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Uighur Muslim outside
a mosque in Kashgar
Islam reached China in the mid-seventh century through Arab and Persian merchants. The religion has a large following among ten of China’s minorities: Hui, Uyghur, Kazak, Tatar, Kirghiz, Tajik, Ozbek, Dongxiang, Salar, and Baoan. Most are Uyghurs or Huis. They live mostly in Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, Yunnan, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Hubei, Shandong, Liaoning, Beijing, and Tianjin.

Islam is one of the officially sanctioned religions. Community-funded mosques, prayer rugs and even a few veiled women can been seen in the barren deserts and stony mountains of western China; the Silk Road cities such as Turfan, Kashgar and Khotan; and villages and towns in Ningxia Province and parts of Gansu Province and Inner Mongolia..

Ninety-nine percent of the Muslims in China are Sunnis. The other 1 percent are Shiites. Many ordinary Chinese regard Islam as backward and oppressive. Muslim groups in China have traditionally not been very religious. Islam for them has been more of cultural badge than an ideology to live by. Although many Chinese Muslims don’t eat pork many drink alcohol and neglect their daily prayer duties. In some places in western China, Muslim women wear veils, not for religious reason, but to keep out the dust.


Good Websites and Sources on Religion in China: Chinese Government White Paper on Religion ; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; Articles on Religion in China ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Council of Foreign Relations ; Brooklyn College ; Religion Facts; Religious Tolerance ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ; Academic Info ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies Christianity in China Christianity in China Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; History of Christianity in China Ricci Roundtable

Muslim Numbers and Minorities in China

Muslims are the largest identifiable religious group in the country. About a third of them live in Xinjiang. They are found in small communities all over China but only in large numbers in the extreme west and northwest---the eastern extreme of the Muslim world. There are around 30,000 mosques in China, with 23,000 of them in Xinjiang. The Great Mosque of Xian is one of the of the oldest and biggest in China. It is used by the 60,000 Muslims in Xian. There are more Muslims in China than in Saudi Arabia and most Muslim countries.

According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 21 million Muslims in the country; unofficial estimates range as high as 50 million. Hui Muslims are concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces. Uyghur Muslims live primarily in Xinjiang. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, ]

According to the report on Mapping on the Global Muslim Population conducted by Pew Research Center (2009), there are 22 million Muslims in China. A report on International Religious Freedom conducted by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2006) said "there were 20 million Muslims, more than 40,000 Islamic places of worship (more than half of which are in Xinjiang), and more than 45,000 imams nationwide." The same report also said that about half of the Muslims in China belong to the Hui minority. [Source: Ali Osman Ozkan, Fountain magazine, April 2014 <^>]

The ten Muslim minorities of China are categorized by their ethnicity. Six of the nine Muslim minorities—the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tatars and Tajiks—live predominantly live in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. They all speak Turkic languages, except the Tajiks who speak a Persian-based language. The Huis are found throughout China. The remaining three Muslim minorities— the Salars, the Boa'an, and the Dongxiang, live in different regions. The Salars are another Turkic speaking Muslim minority in China that live in a region that borders the Gansu and Qinghai provinces. The Salars trace their ancestry back to people who migrated from the Samarkand region during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Boa'an live in the southwest of the Gansu province, while the Dongxiang live in the western-edge of Gansu province. Both trace their ancestors back to the Asian troops sent out during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The Boa'an and Dongxiang languages also originate from the Mongolian language family, even though they are different from each other.

Islam in China in the 2010s

Early History of Islam in China

Islam was introduced to western China by missionaries traveling on the Silk Road and to the ports of Canton and Hangzhou by mariners traveling on trade routes around India and Southeast Asia. The first Muslim missionary to arrive in China purportedly was an uncle of Mohammed who arrived in Canton in A.D. 627. More likely the first Muslims showed up there sometime in the 8th century. Some Mongol generals during the Yuan dynasty were Moslems. The Great Mosque of Xian was built on A.D. 742.

Islam first appeared in China in the 7th century in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), following the emergence of Islam in Arabia in 610. Arab and Persian traders, soldiers and Sufi saints played a significant role in the transmission of Islam to Asia. Persian and Arab traders first settled in the southeastern coast of China, Canton (Guangzhou,) Xiamen, Quanzhou, Yangzhou, and some of them married local Chinese. They were few in number are were largely ignored by local officials during Tang and Song Dynasties (618-1279). [Source: Ali Osman Ozkan, Fountain magazine, April 2014 <^>]

Islam spread in China during the Yuan Dynasty (1368-1644) because the Mongol rulers forced many Muslims living in Central Asia and Western Asia to migrate to China. The “armies of Genghis Khan and his successors sacked major Islamic centers, including Bukhara and Samarkand, and transported sections of the population-skilled armourers, other craftsmen, and enslaved women and children among them-back to China, where they were settled as servants to Mongol aristocrats" (Dillon, 1996). In addition, the Mongol rulers of China made legal and hierarchical distinctions between the four kinds of people that led the Muslims to have higher status than the Chinese because the Muslims succeeded the Mongols who were at the top level (Gladney, 1996). <^>

Islam had different names at different time in China. In the Tang and Song dynasties, it was called "Dashi Law" and "Dashi religion"; in the Yuan dynasty, it was called "Huis Law" and the "Huis style"; in the Ming dynasty, it was called "Huis denomination" and "Islam"; while in the Qing dynasty, it was called "Arabian religion" and "Islam", and so on. After the founding of Communist China in 1949, the State Council issued orders for it to universally be called Islam. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

At the end of the Ming dynasty and the beginning of the Qing dynasty, Islamic Sufi mysticism was widely spread throughout China. At the end of the Qing dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China, the Yihewani Movement of "respecting scripture and reforming custom" emerged, the Beijing-endorsed Islam was divided into three denominations—Gedimu, Yihewani and Xidaotang— and four official schools— Zhehelinye, Gadelinye, Hufuye and Kubulinye, with more than 40 branches. ~

Later History of Islam in China

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Minaret in Turpan
Possibly millions of people were killed when the Chinese Imperial army cracked down on two Muslim rebellions in China in the 19th century: one in Yunnan from 1855 to 1873 and another in Xinjiang from 1862 to 1873. The revolts were brutally put down and the Chinese used them as an excuse to gain control over territory occupied by the Muslims.

In 1953, the Chinese Islamic Association was established with Burhan Shahidi as its chairman. Many mosques and other buildings associated with Islam were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. With the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, the Chinese government's shift in its attitude towards the practice of religions certainly enabled the revival of religious institutions and the free practice of religions in China. <^>

In the mid-1980s, there were 15,800 religious professionals, about 2,000 of whom were either deputies to the People's Congress or the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at various levels, or worked in the regional or county branches of the Chinese Islamic Association. At that time China boasted a total of 15,500 mosques or prayer centers, or one for almost every Muslim village. [Source: *|*]

Even though they were tormented along with many other groups during the Cultural Revolution, Muslims for the most part have been allowed to practice their religion and culture without interference from the Communist Chinese government. Even so many opportunities have been denied them. Very few Chinese Muslims, for example, have had the chance to go to Mecca. As of the late 1980s, out of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who lived in Inner Mongolia only one had been to Mecca, and he was sent by the government.

Chinese Islamic Beliefs

Many Islamic branches in China have traditionally had links to Sufism. These branches had strong links to their founders and the philosophies and ideas embraced by the founders. Sometimes regarded as saints, these founders were not only spiritual leader, but also political leaders of the followers of the official branches. Followers not only revered these founders while were alive, they were worshiped at grand tombs and shrines built after their death.

Ali Osman Ozkan wrote in Fountain magazine, “Muslims in China believed that Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas, the maternal uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, along with the three companions of the Prophet, were the first Muslims in China. In accordance with this claim, He Qiaoyuan, a seventeenth century Chinese scholar, also stated that "the prophet's four apostles arrived in China to preach during the middle of the reign of Emperor Wude in the Tang Dynasty" (Sen, 2009). At the same time, many Chinese Muslims pay visit to a tomb which is associated with Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas in Canton (Guangzhou). Today there are even some Chinese Muslims who trace back their ancestry to Abi Waqqas. However, contemporary scholars regarded that this chronicle was a legend due to the lack of evidence. Instead, they argued the beginning of Islam in China started with the envoy sent by Caliph Usthman, in the Tang Dynasty, in 651 (Sen, 2009). <^>

“The Han Kitab is a collection of treatises, translations and books constructed by different Chinese Muslim scholars between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. Wang Daiyu, Ma Zhu, and Liu Zhi are the most well-known authors of the Han Kitab. The authors of the Han Kitab took an unprecedented position in the history of Islam in China by using predominantly Neo-Confucian terms in the introduction and description of fundamental Islamic concepts such as prophethood, God, and ritual. The Han Kitab is the very example of the adaptation of Muslims into Chinese culture. For example, the concept of prophethood in Islam, is explained with the Neo-Confucian concept "shengren" which means "a link in the long chain of sages sent by Heaven to communicate the Way through their worldly teaching" (Frankel, 2011, p.88). In short, the authors of the Han Kitab are mainly concerned about making abstract Islamic terms more understandable by using the existing religious terminology in China.” <^>

Chinese Muslim Funerals and Burials

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Hui Prayers Dongguan mosque
Most Chinese Being Muslims, strictly abide by the basic Islamic funeral principles of "burial in the ground", "thrifty and simple burial" and "quick burial". Muslims believes that the a human being is created by the "soil" of the land and thus he should be returned back to the soil when he dies. Burial in the ground after death is to return to one’s birthplace. Chinese Muslim often say "burial in the ground after death is safe" and "burial in soil is like that in gold". They avoid cremation, and do not use inner or outer coffins when burying the dead people in the ground.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

The custom of burial in the ground is very simple: 1) select a place at the cemetery, 2) then dig a pit that is about one meter in width, two meters in length and two to three meters in depth in a south to north direction, 3) and then dig a wing-hole on the western pit wall. 4) When the dead person is buried, the head of the corpse is placed in the north direction. The face is placed in the wing-hole so that it faces west towards Mecca. 5) The entrance of the hole is sealed by adobe bricks and mud, 6) then the pit is filled with soil until a grave mound forms on the surface of the ground. Wood boards, stone boards and iron boards and other non-soil items, baked porcelain articles or other grave goods are strictly forbidden in accordance with Muslim burial rules. Most Muslims also frown on the construction of grand, large-scale tombs, although sometimes exceptions are made for revered Muslim saints, and forbid the building of houses on tombs. ~

Islam advocates a thrifty and simple burial, and holds that the funeral should conform to the principle of simplicity, eliminating unnecessary and overly-elaborate formalities. It is particularly critical of anything that hints of ostentation or extravagance. Behind this is the belief that when a human being is born, he is bare and has nothing, so after death, he should also be buried under the same terms. After the death of a person, only an imam is invited to chant scriptures, while family members or funeral specialists wash the corpse with clean water, dress it in a "kafan" (a white cloth and twine used for wrapping the corpse, for women corpses, a cloth to cover the head is added). A corpse needs no any other clothing. Then the corpse is moved into the "tabu" (a rudimentary coffin-like wooden box for carrying corpse in the mosques), and a simple and short funeral is held. Then the corpse is carried to the graveyard and buried in a prepared tomb. During the time of waiting for and holding a funeral, people are forbidden from crying loudly, making an uproar, sending wreaths and funeral couplets, setting off firecrackers, hammering gongs and beating drums, or using any other musical instruments. It is forbidden to create spirit or ancestor tablets as is the custom of Chinese and put up portrait of the deceased. Making sacrifices or presenting offerings is also not allowed. ~

On the topic of quick burials, the prophet Mohammed said: "you should bury the dead people quickly, if they are happy, they should gain the happiness as early as possible; if they are not lucky, you should let them evade the fire and prison as quickly as possible." Therefore, Islam provides that all Muslims "must be buried within three days after their death" preferably within 24 hours. Islam opposes the custom of waiting for an auspicious lucky day as extravagant and wasteful. Most Muslims try to hold the funeral on the day of the death, not waiting for the next day. Only when the time of death is very late, or some other special situation happens, or close kin of the dead person are far away and cannot return home quickly for the funeral, can the rule be broken to wait for a day. For guiding principal for a quick burial is "the soil in any place can bury people". The dead can be buried anywhere they die. It is not necessary to transport the corpse a long distance to a hometown for a burial. Additionally, it is not necessary to bury the dead together with their ancestors in the hometown as is the custom among Chinese. ~

Simple funeral Muslim practices are observed by the Baoan, Hui, Dongxiang, Salar and other Islamic minorities in China. They believe that a thrifty, simple and quick burial, not only save times and manpower, it also avoids wasting of wealth, and helps prevent the spread of diseases and environmental pollution. ~

Muslim Festivals in China

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Ma Jia Jun Army
Corban is a Muslim festival celebrated in western China 70 Days after Ramadan by Islamic ethnic groups like the Uygurs and Kyrgyz. Also known as the "Livestock Sacrificing Festival," it commemorates the day that Abraham had a dream in which God told him to kill his son as an offering. Just as Abraham was about ready to do this, God intervened and told him to sacrifice a sheep instead.

Muslims begin Corban by washing themselves and visiting their local mosque. Later a sheep is sacrificed by slitting its throat. The animal is then skinned and carved up and eaten. Whatever is left over is given to the poor. The Tajik, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Keerkezi people like to celebrate this holiday with horse racing, sheep snatching and wrestling.

The Kyrgyz enjoy the "girl chasing game," in which a boy and a girl, both on horseback, enter a designated area, where the girl whips her horse and takes off with the boy in pursuit. Whatever jokes the boy makes and however mercilessly he teases her the girl must put up with it. On the way back, however, it is the girl's turn to chase the boy. If she catches him she is allowed to hit him with her whip and he can't hit back. If the girl likes the boy she will just pretend to hit the boy. But if she doesn't like him she can hit the boy as hard as she wants. Many Kyrgyz marriages begin this way.

In the "sheep snatching game" a sheep is placed in a designated area. Men on horseback ride to the area and try to grab the sheep, fighting off one another, and carry the sheep to another specified place. After its over the sheep is cooked into "Eating Happiness Mutton" and consumed.

Fourteen Killed in China Mosque Stampede

In January 2014, Associated Press reported: “A stampede broke out during an event at a mosque in northern China, killing 14 people and injuring 10 others. Worshippers at the Beida Mosque in Guyuan, a city in the Ningxia region, were handing out traditional cakes during an event to commemorate a religious figure afternoon when a rush for food triggered the stampede, Xinhua said. It quoted a witness as saying people trampled over each other.[Source: Associated Press, January 6, 2014]

“This year's event had a record number of participants as it fell over the weekend, Tan Zongzhi, the head of Xiji county's religious affairs bureau, was quoted as saying. A meeting of the Ningxia Communist Party committee blamed poor organization and insufficient management for the stampede, according to Xinhua. Four of the 10 people hospitalized were in critical condition, Xinhua said. Ningxia is the home of China's Muslim Hui ethnic minority.

Women-Only Mosques in China

Cui Jia wrote in the China Daily, “It was still dark at 6:25 am on a late October morning in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province. Carefully gripping the handrail, Ma Guifang, 80, slowly climbed the stairs to the prayer hall on the second floor of Lulan women's mosque for morning prayers, her aching knees protesting at the ascent. or the past 20 years, the elderly lady from the Hui ethnic group has been attending this women-only mosque, a phenomenon unique to China. "I feel so blessed to have a mosque I can visit. Not many female Muslims enjoy such a privilege," she said. [Source: Cui Jia, China Daily, November 20, 2012 /~/]

“Lulan women's mosque was built in 1956 by a group of female Muslims who had relocated to Lanzhou from Henan province in central China. Muslim schools for women enjoy a long history in China, having first been established during the latter half of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). They developed into women-only mosques, presided over by female imams, during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The practice of female imams quickly spread within China's Muslim groups, according to Shui Jingjun, a researcher at the Henan Academy of Social Sciences, who published a book on the history of women's mosques in China in 2002. /~/

“Women's mosques soon began to proliferate in China's central plains, mainly in the provinces of Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Anhui. In the northwestern provinces of Qinghai and Gansu and the Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regions, the public participation of women in ritual and leadership is much more restricted, so there are fewer examples of mosques such as this in those areas, added Shui. For example, Lulan is the only women's mosque in Lanzhou, but there are 19 in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. /~/

“There are no reliable statistics about the total number of women's mosques in China because they are all affiliated with traditional places of worship, according to the China Islamic Association. "Only China has women's mosques, but this is not a common practice among Chinese Muslims," said Jin Rubin, secretary-general of the China Islamic Association. He added that the restrictions on female imams reciting prayers mean that most women-only mosques are regarded as adjuncts of male establishments. "The association neither promotes nor condemns women-only mosques because while some people believe they represent greater equality for women, some still hold to the conservative line of thought," said Jin. "But one thing for sure is that women's mosques can provide them with a better level of education, which Islam greatly encourages." /~/

“The Lulan mosque was reconstructed on the original site in 1998, but now faces relocation. The two-story building, topped with the traditional crescent, is one of the very few old buildings still standing in the area. Many of the old blocks have been torn down to make way for modern apartments and office blocks. Tao Jinling, the imam, believes the women's mosque is a symbol of development. "It also acts as a community center for female Muslims, a place where they can talk about their problems. I hope more people will support women's mosques and I think more should be built," she said, while taking off her imam's gown after prayers.At the moment, Tao's main priority is to negotiate the plan for the mosque's relocation with the developer. "We don't want to move too far from here. We want the people who live nearby to be able to continue to visit us. They are part of the tradition."” /~/

Life, Money and Imam at a Chinese Women-Only Mosque

Cui Jia wrote in the China Daily, “A few minutes after Ma took off her shoes and entered the hall, the prayers began. Although a female imam stood in the hall, the prayers were piped into the room through a loudspeaker wired to a traditional mosque 100 meters away. China's female imams are not equal to male prayer leaders, so they are disbarred from leading the daily prayers that are considered some of the most important daily obligations for followers of the faith. The entrance to the women's mosque is hidden away in a small alley. [Source: Cui Jia, China Daily, November 20, 2012 /~/]

“While the Quran was being chanted upstairs, against the background noise from a nearby construction site, Ma Lan, the caretaker, began to clean the small bathroom downstairs, where worshippers perform the pre-prayer ritual of washing their faces, hands and feet. Had she not been menstruating, Ma Lan would have been upstairs with the three females worshippers. Serving in a women's mosque was a long-term ambition for the 46-year-old. She quit her job in nearby Ningxia and moved to Lanzhou, home to 1.66 million Muslims, in 2006. During the winter, she rises at 4 am to shovel coal into the boiler to ensure a good supply of hot water for the washing ritual. "Women do all the work here, no matter how physical it gets," she said. /~/

“After prayers, Ma Guifang came down the stairs to ask Ma Lan if the large pile of coal stored in the middle of courtyard would be enough to last the entire winter. If not, she would like to make another donation. The mosque is financed solely by donations from female worshippers and visitors. "We receive about 2,000 to 3,000 yuan ($321 to $481) a month," said Tao Jinling, the imam, pointing at the list of donors and how much they gave. "Around 20 to 30 people come to the mosque every day. The number rises to around 150 during the Juma prayers on Friday." /~/

“Most of the women who worship at Lulan are aged around 60, but some are 90. "Young people can't come because they have jobs and middle-aged women have to stay at home and take care of their families," Tao explained. Although Ma Ashe had known about Lulan for a long time, she only began to visit this year. "Both of my children started work this year, so I have time to come to the mosque. The children are very supportive," said the 46-year-old housewife. "They are too busy working to perform all five prayers every day, let alone attend the mosque." Tao first came to Lulan as a student in 1991. Four years later, she graduated and became an imam. In addition to her role as the mosque's spiritual leader, the 40-year-old is also the accountant and is responsible for all the donations. /~/

Islamic Clothing in China

The Hui, Dongxiang, Salar, Baoan and other Islamic ethnic groups in China often wear clothing that distinguishes their Islamic beliefs and ethnic identity. It is said that Mohammed was fond of white clothes. Some say he told his followers: "You should often wear white clothes, because white clothes are the purest and most beautiful." Many Hui, Dongxiang and other Muslims wear white hats, headscarves, shirts and even trousers. When people die, their corpses are wrapped in white cloth, showing "coming purely and leaving purely". It is a taboo for corpses to be wrapped in colored cloth or silk.

Chinese Muslims believe their headgear is related with Islam. Because the Islamic praying— one of the "five pillars” of Islam— demands the worshipers not expose their heads, they must cover them, and touch their foreheads and tips of noses to the ground when they bow towards Mecca. If they wear hats with brims, the forehead and tip of nose cannot touch the ground. Only small white hats with no brims and skullcaps allow worshippers to do this.

Female headscarves conform with the Koranic provision: "You tell the female followers to lower their line of vision, cover the lower part of the bodies, not to show the jewels, unless the natural. Tell them to use the veil to cover their chest, not to show the jewels, unless to their husband, father or sons." Though few Muslim women in China wear veil, many wear headscarves that cover their hair, ears and neck. These not are not only in accordance with Islamic doctrines, they also have become unique clothing of the ethnic groups that wear them. Decorations and patterns found on the clothing of the Hui, Dongxiang and other Islamic minorities rarely has figures or animals, but rather has flowers, geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy because Islam forbids the worshiping idols and displaying images of people and animals is seen as trying to do the work of god.

Islamic Education in China

Because the Hui mainly live together with Han Chinese, they generally attend Han Chinese schools where they receive the same education as ordinary Chinese. Those that want religious training or an Islamic education is supposed to pursue it through Beijing-sanctioned mosques, referred to by the Chinese government as “scripture auditoriums.” [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

“Scripture auditorium education” is also called "temple education" and "the Huis College". "Scripture" refers to the scripture of Islam, "auditorium" refers to "mosque" (in the Tang dynasty, people called mosques "auditoriums"). In the old days, an Islamic teacher recruited some students and taught them Arabic letters, phonetic letters and basic knowledge of Islam, then the students were transferred into a madrassah ("college"), where Arabic grammar, rhetoric, the Koran, and Islamic doctrines were systematically taught and studied. Generally, the students studied there for three to five years; during the time, Muslims near the mosque supplied the student’s clothes, food, shelter and transportation. After completing the courses, they would "wear the clothes and hang the curtain" and were qualified as Islamic teachers.

However, if Muslims wanted to become officials in the imperial Chinese system they needed to get to learn Chinese and Confucianism and the Classic and do well on the civil service exam. Under these terms upper-level Huis and other Muslim figures and their children attended private Chinese schools, or entered the "academies" and "the Imperial College" to study the classic Han curriculum. In the Yuan dynasty, many Huis began their official career by imperial examinations, or became famous intellectuals, officials poets and artists. In the Ming dynasty, general education became more universal. During this time, more and more Hui and Muslim scholars, officials and writers emerged, such as the statesmen Ma Wenrui and Hai Rui, the thinker Li Zhi, the poets Ding Henian, Jin Dache and Jin Dayu.

Chinese Mosque School for Women

“Wang Yuming, director of Lanzhou's Xihu mosque, which also runs a school for women told the China Daily, "Muslims care about education for women because we believe they are the lighthouse of the family. Their influence helps to keep our society stable.” Cui Jia wrote in the China Daily, “The school is located at the side of the prayer hall for men. It has more than 200 students, the classes are free and anyone is welcome, as long as they are aged 16 or older. Many of the students have reached retirement age. The school has no such thing as graduation, because students are allowed to stay as long as they want. Deng Xiulan, 72, has been a student since 2005 when the former Arabic learning center was converted into a school for women. "There are always new things to learn. Coming to the school has become a part of my life," she said. [Source: Cui Jia, China Daily, November 20, 2012 /~/]

“The school costs the mosque about 500,000 yuan every year, but Wang believes it's worth every penny. "In addition to teaching the women about the Quran and Islam, we also teach them basic math and urge them to tell their children to stay away from drugs," he said. "Female Muslims deserve a decent level of education and the mosque is the best place to provide that. "Now that winter has come, we have to make sure the classrooms are warm enough to allow elderly students with arthritis to sit through the classes without pain," said Wang, as he conducted his daily round of the school at 8:30 am as classes began. /~/

“There are nine classes in the school. Every classroom is decorated with flowers and some have posters of Al-Azhar University in Egypt - the chief center of Arabic literature and Islamic learning - hanging on the walls. The school has about 100 students. "We have nine teachers. They teach the seniors the Quran. The juniors begin by learning Arabic characters," said Zhang Chunxiu, the principal. For Muslims, learning is a lifelong activity, said Ma Lanying, 76, who has studied at the school for five years. She is now in the senior class. "I feel so proud that I can understand the Quran and know exactly what the prayers mean," said Ma, who walks 45 minutes to school every weekday. /~/

“An Hongmei is Ma's teacher. Before each class, she likes to discuss global current affairs, such as recent events in Syria and Egypt. "I want my students to know how precious peace is," she explained. She believes that the more the economy develops, the more people will pay attention to education and the school's growth is an example of that. But it's a huge challenge to teach a group of retired women a new language, said An. "There are no shortcuts, the students have to patiently repeat words or sentences time after time, but their determination is very impressive. I wish young people could see this." /~/

“In addition, the mothers can teach their children at home, so knowledge of Islam can be passed on to the younger generation, she added. Ma Aizheng, who worked as a nurse before she retired, said she makes time to study at home in the afternoon after classes finish at 11:30 am. "Studying the Quran has become a spiritual support for me. I didn't have time when I was working and now I have a lot catching up to do," said Ma, who has introduced some of her friends to the school. The teachers receive just 600 to 700 yuan as a monthly allowance. "Wherever they go, they could earn much higher wages. They don't work here for the money, it's about devotion." /~/

“Ma Xuelan, 26, has been teaching at Xihu for four years, since she graduated from a women's school in Lanzhou run by Xiguan mosque. She said teaching makes her feel fulfilled and happy. "I am their teacher in class and they are my teachers after class," she said of her senior students. Little did Ma know, but some of the students in her class have discovered another "teacher". Bai Jilan bought a copy of the Quran complete with a "talking pen", an mp3 player that stores audio files and can recognize and recite phrases from the Quran in Arabic or Mandarin, depending on which sentence is highlighted. The high-tech device has become the center of attention during breaks and everyone wants to try it out, including Wang. "Everything needs to keep up with the times, including Islam," he said. /~/

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, CNTO Nolls , Mongabey

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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