Celebrating the first day of Ramadan - a month of fasting for Muslims worldwide, Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) student Wang Yunan on Monday revealed his frustrations in living in one of Asia’s most diverse campuses.
In a letter addressed to CUHK’s Vice-Chancellor Joseph Sung, Wang appealed to the university to build a Muslim canteen that offers halal food - food prepared and cooked under Islamic dietary guidelines.
“I know the Muslim community is small,” Wang wrote in the letter. “But CUHK is known for its diversity and respect for minorities, and I believe the university can do better.”
Growing up a “pious” Muslim in Beijing, Wang has spent the past year pursuing a graduate degree in intercultural studies at CUHK. With no Muslim cafes available on campus and the nearest halal food eatery 30 minutes’ train ride away, Wang said he had stuck to a daily diet of chicken and vegetables in the past year.
Wang said he was not particularly proud of his diet because it was not strictly halal. Besides pork, Muslims are prohibited from eating animals that are "dead prior to slaughtering", or "not slaughtered in the name of Allah", according to the Koran.
The fact that Hong Kong University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University all have Muslim canteens or halal food sections also encouraged Wang to press his alma mater to upgrade its facilities.
Wang even carried out a survey to collect opinions from students and staff regarding a Muslim canteen. When a university cafeteria manager told him it would take approximately 10 years for CUHK to approve such a plan, Wang was shocked.
“Just imagine how many Muslim students, teachers and visiting scholars will be disappointed during this 10 years when they come to CUHK, ” he wrote in the letter.
“Muslims students at CUHK would appreciate some halal options on campus," said Chinese University anthropology lecturer Paul O'Connor and author of the book Islam in Hong Kong. "It would reflect the university's dynamic international nature, its open and inclusive ethos, and its ecumenical spirit.”
O'Connor said students had told him of their difficulty in finding halal food on campus. "Often students will choose to eat vegetarian food in order to maintain a halal diet," he said.
More than a quarter of a million Muslims live and work in Hong Kong, according to findings by O'Connor. While many come from families who have lived here for generations, others are new immigrants and migrant workers.
CUHK’s Joseph Sung didn’t respond to the South China Morning Post’s request for an interview on Tuesday.