Monday, March 3, 2014

Islam in China*

*The following pictures and commentary appeared in edited form in the American Sociological Association's hybrid journal/mag Contexts (Winter 2014). Pictures and commentary are credited to Xi Chen and myself.



Jingyuan County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Located in a remote rural area of Jingyuan County, this mosque is typical of traditional architectural styles of Chinese mosques, as it largely lacks Arabic influences in its design, instead incorporating traditional Chinese styling, most notably seen in its eaves and intricate woodwork 


Xi'an Muslim District, Shaanxi Province
While most of China’s cities have remade themselves in recent decades, in Xi’an’s Muslim District, the city looks much as it did hundreds of years ago. Vendors set-up shop just outside of the small, often enclosed alleys and courtyards where they live. Here a vendor stands between the entrance leading to her home and the alleyway where her street-side shop is situated.



Jingyuan County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
As is the case for most Chinese, there is a stark difference in living standards among Hui living in urban and rural areas, where agricultural work is still largely done by hand. Concentrated in one of the poorest farming areas in China, rural Hui's have some of the lowest living standards in the country. 


Xi'an Muslim District, Shaanxi Province
Here, two urban Chinese Muslims shop in Xi’an’s Muslim District. While Chinese Muslims have traditionally lagged behind the majority Han due to historical discrimination and segregation, there is a growing Muslim urban middle class in China. As documented by Maris Boyd Gillette in Between Mecca and Beijing, many Chinese Muslims have leveraged consumption patterns to fight against stereotypes depicting them as backward, as well as to solidify their ethnic identity.


Xi'an Muslim District, Shaanxi Province
The Xi'an Muslim District is evidence of the diverse origins of Muslims in China. With evidence of Persian, Arab, and even some European influences, mixed with traditional Han culture, the Muslim District is famous, amongst other things, for its wide offerings of food. While the busy district offers a wide array of Halal food and consumable items for the diverse population of Muslim residents and non-Muslim visitors that flock here each day, pork and Chinese whiskey, common items found in nearly all other parts of China, are difficult to come by here.



Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Several centuries old, the Nanguan Mosque, located in Ningxia's capitol, is one of the largest and most important mosques for Hui Muslims in the region. It has been destroyed or badly damaged several times, the most recent during the Cultural Revolution. It was rebuilt in 1981 in the alabo de (Arabic) style, with few Han influences in its design.



Zhijia Cun, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Hoping to cash-in on the growing internal tourism industry within China, many Hui living near tourist destinations have opened bed and breakfast style businesses inside their homes. Here, a mother and daughter prepare traditional local dishes for recently arrived guests. Prior to this Model Village's 2005 construction, residents engaged in agricultural work, averaging 1300 Yuan a year ($200 US) in income per person. By 2012 average income per person had increased threefold.



Zhijia Cun, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Two Hui friends visit in the main street of a recently constructed Model Village in one of the poorest counties in China. The new village is part of the PRC's shift toward economic development of inland rural areas.  Zhijia Cun was built 1500 meters from the entrance to a national park in order to transition the local economy away from agriculture and toward a service sector catering to tourists. This shift has allowed the two women depicted here to remain in their home village, rather than leaving to find work as migrant laborers.


Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
In Yinchuan, an elderly man closes the front entrance to a Hui mosque. Weekday prayers can be sparse, populated mostly by the elderly. However, Friday prayers in Yinchuan, capitol of Ningxia, are attended by hundreds, and on important Islamic dates, as well as important Chinese holidays, the number swells into the thousands.



Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Here a female visitor approaches the main Nanguan mosque prayer hall. Females in Hui religious culture have unique opportunities open to them. China hosts some of the world's few female-only mosques and women have been acting as imams since the early 1800s. Known as nu ahong (女阿訇), the PRC oversees in part, the education, training and practice of women imams. While providing opportunities and allowances not accorded to the vast majority of Muslim females elsewhere in the world, this conversely demonstrates Beijing’s control over the Hui’s practices and its efforts to limit outside Islamic influences on Hui Muslims.




Xi'an's Muslim District, Shaanxi Province
An elderly Chinese Muslim sells bread from his bicycle. He makes morning rounds prior to the arrival of the crowds, when the alleyways become too crowded to navigate by bike. Selling nang (), a type of bread popular with Chinese Muslims, he advertises his product in a traditional Chinese way, by riding through the streets calling out his product by name. On his daily rounds he passes shops offering Muslim head coverings, others serving western coffee with Wi-Fi access, and yet more shops specializing in traditional, non-Islamic Chinese masks.



Jingyuan County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Due to the large Muslim population in Ningxia province and their dietary restriction on pork, the lamb industry plays a major economic role in the region. Located largely in desert lands, Ningxia’s arid climate helps produce a distinctive and sought after sweet flavor in lamb raised here. With such a high demand for lamb in the surrounding areas, sheep herding has been a traditional way of life in the region for centuries, as has fur trading.



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