Yu Baba Gongbei in Linxia Photo: David Dettmann
In summer 2010, David Dettmann, Assistant Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin, traveled to the Hui heartland in central China to collect material for his course Islam in China. The following is about his experience in Linxia, sometimes called China’s “Little Mecca,” in Southwestern Gansu Province.
When I arrived at Linxia’s bus station, I liked the town immediately. It was obvious upon leaving the bus station that there is a hearty mix of people in Linxia, practicing different faiths and speaking different languages. There were Tibetan monks (likely in transit from the nearby Labrang Monastery in Xiahe), Hui (Chinese-speaking Muslims of various backgrounds), Han Chinese, Salar (Turkic-speaking Muslims), and the Santa and Bonan peoples (Mongol-speaking Muslims). Linxia, formerly known as Hezhou, is located in today’s southwestern Gansu Province, and is sometimes called China’s “Little Mecca” due to its important role in the spread and development of Islam in China. It is a central location in China’s Muslim heartland, part of a broader region that spans from Eastern Qinghai Province in the West, across Gansu and Ningxia, that straddles the borderlands of many historical powers: Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Turkic. The largest concentrations of China’s Hui communities—China’s largest Muslim group—are located in this region.
Uchujin, a Tokyo-based photographer, recently made a short film highlighting the spiritual journey of Abdullah Taqy, Tokyo’s sole native Japanese Imam. Amid the restaurants, bars, brothels, and nightclubs of the notorious Kabukicho District (????) is a modest-looking mosque run by Taqy. A professional tattoo and body piercing artist of 20 years, Taqy is an anomaly in the “Sleepless Town” of Tokyo’s Kabukicho.
One of the stereotypes of Islam is that it forces women to be subservient and prevents them from full participation in society. While there are societies that I would argue do misappropriate the faith to serve their own interpretations, numerous examples exist of how Muslim women not only participate, but take on leadership roles. One such example is in China where Muslim women not only have their own mosques, but also have their own female imams.
China is not often thought of when one discusses Islam, but it should be. Not only does it have over 20 million Muslims (much larger than the American Muslim population), it has the unique tradition of independent all-women mosques. Some of these mosques date from over 100 years ago and the imams are formally trained. Many of the women’s mosques began as Qur’anic schools for girls, providing education they were not able to find elsewhere. Continue reading
An uproar is occurring in a perhaps unexpected place. This past week Malaysia witnessed rising tensions as several churches have been vandalized. These tensions are the result of a court ruling in which a government ban on the use of Allah by Christians was overturned. Proponents of the ban argue that the term Allah should be reserved only for Muslims because they believe that Christians are using the term to get converts and that its use by other faith communities will end up confusing Muslims. The violence that has resulted, in my view, is problematic and sad. Continue reading
This is a guest post by David Dettmann, Assistant Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at UW-Madison.
Presently I am teaching a course on Islam in China, including the largest Muslim groups in China, the Chinese-speaking Hui people and the Turkic-speaking Uyghur people. I have two goals with this course: to broaden the students’ perspectives of what constitutes China, and also to broaden the students’ views on who in the world practices Islam.
My first encounters with Islam were actually in China. After I arrived in China in 1995 to study in Guangzhou, I, like many other Americans, was very impressed by the diversity of the metropolis. I found and began to frequent restaurants operated by Hui (many Hui run superb beef noodle shops) and Uyghurs (Uyghur food is very similar to the foods of Eurasia: nan flatbread, kebabs, and rice pilaf). Continue reading
Muslim Cook in Yunan (via Islam in China)
Earlier this month, Islam in China was introduced to the blogosphere as a way to learn about all things Muslim and Islamic in Chinese culture. Points of interest are the journal of an American Muslim in China, as well as the upcoming interviews with Chinese Americans. The site was born out of a popular blog, started in 2007, under the same name.
Are their similar sites that clear up misconceptions about Muslim communities in other countries? Will you point them out here on Inside Islam? Please leave a link in the comments section or send us an email about the site.