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the Message Continues ... 10/65

the Message Continues i/65   -   Newsletter for  January  2007

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12


Urumqi & Turpan: A Visit to the Chinese Muslim cities
courtesy: Brother_Farrukh

"Its on the ground, its in the air, its all around, its everywhere" sang the rather dodgy techno/ rap singer as we drove from the airport to the hotel. I had finally arrived. Landing at Urumqi I knew I had stepped into a new world, least of which was at the courtesy of the air hostess in Beijing who made an announcement which I'm certain was purely for my benefit as I was the only other person on board who it seems spoke English "Please check your ticket to confirm you are on the correct flight"!!!

Walking along the jet way from the plane to the terminal my jaw dropped, figuratively of course, it was -10c outside and I was heavily under dressed for those weather conditions. I saw a sign on the terminal building which read Urumqi in English, one in Chinese, but, and this was my first shock, another, in Arabic?!? I knew the city to be in the heart of the silk road, and as the capital of the Xinjiang province, the most populous Muslim region of China, I expected to see more `Islamic stuff' but nothing prepared me for this…

Journeying to my hotel I looked around noticing that almost every road sign was in three languages, Chinese, Arabic and English, and where English didn't exist the other two certainly did. Of course as I later discovered, it wasn't Arabic Arabic, but Uyghur, a language which had used the Arabic script since the 10th century, which was briefly phased out in 1969 by the Chinese government but reintroduced in 1983 stressing the Uyghur vowels.

Throughout this leg of my journey I had four separate translators now friends, one male, three female, all of whom educated me on life in the Xinjiang province particularly the various local cuisines; And by the Mercy of Allah I had the opportunity to take a number of excursions, the first of which was a journey to Glacier number 1, the closest galcier to any city in the world.

Nothing really prepares you for climbing a glacier. The -25c to -30c temperatures were brought by a visiting cold front the day before for which wearing a sheepskin coat is mandatory if you intend to live to tell the tale. Despite having the traction of an off road vehicle and the gacier being closed to tourists the month before – do not ask how we ended up with permits to visit - we had to stop 4km short of the glacier trekking up to an altitude of 3860 meters. It was only there when having taught Sharong how to use my camera and recording a few video clip messages that she discovered that I was a Muslim and I too discovered that she was a Muslim! What a revelation. Nearly 4,000 meters up, surrounded by what can only be described as the most stunning creation of Allah Almighty, mountains capped with snow with a clear day and glistening sunshine, we discovered that our faiths are indeed one (see the video clip below on how to say the testimony of faith (shahadah) in Chinese!)

Some years ago I remember a very close friend of mine encouraging me to go skiing, something which I have yet to do. As well as the sport she mentioned how beautiful the mountains were at such altitudes, and it was only whilst at the glacier did I truly understood the beauty of the Creation which she had alluded to many years ago. No wonder people who see such wonderful things can appreciate the beauty of the creation and recognize the Beauty of Allah Almighty.

Of course the history of the region extends many thousands of years. Back in Urumqi the newly built Xinjiang regional museum houses some of the most amazing artifacts and mummies, the most famous of which is the Loulan mummy. Also known as the Loulan beauty she lived some 3,800 years ago, which in context is around about the same time that Prophet
Abraham, upon whom be peace lived. So well preserved, what surprised archaeologists were her facial features. Unlike those of the rest of the ethnicities in that region of China, her features were Caucassian, European. Imagine that, social mobility 3,800 years ago, how she ended up there is a mystery subject to many a discussion.

Heading out of the city towards Turpan, the home city of two of my other guides, nothing really prepares you for the Emin minaret and mosque. On the outskirts of the city, of mud and sun dried bricks stands what has to be one of the most astonishing mosques of the region. Built in 1777 by the ruler Emin Hoja it stands as one of the most spectacular mosques I have seen to date. The minaret has sixteen different geometric and floral patterns. The main mosque has a wooden
frame. The cemetery to one side houses my first glimpse at local burial mounds where the male graves have two layers and the female graves three – where each layer represents something associated to that gender. The front of the mosque houses an amphitheater, where, when standing on the central bricks, everyone, all around you can hear you on account of the fantastic acoustics! Oh, and grapes. Lots and lots of grapes.

Ok, granted, it was December and the grape vines were empty, but given its location Turpan was designated the first grape growing city of China and for as far as your eyes can see, there are countless grape vines, including for the non-Muslims, vinyards galore. With more than seventy different varieties, the most common is known as the `seedless white'. In days gone by this would not have been possible were it not for what is referred to as the underground great wall, the Karez water
channel system.

Dating back to 1,000 BC, a system of underground tunnels which channeled water from the Tianshan mountains into the dessert basins. The underground channels were complimented with vertical wells along the route enabling people to engage in different agricultural activities as well as have access to drinking water. The length of the various karez stretch from 3km to 30km, and have a maximum height of 2 meters. At its peak there were more than 5,000 km of water channels, and there are currently 400 systems still functional today.

Driving through Turpan you are met with mosque upon mosque. It really is a sight to behold. Of course as we stopped to visit one rather pleasant looking mosque with stunning green tones, a group of school children no more than 6 years of age, having seen my camera, ran towards me insisting that I take their photo, so we posed together in front of one of the mosques. Mashallah, kids everywhere are great, so easy to please with the simplest of things, how is it that as adults we become so particular, and may Allah Almighty have mercy on us all, amen.

Returning to Urumqi, the famous grand bazaar has a rather odd twist to it. Being one of the central trading markets of the entire region, in recent years a proper building was erected to house the traders with, would you believe a massive Carre Four (a large French supermarket) smack bang in the middle of it! Talk about East meets West. At least you will not miss the comforts of home, almost every European/ American snack can be found there.

The central road in the predominantly Muslim area of town is dotted with mosques, left right and center. From the Southgate mosque at one end all the way to the Tartar mosque at the other, Muslims everywhere. Imagine then my surprise, being surrounded by differing Chinese Muslim ethnicities to come across a man who looked like he was from Pakistan.
Perhaps the only time I would greet a complete stranger I greeted him in Urdu, we spoke for a few moments and carried on our way. Amongst the continuous Chinese and Uyghur and broken English it was a nice reprieve. Later my translator pointed out that many Pakistanis visit Urumqi for business and if I really wanted she would take me to the area which houses mainly Pakistanis. I thanked her for the offer but declined as there was far too much to be done, after all, you cannot visit somewhere named `the grand bazaar' and not seek a bargain or two!

We often hear of the difficulties native Chinese Muslims face in the Xinjiang province. Rules and restrictions placed upon the indigenous population such as not being able to be taught religion until the age of 14 in public institutions (though they can be taught at him by their own families). Despite this, I found a thriving Muslim community, young men and young women aware of their faith, all be it to different levels. I would even go so far as to say that some young Muslims in that region know more about Islam, even with the strict educational controls, than some Muslims in the `western world'. To me this shows that the ones whom Allah Almighty wishes to guide, they will be guided, no matter who they are or where they are, and indeed
all Praise belongs to Allah Almighty, our Creator and our Sustainer, alongside whom none share authority, and indeed Allah Almighty is the Most Just, Most Merciful to the Creation.

Of course life could be improved for Chinese Muslims by the removal of such stringent controls on religion and to some extent and purpose, particularly post 9/11 the Chinese government it seems is capitalizing on the increased tourism from Muslims, particularly those in the Middle East who no longer wish to be stereotyped when visiting North America, and prefer to enjoy their vacation with the dignity of being viewed as everyday people. Something which is clearly visible in the
larger cities such as Beijing. And with the Olympics coming to China, there are drastic efforts by the Chinese to accommodate people of all faiths.

In criticising China people often overlook the progress made in our generation alone with regards to trade, opportunity, sharing of cultures and even faith. Personally I would liken the strict controls on faith by the Chinese government, an attempt to curb rebellion and extremism as the same inaction by many European governments who have for the past generation under the guise of freedom of religion allowed certain extreme elements, who are in the minority, to hijack the image of Islam in the public forum. Whats the difference? Nothing. So before we open our mouths to criticise one government, suggesting it is worse than another, let us recognise that problems exist everywhere, and that if we as everyday Muslims are to truly bring the beauty of Islam to the people, then in the same way Chinese Muslims can work with Beijing central government to improve their condition, then we Muslims in the West must also work with our governments to improve our condition (and image in the public sphere), and Allah knows best.

The very idea of visiting China, a country up until recently closed to the world, a new culture, no, a new set of cultures, continues to open a land full of opportunity. The following links are to some video clips and photos taken on this recent trip, and may Allah Almighty have Mercy, Guide us, Protect us, Provide for us, Forgive us, and above all, let us want for one another what we want for ourselves, amen.

"Its on the ground, its in the air, its all around, its everywhere" it seems the singer was right, Islam is indeed, everywhere.






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