Photo story: Islam in China — the Han Chinese (part I)

A trip to China reinforces the notion that the Islamic faith has reached all corners of the world. I could hardly believe my eyes; in almost every region of this enormous country Muslims were clearly visible in the streets. This incidentally makes travelling in China comfortable for Muslims as you will find halal restaurants just anywhere; a big relief in a country where pork is the dominant meat on the menu. With the exception of the odd village there is often a wide choice of halal restaurants.

Hearing well-meaning elderly Chinese men recite the Quran struck me especially.

However much the Chinese may differ from the rest of the world, especially language and culture-wise, that culture turns out to be reconcilable with Islam as an ideology. Hearing well-meaning elderly Chinese men recite the Quran struck me especially. Arabic is as foreign to them as Chinese is to us, it seems an impossible task. What would it have been like had the prophet been Chinese and we would have had to recite the Quran in Chinese, I wondered when listening to the Friday sermon in Mandarin.

Islam is an old acquaintance in China. A mere hundred years after the death of the prophet his message reached China through Arab merchants trading with China’s port cities. Later, Islam also seeped in through Central Asia, in the west of China. The religion spread rapidly through the various regions and the land even saw the emergence of autonomous Muslim states within today’s China’s borders. Without delving into the subject of Islam in China too deeply this photo report just seeks to illustrate how Islam is lived in the country and how the faith and local culture have become intertwined.

An estimated 20 to 30 million Muslims live in China, although statistics are often manipulated to fit propaganda purposes. There is a large number of ethnic minorities, with 56 officially recognized, living in China alongside the largest ethnical group, the Han Chinese, who make up 95% of the Chinese population and 91% of the total population.  A small number of these minorities is predominantly Muslim, like the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs (see part 2). Another group, the Hui Chinese, is a recognised minority, but really consists of Han Chinese Muslims. These two communities, the Hui and the Uyghurs, are the largest Muslim groups in China, totalling an estimated 10 million and 9 million people respectively, although these numbers can be questioned. These two groups greatly differ from eachother, with religion and citizenship being the only common characteristics.

 

Photos: © Mohamed Al Marchohi

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