Chinese Muslims say they feel a stronger sense of national identity during pilgrimage to Mecca

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/2 19:33:39

About 500 Chinese Muslims wait to board a charter plane from Beijing to Saudi Arabia on July 29. This year more than 10,000 Chinese Muslims are expected to travel to Mecca for the hajj. Photo: Li Ruohan/GT

For many Chinese Muslims, the once-in-a-lifetime hajj is not only a religious duty, but also an opportunity to present a positive image of Chinese Muslims to the world, correcting misunderstandings that are sometimes held in international society.

Starting July 20, around 11,500 Chinese Muslims headed in official groups to Mecca, the holiest of all Islamic sites, for the month-long hajj this year. China's religious authorities organized the groups and chartered 34 flights.

The joyful and excited mood could easily be felt among a group of around 500 Chinese Muslims who took a chartered flight from Beijing to Saudi Arabic over the weekend. "Chinese hajji" was printed in English and Arabic on the cards hanging on their chests, close to a Chinese national flag.

"We are representing China and Chinese Muslims," was the most frequently mentioned sentence when a Global Times reporter spoke to members of the group, which was mostly comprised of older people.

"When we are in foreign countries, we should strictly watch our behavior. We share the responsibility to safeguard the image of Chinese Muslims," Li Yong'an, a 38-year-old Muslim from the group, told the Global Times.

"There are many misunderstandings about us, and we want to show that Chinese Muslims are happy and very friendly," said Li.

Yang Quan (pseudonym), a 34-year-old Muslim from South China's Guangdong Province, told the Global Times that she was excited to be the fourth one in her family to participate in the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Yang said she is prepared for the trip, which her family members describe as a "harmonious" journey that would benefit her for a lifetime.

The group gathers pilgrims from regions that have small numbers of Muslims, and Li is the only one from Central China's Hunan Province in the group. For Muslim-dense regions like Xinjiang, Ningxia and Gansu, the official groups leave from local airports.

The last group of Chinese pilgrims left for Saudi Arabia from Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, on Wednesday.

The hajj of 2018 takes place approximately from August 20 to August 23.

Improved teams

Coordinating a group of mostly elderly Chinese Muslims for a 40-day pilgrimage to the city of Mecca under 40 C heat is not an easy job. But organizers say it is getting easier every year with the improvement of the pilgrims.

The quality of Muslims attending the pilgrimage has improved significantly, as well as the organization and management of the trips, an organizer surnamed Huang, who accompanied the 500 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, told the Global Times.

Chinese food is available three meals a day, and luggage and transportation services have been improved to facilitate the trip for the pilgrims who are mostly in their 50s or 60s, said Huang, who is helping organize the trip for her fourth time.

China's religious authorities coordinate with local police officers in Mecca to ensure the Chinese groups are protected and also to make sure lines of communication are in place in case of emergencies, according to the China Islamic Association, a national Muslim organization that organizes visits for Chinese pilgrims.

"Previously, most of the pilgrims were elderly. The number of middle-aged people has increased during recent years, which gives us more hands for helping during the trip," said Huang.

Although there is no age requirement for pilgrims in Islamic teachings, some Chinese provinces set the bar from 25 or 35 years old to around 70 or 75.

According to China's regulations on pilgrimages, Muslims will receive patriotic education and courses to enhance their awareness about safeguarding national unity and resisting separatism and religious extremism before they begin the pilgrimage.

They will also receive training courses on religious practices, local law and regulations, and security awareness.

Transparent and fair

Every year, China sends around 12,000 pilgrims on the hajj, and the quota is split up among 30 provincial-level Islamic administrations.

Most Chinese Muslims need to register online to get a spot. A physical examination is also necessary before they can join the pilgrimage. Those from regions with large amounts of Muslims need to queue up to get a spot.

Online registration has made the process more transparent and fair, said Huang, adding that those who register online can check their status on a website.

As of Wednesday, more than 64,000 Muslims signed up on the website for registration for the pilgrimage in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Newspaper headline: Positive image


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