With donations “coming in” daily, according to United Muslim Association of Hong Kong honorary treasurer Nadia Castro, the group is trying to jump-start the effort.
“We are slowly but surely accumulating the amount we need,” she said.
The association sought to collect HK$10 million (US$1.27 million) within this year, the figure needed to initiate construction in Sheung Shui, in the New Territories, where the local Muslim population has been growing and no mosque exists.
“With the influx of migrants and more Muslims in Hong Kong, it is really necessary to have a place of gathering not only for religious reasons but also for social reasons,” Castro said. “We are a service-orientated organization. We have schools, elderly homes … services that the Muslim community in Hong Kong has long been involved in. This is why this project is important. It’s not only a mosque but also a social center.”
There are an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 Muslims in the city. Many hail from countries such as Pakistan, India and Malaysia, with domestic workers from Indonesia representing a large portion. Ethnic Chinese Muslims are believed to account for about 40,000.
Hong Kong currently has five permanent mosques and a temporary one, along with dozens of madrassas – Islamic learning centers – spread across the city. The lack of proper spaces has led many Muslims to pray in makeshift mosques.
The idea of the Sheung Shui project emerged in the 1990s. The association in 2006 bought a plot of land from the government for HK$9.8 million (US$1.24 million), and was expected to complete the project by 2011.
However, the mosque ended up never getting off the ground due to a lack of funding and struggles within the association. Meanwhile, local officials have imposed high fines on the group for not building the project within the agreed time.
Saudi Arabia in 2009 pledged to finance its construction. But about two years ago, the country claimed it could not support the project after a fall in global oil prices.
“We received a letter in 2016 saying they were having economic difficulties,” Castro recalled. “We tried to negotiate with them, but we have not heard from them ever since.”
Left with no funding, the association launched a new campaign earlier this year to raise money for construction. It is also redesigning the ambitious 2,046 sq m project to try to reduce costs and adapt to local needs.
Castro said the new design would ideally integrate a youth program in the already planned elderly center, adjacent to the mosque, in the hope of getting ethnic minorities trained to serve the city’s fast-growing ageing population.
“Instead of importing people that may or may not be qualified, why not train our youth?” she asked. “We have a number of ethnic minorities here looking for skills training and this is an area that is quite needed in Hong Kong.”
Castro said the association was negotiating with other local institutions how to develop a youth training program focused on elderly care.
The final cost of the project, including a mosque and an adjacent home for the elderly with 200 beds, had been estimated at HK$360 million (US$45.8 million). But that figure is now being re-evaluated.
The association is organizing a fundraising dinner on May 11 at the community hall of the Wan Chai Mosque.
Source: The South China Morning Post