). Every Sunday in Central there are free open classes for the maids run by volunteers (Chinese and Caucasians), from morning till early evening, and a student can join any time. In the park, sometimes we can even see instructors teaching them martial arts - actually wearing karate gi. Most of them are hardworking domestic helpers during weekdays (they are in particular in high demand for taking care of elderly people) and fun-loving ladies on Sundays. And when they talk about religion, they are very serious and know quite a bit. Though some of them also carry elements of their local superstitious beliefs (carried down from Indonesian's folk religion), in general they have far less into idol worship then most Chinese. In short, they are more religiously minded than an average Hong Kong Chinese (be the latter Christian, Buddhist or whatever). Religion forming part of their personality.
Communication with Muslims in China is more difficult. Chinese in Mainland China do not seem to be interested in understanding Muslim culture. In a city in Southern China, we can see Muslims (recognizable by their different complexion) operating noodle shops serving halal food or as hawkers on bicycle selling Xijiang (Uyghur) snacks such as dried grapes. Mainland Chinese just eat in their restaurant and buy their snacks without reaching out the the minority. On the other hand, Muslims also do not take the initiative to communicate with Han-Chinese. I tried to reach out with minor success. And I came to the understanding that Muslims usually prefer to send their kids back to their home town for education, with the objective of keeping their special culture.
A lot needs to be done to promote cultural exchange. And a lot needs to be done AFTER a better understanding.