A recent scandal in which a Taiwanese employer forced Muslim workers to eat pork exposed a lack of knowledge of Islam in Taiwan and could harm Taiwan's international image, representatives from the Middle East said in Taipei Saturday.
While most of them accepted that it was an individual case, the diplomats urged the government to take notice of the severity of the incident, which has drawn international criticism and a protest by labor activists and migrant workers May 16 to demand respect for religious freedom.
"It shows that the Middle East is misunderstood here. And it is an opportunity for Taiwan to learn more about Muslim culture, " said Sulaiwan Al-Mughairy, Director of the Commercial Office of the Sultanate of Oman-Taiwan, on the sidelines of a Middle Eastern Culture Exhibition organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and representative offices of various Middle Eastern countries.
He said he had learned of many cases in which Muslims are prohibited from praying five times a day and observing Ramadan -- the Islamic month of fasting -- and that such employers should be punished severely.
Muzaffer Eroktem, representative of the Turkish Trade Office, said the incident was an individual case but emphasized that all religions should be respected.
Taiwan has good reasons to know more about the Middle East, as there are 60,000 Muslims in Taiwan and bilateral trade between Taiwan and the region in the first half of the 2009 reached US$27.1 billion, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Javier Hou said, adding that 83 percent of Taiwan's oil imports come from the region.
Hou admitted that Taiwan's understanding of the Middle East is limited, which is why the cultural exhibition will also be held in the central city of Changhua May 29-30 and in Pingtung City, southern Taiwan, June 5-6.
Representatives from Jordan and Saudi Arabia also attended the exhibition, which showcased food, artifacts, paintings, clothing and travel information relating to the Middle East.
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