A Chinese Muslim in the U.S.: Religion and Nationality

January 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Yue Xu, UPIU

Wang is a member of MSA, which holds the Muslims activities in International Center of MSU.(By Xu Yue) ()

A simple, yet fashionable young woman enters the classroom wearing a bright blue polo shirt and jeans. From a passerby’s perspective, one cannot tell Cong Wang apart from the hundreds of other Chinese students at Michigan State University. However, Wang is also a Muslim, from China’s Hui minority.

In MSU’s International Center, Cong Wang talked about her understanding of Islam in China and how she has adapted to life at an Americ an university within the multifaceted context of Islamic, Chinese, and American culture.

“The religious awareness of the new generation of Hui Muslims in China is not as strong as that of my grandparents’ generation”, Wang said. Though Wang never explicitly mentioned a causational factor behind the erosion of Muslim culture in China, Professor Dru Gladney, president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, postulated that an erosion of Muslim values is occurring due to the dominance of Han culture within the education system. “Centralized state education has been one of the most powerful means of integrating Muslims into the Chinese nation state”, he said. In China, the dominant philosophy is Confucianism, and this is evident in schools throughout the nation.

After Wang came to MSU, she joined the Muslim Students’ Association at MSU, hoping to cement her identity as a Chinese Muslim, but to this day she has not encountered any other Chinese Muslims to share experiences with. Could it be possible that Chinese Muslims are such a small fraction of the Chinese population that they are rarely enrolled in American universities? According to a report on Chinese Islam released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2008, this is highly unlikely; the Muslim population in China has increased to approximately twenty-two million, which is almost twice the population of Michigan.

Why, then, is there a scarcity of Chinese Muslims at MSU and other American universities? Wang offered two explanations, citing lower income and conservative beliefs as possible contributing factors to low Hui enrollment.

Anna Pegler-Gordon, Associate Professor of American Studies at MSU, offered an alternate explanation, centering on post-9/11 changes to American visa policy. Officers of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services may have started to tighten the visa process for Muslim students following the 2001 attacks, she said. However, Pegler-Gordon also noted that most of the national security protocols regarding student visas have focused on countries with majority Muslim populations rather than countries, such as China, with significant Muslim minorities.

Does Wang feel more comfortable in the U.S. then, since the religious environment is more diverse and open? “Not really”, she answered after a long pause. During the process of getting in touch with the Muslims from other countries at MSU, Wang detected a gulf between herself and other Muslims. They are far more devout, she said, making her reconsider what it means to be a Muslim. Conversely, what the Muslims from other countries have learned about Chinese Muslims is inadequate and inaccurate, she said, leading to misunderstandings and embarrassment. “The images of Chinese Muslims in their minds are as a group of poor people, and for this reason, I know that they know little about China”, she said. People see you as a Chinese at first, and then, perhaps, as a Muslim. 

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Chinese Train to Mecca?

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Keith Barry Email Author / Wired Magazine

Mecca

The Saudi government is building a $1.8 billion monorail to ferry pilgrims among the holy sites of Mecca, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. Once complete, the Saudis estimate 53,000 buses will disappear from the city’s crowded roads, promising a safer, more comfortable pilgrimage.

The monorail will be built over the next four years, with the first segment — roughly 35 percent of the project, by one estimate — opening in time for this year’s Hajj between November 25 and 29. Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims must complete if they have the means and ability to do so, is the fifth Pillar of Islam and as such attracts a staggering number of pilgrims.

Controlled access to the monorail is intended to avoid accidents such as the tragedy at Mina in 2006, when more than 350 people died in a stampede after two busloads of pilgrims disembarked at the entrance to the Jamarat Bridge holy site. Trains on four elevated tracks will carry as many as 20,000 pilgrims an hour in an orderly fashion, with parking available at all stops.

The monorail appears to be a good way of controlling human and vehicular traffic to holy sites. The author of the Mujahideen Ryder blog says the monorail is a “pretty cool idea to make Hajj safer and efficient. I can’t wait to see it.”

According to Straits Times, the Chinese Railway Corp. is building the monorail. It is one of two rail projects the Chinese are building in Saudi Arabia — the other being China Railway Engineering’s 275-mile high-speed rail system linking Mecca and Medina through Jeddah. China’s involvement in both projects reportedly was clinched during Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao’s visit to Saudi Arabia in February, during which representatives of Chinese Railway Corp. met with Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdulaziz, chairman of the commission for developing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Should the project succeed, it certainly will see a lot of use. Hajj is the world’s largest pilgrimage, and the number of foreign pilgrims nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008, when more than two million pilgrims reportedly attended.

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