When Saeed Uddin, the chairman of the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community, came to Hong Kong from Pakistan 37 years ago he threw himself into the textile trade.
He had the credentials, having studied commerce at the University of Sindh and spent his time between Hyderabad and Karachi, working for the family textile business.
“Hong Kong was one of the biggest importers of Pakistani cotton yarn, so I started a business here in textiles,” he says. “Our company had a great role in introducing Pakistani cotton to Hong Kong from 1981 to 1992. When I came to Hong Kong there were 28 textile mills. They gradually disappeared when land became too expensive.”
But his time wasn’t just spent on the family business.
Saeed has spent years serving the community, specifically ethnic minorities, both with the Trustees and also doing a stint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).
As part of his role with the Trustees, Saeed oversees the administration of the five mosques in Hong Kong and two Muslim cemeteries.
The father of five – “two sons are based here, two are in Pakistan and my daughter is married in Karachi” – says it is important to gently push Pakistani parents and other ethnic minorities into ensuring that their children grow up speaking, reading and writing Chinese.
“Hong Kong Muslims often used to work here without their families,” he says. “Now the population is growing very fast. They must learn Putonghua and Cantonese, and we push them to get their children to do so as well. We tell them they must put their children into Chinese-medium schools. We want our children to merge into society. With the help of other NGOs we hold classes for children to learn Chinese.”
“The Trust employs the imams and the cemetery staff, and also announce the Muslim festivals such as Ramadan and Eid,” says Saeed. “Then we have five madrassas. Schools here don’t teach religion, so children go to school during the day and in the evenings they learn the Koran in Arabic. Every year we have 20 to 40 students who finish studying the Korean. Five to 10 of them are able to memorise it completely.”
Saeed was a member of the EOC for six years from 2005. “The EOC is doing a lot of good things for Hong Kong, in terms of working to eliminate discrimination and I appreciate its good work,” he says.
Along with ethnic minority children often not being exposed to Chinese, Pakistanis, among others, sometimes also find it difficult to get into certain jobs.
Before the handover many served as police or auxiliary police officers, but recruitment stopped after 1997.
“So we are telling the government that those who can write and read or speak Chinese should be given an equal chance to compete,” Saeed says.
“We do have a few judges, and I think sport is a big thing. We produce a lot of hockey and cricket players who represent Hong Kong.”
Saeed also represented his school, college and university at cricket.
“I’m a bit of an all-rounder,” he says, “bowling and batting.”