CAIRO - Falling victims to islamophobic sentiments in the West and neighboring countries, Muslims are finding a peaceful refuge in Hong Kong to practice their religion freely.
"I'm very happy to be able to freely practice my religion," Ali Diallo, a businessman and president of African Community Hong Kong, told South China Morning Post on Sunday, September 23.
I've never heard anyone say they were discriminated against.
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Studying economics in Britain, Diallo relocated from Guinea in West Africa to Hong Kong where he became president of the organization that promotes unity and understanding between the African community and locals.
"Apart from Africa, I've felt most free in Britain until recent times, when all these problems started coming up," he said.
"Now I would say I prefer Hong Kong because I've never experienced any aggression or any hostility because I am Muslim."
Many Muslims feel the same in Hong Kong.
Kashif Akhtar has never faced discrimination or Islamophobic attacks in Hong Kong.
"As a Muslim, I'm lucky I have not faced anything like anti-Muslim discrimination," said Akhtar, who moved to Hong Kong from Pakistan 15 years ago.
Moving to Hong Kong with his wife and 14-year-old daughter, Akhtar has found success in the island.
He successfully worked as an information technology expert and now is working in sales for a halal restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Nobody picks on you or targets you or sees you differently, he said.
Sometimes maybe somebody will look at you if you're dressed differently or your appearance is different, but from a religious point of view, I don't have any problems here.
Estimates put the number of Muslims in Hong Kong between 200,000 and 250,000.
About 100,000 are from Indonesia and work as domestic helpers. The rest come from all over the world, including large populations from Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Africa.
Only 20,000 or so are Hong Kong citizens.
However, the lack of Islamic facilities as schools and mosques disrupts Muslims' joy in Hong Kong.
"My dream is to have an Islamic school here," said Ishaque Sarker, a Bangladeshi who has lived in the island for 22 years and has a wife and seven-year-old daughter.
Like many fellow Muslims, Sarker is concerned about his daughter's education as she gets older.
Akhtar, the Pakistani Muslim, also complains about the lack of proper Islamic education.
Though his daughter studies at a Christian school that accommodates her faith, Ashktar is worried about a lack of Islamic higher education in the city.
We may go to Malaysia or Indonesia, or maybe even Singapore," he said.
There is more Islamic culture in those places than in Hong Kong.
Lack of schools is not the only problem facing the growing Muslim community in Hong Kong.
Mosques are a larger problem as the island has only five official mosques: the largest, Kowloon Mosque, and four on Hong Kong island.
There are also many smaller prayer halls, Islamic meeting places and informal Islamic schools throughout the city.
Sarker, for example, attends a small private mosque in Yau Ma Tei that is overflowing with people.
On Fridays, more than 300 people attend prayers, and they are often forced to pray in the guest house next door.
Though the mosque offers prayer room for women, overcrowding means there is no room for women to pray.
Sarker has been petitioning the government for a new space.
"I want them to know that having only one Kowloon [-type] mosque is not enough," he said.
Mainland China has now 20 million Muslims, about half of them being from the Hui ethnic group.Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China up to 7.5 percent of the population.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net