Praying for peace

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2001, 12:00am

A WAR against terrorism led by the United States and the United Kingdom has begun.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the September 11 terrorist attacks were not only against the US, but 'people of all faiths and people of none'. He reiterated that it was not a war against Islam.

But just how much do we here in Hong Kong know about the Islamic faith?

Some of you maybe surprised to learn that there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.

Unfortunately, since the terrorist attacks, which claimed at least 5,500 lives, many ordinary citizens in the US and elsewhere have been the victims of an anti-Muslim backlash. Small groups of vengeful people have been blamed for the violent incidents involving Muslims.

As a result, non-Muslims have been urged to learn more about the religion to eliminate misconceptions about it.

'Some misinformed Chinese in Hong Kong may make assumptions about where someone is from,' a spokesman for the Islamic Union of Hong Kong (IUHK) explained.

But how can we tell someone's religious inclinations?

'The tell-tale sign of a Muslim is that they pray five times a day and they flock to the mosque at certain times: at sunrise, 1.15 pm, 4 pm, sunset and around 8 to 9 pm,' the spokesman added.

'These are the times when Muslims pray as a group with a leader, but it's not disallowed to pray individually. You can pray alone.'

Muslims observe rules set out in the Koran, Islam's holy book, as the law.

Other traditions of the religion include rules about what a person can wear when praying.

'In Iran they cover everything, even the eyes sometimes. Chinese Muslims are less strict. Women must wear a hijab - a kind of head garment which covers the nose and mouth - when they pray, but in Pakistan it [goes] up to the forehead,' the spokesman said.

The rules are to protect women's modesty and dignity - not to make them appear inferior.

So what about men?

'Men must cover their heads when they enter a mosque, even if it's only with a handkerchief and they cannot wear any images on their clothes,' he said.

The Oi Kwan Road mosque (Masjid Ammar Mosque in Arabic) in Wan Chai is open to Muslims of every nationality. The IUHK includes Australians, Nigerians, Americans, Italians and French among its members. It maybe a surprise to learn Arab Muslims represent only 20 per cent of the world's Islamic population.

The mosque has long welcomed anybody who is curious about the traditions and nature of Islam. Groups or people who would like to witness prayers there or tour the mosque can do so by arranging a visit with its public relations department.

IUHK welcomes visits from all schools.