Before the Island of Hong Kong was ceded to Britain by the Viceroy at Canton (Guangzhou) in January 1841, Hong Kong was a tiny part of San On District of Kwan Tung Province. At that time the population of the Island was only about five thousand (as compared with 7.5 million today) consisting mostly of farmers and their families living in the valleys, and fishermen living on boats along the sheltered coast.
The first British ships to sail into the Chinese waters were those of East India Company (where most of the crew were recruited) from Calcutta in India for trading between the various posts from India to Japan. The East India Company’s trade with China reached its peak in the early 19th century and seamen were then mostly signed on from Bombay and Calcutta by the British first opium clipper which was then a wooden boat known as “Red River,” built by Jardine & Matheson in Calcutta in 1829. Since then it had opened the gate for the early Muslims settling down in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong means “Fragrant Harbour” and the early seamen mostly came from the shores of Malabar (India), Bay of Bengal, Campbellpur (Attock), Hazara (Abbottabad), Lahore, and Gujarat. Besides those others came from Shanghai, Aden (Yemen), Java, Sumatra, Malacca, Malaya (now Malaysia), Sarawak, South-Sea Borneo, Brunei, Port Said (Egypt), Turkey, Zanzibar (Tanzania).
With Hong Kong beginning to develop into an important seaport for the British, more and more seamen and garrisons were passing through and some settled here, like Chinese Turkestan, Burmese, Ceylonese, Indo-Chinese, white Russians from both Russia and Harbin, Moros from the South Philippines and Arabs etc.
During the early 19th century many Muslim seamen had no proper accommodation or dormitory but somehow or other they managed to stay well-knitted together in an area known as Lower Lascar Row – in the Central area, better known to the Hong Kong old timers as “Moro Kai” (streets of the people of the Moros). The Muslim seamen held their first Jamat (gathering) in an open street at Lower Lascar Row, and continued to do so for a time. In those days the non-Muslims never dared to pass through that street after marketing for fear of hurting the Muslims’ feeling when they held pork and walked along while the Muslims were having their “Salat.” Years later with hundreds of the Muslims and their families having vacated their shops and residences for elsewhere in Hong Kong, their shops were taken over by Chinese traders selling Curios, Old Scrolls and Relics and these streets of Lower Lascar Row are now better known to many tourists as the “Cat Street.”
With Hong Kong already well established under Britannia more and more Muslims were heading this way from India (principally Punjabis) filling most of the post as Hong Kong Police Constables, Marine Guards, Prison Guards, Dockyard Guards, Watchmen, Bank Clerks, Royal Naval Dockyard Police, Ferry Supervisors, Post Office Mail Launch Guards, Sanitary Foremen and Government Servants. The diamond traders from South India especially Muslims also came in big numbers.
Today there are more than 300,000 Muslims in Hong Kong, of whom about 30,000 are Chinese, 30,000 are from Pakistan and 150,000 are Indonesians. The others are mostly non-Chinese born in Hong Kong. There are also Muslims from India, Malaysia and Middle Eastern and African countries.