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Starving of religion in Taiwan not exactly the pious pathway
Publication Date : 15-08-2013
Two women strolled into view. One, with her pale, wrinkled skin draped loosely over her skeletal frame, sat in a wheelchair, while the darker-skinned one pushed on methodically, occasionally dipping her head to gaze into the liver-spotted face. A sight commonly seen in Taiwan's mornings and afternoons, the duo depicted Taiwan's obvious reliance on limbs it has “rented” from hotter climates.
Foreign workers have gradually filled the crevices of the blue-collar job market the Taiwanese have learned to turn up their noses at after 1989, when the government opened the nation's doors to foreign labourers to prove that its “14 Infrastructure Plan” was not a mere boast on paper. Some three years later, the labourers were allowed to be employed in a wider variety of industries, and have since become second daughters to our old, second mothers to our young, the foundation rocks of possibly the very building you live in.
Ramadan comes in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The monthlong observance of fasting from dawn to dusk is considered one of the five pillars of the religion. It is still, however, a month that many had chose to kept mum about in Taiwan. When swarms of Muslim labourers gathered in the main hall of Taipei Railway Station to celebrate the end of Ramadan last week, they were pronounced “an eyesore” and potential troublemakers by a local prosecutor. The sad truth of their silence is reflected in a collective sigh; they knew many of us would not understand.
Roughly 30,000 Indonesian workers declared the station their temporary resting grounds on August 11, the first weekend after the end of Ramadan. It was a well-deserved holiday that soothed many who are starved of religious practices in the homes of their employers. Passers-by were shocked at the number of people conversing rapidly in a strange tongue and bunched together in Taipei's main transportation hub. Some took the side of prosecutor Huang Chao-gui, saying that there will be riots and disturbances if the government does not put a stop to this, ultimately damaging Taipei's image.
Is this not discrimination?
Unused to people sprawled over open and common spaces, the worries heard from passing locals are understandable, but the accusing tones are not entirely excusable. There are over 460,000 blue-collar labourers who crossed the bounding billows to feed their families, many of whom are denied their religion and their holidays and face the difficulties of the simplest things they cannot help: being born with darker skin. And among the vast number of “darkies”, unfeelingly nicknamed by many Taiwanese, a whopping 200,000 are Islamic Indonesians.
Muslims are well known for their love of the one Allah, for staunchly keeping their five “salah” prayers each day and their indefatigable measure of faith by fasting, sunup to sundown, for a month. They discovered quickly that their religion was curbed by a lack of mosques and understanding for a religion that many Taiwanese are less familiar with. Rants about tiny wages and long work hours are often heard from foreign blue-collar workers, but many dared not speak out against being stripped of their rights to worship or how employers had tried to stamp out the Islamic practices in their employees.
Upon any arrival to a strange land, people gravitate toward the shreds of familiarity that can keep them in one piece: religion and fellow foreigners. Despite how Taiwan prides itself on its strides in the process of globalisation, the toothy grins and receptive attitude are biased: we welcome those from more familiar cultures, provide venues for their celebrations and often join in their festivities. Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween; all merged into the Taiwanese calendar.
A bridge away in Zhonghe, New Taipei City, Thai workers are able to enjoy the annual Songkran Festival held by the district office each year, a sloppily wet festival in which people slosh water over each other, scouring away the sins of the past year. Zhonghe isn't exactly the centre of the capital, but understands enough to repay their help in grateful doses of indulgence.
The bare fact is that shortage of resources and locations open to Islamic celebrations in Taipei, or Taiwan, forced the workers to find their own location to meet and make merry. Had the government acted more considerately toward the nation's helping hands, it could have taken Taiwan's globalisation to another level, allowing each foreign community its own niche in displaying its proud religion. To be fair, efforts have been made to open up certain spaces — such as Daan park — for Muslims enjoying the end of Ramadan festivities. This is still, however, too limited.
Before your house help hurries back to serve bed-ridden Amah, a right — and a place — to relax and to celebrate honest work and piousness should be in check.