Exploring China’s Wild West

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The Jakarta Globe

silk road hotan There is a smell of goats, fresh bread and melons. A cacophony of bleating animals rises, mixed with conversations full of hard-edged Turkic gutturals. A small boy clambers deftly onto the back of an unbroken, barrel-bellied pony, and reining it back sharply he somehow stays in place as it gallops wildly over the stony ground. Horse-trading elders with beards and skull caps look on with approval and begin to count wads of tattered money. Above everything arches a vast Central Asian sky.

I am in China, but here, at the Sunday livestock bazaar on the outskirts of Kashgar, an ancient city in the southwest corner of Xinjiang, I have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Xinjiang is China’s Wild West, a state of deserts and mountains peopled by Muslim Uighurs, and leaning more to Bokhara than Beijing. It has long had a troubled relationship with the rest of the country, slipping in and out of effective Chinese control as imperial power waxed and waned over the centuries. Today the tensions continue. In July, protests by Uighurs in Urumqi, the state capital, turned violent and a government crackdown followed. But unlike in neighboring Tibet, the government has kept Xinjiang open to tourists. When I arrive in Kashgar on a long-distance train, rolling though vineyards and pomegranate orchards, there has been a state-wide telecommunications shutdown for over four months and army trucks bearing antiseparatist slogans were rolling down the streets. But I am free to go wherever I like, and the first place I head is Kashgar’s famous Sunday Market.

Kashgar stands astride the ancient Silk Road, the much-mythologized trade route that once linked China with Europe. From here trails led east along the fringes of the desert, and west over mountain passes. For centuries, people, religions and ideas passed along the caravan routes. The Uighurs’ Turkic ancestors dropped out of the mountains in the sixth century. Before them, Buddhism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity had traveled west. A few centuries later, Islam arrived.

Today a hint of this old romance survives — the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan lie within 150 kilometers of Kashgar, and trade goes on in weekly markets across the region. In the Kashgar Sunday Market I see carpets, fruits and embroidered cloth, mixed in with everyday metals and plastics. Women in sparkling headscarves jostle with old men in embroidered pillbox hats.

But the Chinese government is determinedly dragging Xinjiang into the mainstream. The market has now been corralled into a modern complex, and beyond it new high-rises tower over the remnants of the old mud-walled city. In recent years, swathes of the Uighur old town have been bulldozed, and immigration from other parts of China has been encouraged. These moves — and the dominance of immigrant Han Chinese in the job market — have only increased tensions. English-speaking Uighurs I meet on my journey whisper their disquiet in hushed, paranoid tones. A man at the Sunday Market explains the resentment at the destruction of old Kashgar.

“There is no privacy in a Chinese apartment,” he says. “Our traditional houses are built around a courtyard so we all live together, but with privacy. We don’t want to live in apartments.”

Looking for something a little more authentic, I head to the livestock bazaar. It is a glorious chaos of goats, donkeys, horses and sheep and haggling men in fabulous hats. I am hoping to see a camel or two — real evidence that I am on the Silk Road — but to my disappointment there are none. I console myself with a plate of greasy kebabs and plot my onward journey.

From Kashgar I head east. Human habitation in Xinjiang has long been squeezed into the narrow margin between the mountains and the desert. A string of oases runs along what was once the southern branch of the Silk Road. My first stop is Yarkand — a place once as fabled as Samarkand or Xanadu. During Xinjiang’s periods of independence from Chinese rule, Yarkand was usually the capital city. It was also the terminus of skeleton-strewn caravan trails over the mountains from India.

Today, it is a backwater. A Uighur old town of mud alleyways remains, and a dusty graveyard of royal tombs studded with the faded flags of mystic Sufi cults sprawls behind a medieval mosque with a vine-shaded courtyard. A modern Chinese town of arrow-straight boulevards dominates, but away to the south I can pick out the faint white line of the Kun Lun mountains, the back wall of the entire Himalayan range.

From the next oasis, Karghilik, I take a taxi into those hills along a road that leads, eventually, to Tibet. An army check-point by the chilly banks of the Tiznaf River is as far as I can go, but I scramble up a steep brown slope to take in the view. A mass of brown mountains, ribbed and scored with dark shadow, spreads east and west. Behind them, rising in a glittering white line, is the backbone of the Kun Lun. This was the barrier that Silk Road traders from India once had to cross en route to Kashgar, Yarkand, and my own final destination — Hotan.

The road to Hotan blazes across the stony desert, the mountains floating to the south. The vast void that surrounds it makes arrival in Hotan a strange experience, for here, at the very limit of China’s vastness, is another large, modern town. As a Uighur heartland, the Chinese government has been particularly keen to integrate Hotan with the rest of the country. Roads from the north now plough straight across the Taklamakan Desert, and from next year a railway line will link it to Kashgar. A Uighur man I meet at a kebab stall hisses, “When the railway is ready we will be finished — Hotan will be all Chinese.”

But something remains here: a week has passed and it is time for Hotan’s own Sunday Market. Nothing has been regimented here; the bazaar sprawls over a vast area, filling all the lanes and alleys of the old quarter with a mass of color and commerce. There are sections given over to cloth and carpets, to the jade mined from the banks of nearby rivers, to animals and even tractors. Donkey carts clatter through the crowds, the drivers calling out “ Bosh! Bosh! ” (“Coming through!”). When I am tired of wandering I feast on laghman (Uighur noodles) and slices of fresh watermelon.

And as I leave the market I spot something — what I had hoped to see in Kashgar. A boy is leading a pair of shaggy, twin-humped Bactrian camels through the crowd. They are enormous beasts and they pass through the chaos unperturbed and disappear among the trucks. I stare after them as they go, now sure, despite the political tensions and the heavy-handed Chinese modernization, that I am in Central Asia, and on the Silk Road.

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‘Eidul Fitr 1430 – and warning

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

We will update this post as we learn of more country announcements of when ‘Eid will be.

UAE on 9/15/09 announced that ‘Eid would be Saturday, 9/19/09.

Saudi Arabia:  Unsure as of 9/18/09. 

Note:  In Saudi Arabia ‘Eidul Fitr and ‘Eidul Adha are each ten-day holidays, and typically Saudi Arabia reduces work hours during Ramadan to 6 hours per day.  Saudi weekends are Thursday and Friday.

Turkey:  Sunday 9/20/09 is ‘Eidul Fitr

FCNA/ISNA has announced ‘Eid will be Sunday, 9/20/09.

**Note that some non-Muslims are intentionally spreading viruses by making fake announcements about ‘Eidul Fitr—as soon as you open the web page your computer will be attacked. 

Do not open Eid announcement from www.patriceanderson.com.  Patrice Anderson appears to be from Houston, TX and runs a website that shows some expertise with web development, including apparently some knowledge of security which she is using to compromise the computers of Muslims in contravention of the law.  (“patrice.anderson: front-end web developer, sometimes designer and perpetual learner.”)  Will not give the live link to the page with the virus here.

We have notified authorities and are awaiting their response to this malicious act by Patrice Anderson.

 

clean print screen of virus from patrice anderson

Bloomfield Unity Center

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

1430 ‘Eid al Fitr, Sept. 20 2009

Ramadan moon Note–Most mosques in the Michigan area began fasting either according to the ruling of FCNA (the Fiqh Council of North America, in association with ISNA) or following Saudi Arabia. 

Some people began fasting Friday rather than Saturday, for example people in Turkey and Albania began fasting Friday, and many Lebanese Shi’a began fastin Friday. 

Nevertheless, likely nearly all local mosques will be celebrating ‘Eid on Sunday. 

The Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center is also among those mosques, and they have announced ‘eid will be Sunday the 20th.

Expecting overcrowding, the BMUC has arranged a shuttle back and forth from 9am – 2pm from overflow parking at the Forest Lake Country Club at 1401 Club Dr. (close to BMUC).

BMUC will hold two ‘eid prayers, at 8 and at 10.  There will be an ‘eid breakfast after the second prayer service at 11AM, $10 per person for members and $12/person for non members, $15 at the door, with children 5 years and under free.

‘Eid Mubarak!

Southeast Michigan (V11-I38)

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

BMUC Sunday School Opens

bmuc sunday school

Bloomfield Hills–September 9–Imam Hossameldin Musa welcomed 133 students to the Bloomfield Unity Center’s first Sunday School session last Sunday, September 6th. 

The Sunday school will be open 10AM to 2:45PM each Sunday except for ‘eid, Sept. 20th.

The imam was excited to tell TMO also about the hifz program which is beginning this year at BMUC, patterned on the extremely successful and powerful similar program at the Tawheed Center (which already has several graduates back in Western style schools)–the BMUC hifz teacher is Shaykh Ahmad Mabrook.

Imam Musa explained “we have a friendly school, it’s very clean, we have AC in every room, top of the line teachers–some of them with MBA’s–many were raised in this country.”

The Sunday school hopes to welcome many more students this year–so please consider joining the program to secure for your children a basic knowledge of Islam in a warm environment.  Imam Hossam emphasizes that one of the goals of his school is to give “warmth, love, and caring” to the students–nothing less than what they receive in their mainstream schools during the week.

The price of the school is $650 per year for BMUC members, and $750 per year for nonmembers–which is an amazing deal if you consider that for that price students receive food, books, and tuition for the program. 

Explains the younger imam Musa, “We use the I love Islam series–it’s really good.”

Most of the students in the program are from local public schools, some from Huda.

In school, children also pray dhohr in jama’at behind the elder Imam Musa, who is now the longest-serving imam in Michigan.

Michigan Food Pantry Program

Please support this program. The Islamic Shura Council of Michigan is supporting Gleaners Food Bank to buy food at a discount and distribute it throughout Michigan.  The program is year-round. 

www.zakatzone.com

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-12th) Needs Your Support

The only Muslim legislator in Michigan is under fire from political opponents after opposing a bridge project by Matty Moroun.  Apparently in collaboration with Moroun, political consultant Adolph Mongo has filed multiple recall petitions against Tlaib.

Tarek Baydoun is spearheading an effort to defend her.  To join the effort to defend and help her you can contact 313-297-8800.

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