An Islamic Oasis

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Hong Kong is not normally considered to be much of a Muslim city, and by most measures, it isn’t. Its 100,000 Muslims — a hugely diverse group that includes people of Middle Eastern, African, South Asian, Malay, Indonesian and Chinese descent — make up less than two percent of the city’s total population. By comparison, Muslims account for about 4 percent of the population in Montreal and just over 5 percent in Toronto; the proportion in many European cities is far higher.

Unlike those places, though, Islamic presence in Hong Kong goes back as long as its history as a territory. As a result, mosques occupy some unexpectedly prominent positions in Hong Kong. One of these is the Kowloon Mosque, one of the most recognizable landmarks of Tsim Sha Tsui. Another is the Jamia Mosque, which was first built in the 1840s and rebuilt in 1905, making it the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. Although the mosque itself is small, it occupies a fairly sizable chunk of land in the otherwise tightly-packed confines of the Central Mid-Levels. Filled with greenery, the mosque grounds are an oasis of sort, but they are often devoid of people, which makes them feel like a bit of a secret. If the harried pace of Central ever gets to you, I can’t think of a better place to unwind.

But relaxation is only one reason to visit the Jamia Mosque. Within its walls is a strange collection of buildings, terraces and gardens, including what appears to be an old apartment building, a small row of houses and, most oddly, a bungalow with a giant satellite dish. The last time I was there, laundry, strung over a vegetable garden, billowed outside in the wind, a scene that could have been from some country farm if not for the towering apartment buildings all around.

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This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday May 26 2008at 09:05 pm , filed under Architecture, Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Public Space and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

3 Responses to “An Islamic Oasis”

  • C. Szabla says:

    What were the origins of this place? I’m especially curious about the Ottoman sultan’s tughra near the entrance.

  • The mosque was originally built for Indian Muslim servicemen in the British military, who settled nearby when Hong Kong was colonized in the 1840s. It was rebuilt in 1915 with financing from a Bombay merchant. I can’t explain the tughra. I’ll have to ask someone about it.

    Incidentally, since beginning work on the documentary I’m shooting about the mosque, I’ve learned that about 100 squatters live around the mosque. During the Japanese occupation of World War II, the mosque gave shelter to a number of families and they never left. The families there now are mostly Chinese and Pakistani (with one Filipino), all of them Muslim.

  • Xia says:

    It’s a great story about Jamia Mosque. Moreover, Leila Karchoud was my long time, good friend while we attended a university in Beijing. We have lost contact with each other ever since I moved away. I can’t believe I found her on your documentary movie!! May I ask you a huge favor to pass my contact information to her, to let her know that I wish to get in touch with her? I now live in Washington DC, US.

    Many thanks!

    Xia