Adnan Nasim and Nausheen Gull talk about the Charlie Hebdo attack over breakfast and dinner at their home in Macau. “What kind of Islam is this? It’s not the one we follow,” Nasim noted.
Over tea and traditional delicacies, the Pakistani family discusses the attack that killed 12 staff of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. 17-year-old Ali, the couple’s son, said simply, “All we can do is reject those radical ideas.”
Adnan Nasim – who moved to Macau 28 years ago to pursue university studies and now works for the University of Macau – believes that there’s a need to discuss and further clarify this issue.
“We talk immensely about this at home. I have a son; it’s my responsibility to teach him that this is not the proper way to react,” he stressed.
Every time one kills or causes damage in the name of Islam, Nausheen Gull, who’s a teacher, says she feels frustrated because “this is a religion of peace.”
“We feel sad because we think this is a wrong interpretation of our religion,” she said. Nausheen gives an example: the use of the word ‘jihad,’ which is now being linked to armed struggle and terrorist groups.
“When we leave home every day to go to work and be able to educate our children, that’s the ‘jihad,’” Nausheen said. “It’s a ‘jihad’ to be a good person,” Ali clarified.
Nasim added: “There are two types of ‘jihad’. The main meaning conveys this message of being a good person above all; another meaning is related to fighting for the good of society. But I do not see how this is good for society.”
He collects several versions of The Qur’an published in different countries. As the holy book of Islam has been used according to different interpretations, he prefers that their children read the book directly instead of hearing experts talk about the ‘jihad.’
Nasim acknowledges that nowadays Muslims feel offended easily, but he understands why. “For me it’s easy not to be offended. But we need to recall that there were 300 attacks in France against mosques or other Muslim places. These people had nothing to do with those attacks,” he stressed.
When it comes to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, which have portrayed Prophet Muhammad several times, Nasim does not place much importance on it. “Writing the name of the Prophet does not mean it’s the Prophet himself. It’s just a drawing. If I were in France I would simply ignore it. But there are people who take this very seriously, and for them it’s a form of humiliation,” he reiterated.
“I love freedom of expression, not least because Muslims would not be able to live in Europe without it,” he continued.
Nausheen holds a different opinion and argues that it should be limited. “I teach children the importance of respecting the beliefs of others. We try not to say things that might be offensive to others and I think Muslims deserve that same kind of respect.”
She clarified that it’s not a matter of restricting the law but a matter of civility. “The Prophet never spoke of violence. I still condemn the attack but if I saw that cartoon in Macau, I would try to explain to the person who drew it that for me it is offensive,” she stated.
Nausheen and Nasim findMacau quite an open place, where they are able to practice their religion without any criticism or obstacles being raised, as has happened lately in other countries.
They follow the religion’s main precepts, such as praying five times a day; not eating pork; not drinking alcohol; eating only ‘halal’ (the Muslim way of cutting) meat. They skip the noon prayer while they’re working but try to compensate once they get home. The couple says they do not face any hurdles daily and feel welcomed here.
“People are nice and curious. If we go out for dinner with friends, everyone eats soup, which always has meat. They think it’s strange we don’t eat it, but they understand. Macau is a good place to be a Muslim,” said Nasim.
“We feel blessed. There’s a lot happening in our country, so when we go there we feel scared, we feel uncomfortable because we never know where the bullets may come from. We feel relieved when we return to Macau,” he remarked.
They believe that the solution to the mutual mistrust between Muslims and other communities lies in communication. “We need to open up our praying spaces; we need to educate people [about our religion]. And we need to guarantee that our children follow the type of Islam that does not hurt people,” he reiterated.
Ali, who goes to the Macau Anglican College, shares a similar opinion: “Muslims need to open up to other people. If they see we are normal people they will know it’s a matter of [how] people [think] and not a matter of a religion.” MDT/Lusa
A growing local Muslim community
Islamic associations in Macau and Hong Kong believe that there’s a growing Muslim community in the region – mainly due to an increase in the number of migrant workers coming from Indonesia. There are currently 10,000 Muslims living in Macau.
“It’s increasing. There are more and more people going to the mosque on Friday,” said imam Uthman Yang, who is part of the Islamic Union of Hong Kong but comes to Macau often to conduct religious rituals.
The city’s mosque has been leaderless for one and a half years since the previous imam died.
The Islamic Association of Macau was created in 1980 but now finds challenges in getting funding, and survives thanks to the support of the Islamic Union of Hong Kong, which provides them with HKD200,000 annually for the maintenance of the mosque.
“We are two different organizations but we are grateful to Macau and so we are contributing,” said Rahmatullah Mohamed Omar, secretary-general of the Islamic Union of Hong Kong. In the neighboring SAR there are about 300,000 Muslims.
Throughout the Second World War, many Muslims moved to Macau as Portugal remained neutral during the conflict. Omar was one of them: “I lived in Macau for four years as we requested asylum here. I was very young, [about] two or three years old.”
“We were very well treated and we are so grateful. Thus, we now try to help Muslims here in Macau as much as we can,” he added.
The two associations are hoping to generate more funds, not only through a canteen they’re thinking of opening at the new Islamic Center – which is still awaiting approval from respective authorities – but also through certifying ‘halal’ restaurants. ‘Halal’ means the food is prepared under Islamic traditions, which also implies that animals should be killed according to the religion’s rules.
Macau currently has five certified restaurants, two being Chinese and three Indian. “There’s a growing number of Muslims visiting Macau and they look for ‘halal’, so there’s a growing number of restaurants asking for information on certification,” said Ali Mahomed, spokesperson of the Islamic Association of Macau.