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A letter from Baghdad: Memorable days in China as a Muslim

2009-07-17 09:53 BJT

Special Report: 7.5 Xinjiang Urumqi Riots |

by Shaalan Jubury

BAGHDAD, July 16 (Xinhua) -- As an Iraqi Muslim who has visited China, I was so shocked and sad when I read reports of the July 5 violence in China's Xinjiang province, especially when I learned from the Western media of clashes between the Han Chinese and Uygurs, and government troops cracking down on the Uygurs.

I could not believe it, not from my experience in China.

So I immediately contacted my friends in China, from whom I learned that the reports by the Western media were purposely biased and to a certain extent, politically motivated -- just as their versions of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

I have been to China twice -- first for a visit of two weeks, and then for a year's stay, from August 2006 to August 2007. During my visits, I was impressed by the way China's 56 ethnic groups, with Hans in the majority, live peacefully together and religious freedom respected.

When I was in Beijing, I prayed every Friday at a mosque at Niujie, a Muslim-dominated district in the Chinese capital.

As an Iraqi, whose country at the time was suffering from daily explosions, shootings and kidnappings, I remember I was often touched by the good wishes extended to me by complete strangers, among them Han people who visited the mosque, which has a history of more than 1,000 years.

During my time living and working among the majority Han Chinese in Beijing, I found no difficulty performing my Islamic rituals, neither did I notice any untoward incidents against Muslims in China, including the Uygurs.

I met many Chinese Muslims, who were really proud of being Chinese citizens.

I remember a small Chinese restaurant in Niujie, owned by a Uygur Chinese, which I frequented for its Islamic food and music.

I noticed TV programs in the restaurant were in the Uygur language, and when I inquired about it, one young man, who said he was studying at an Islamic institute, answered in Arabic "we have television stations in Xinjiang that use our language, which is backed by the central government."

Today, I still remember the Chinese pilgrims I met who went to Mecca for the Hajj (pilgrimage), in Saudi Arabia. They often wore jackets with a Chinese flag stitched on, and under the flag were words in Arabic -- "Chinese Hajj" or Chinese pilgrim, and I could feel their sense of being proud Chinese Muslims.

Once I tried to joke with one of the pilgrims and asked through a translator, "can you give me this jacket, so that I can show it to my folks in Iraq that this is a gift from my Chinese friend?"

He smiled and said: "I can buy you a new one, but I will have to keep this one, as I have worn it for years and I am proud to have this flag on my chest."

Islam is the second biggest religion in China, next to Buddhism. As far as I know, there are some 30,000 mosques in China, including 70 in Beijing.

Outside the capital, religious freedom is well respected as well. When I went to Henan province for a vacation, I witnessed Islamic lectures being held frequently at major mosques, and Muslims living peacefully and happily.

Muslims and other minorities in China enjoy exceptional privileges. My Chinese Muslim friends told me that, like other minority groups, they are not bound by the one-child-policy.

Muslims and other minorities are also accepted at lower qualifications to colleges and universities; and minorities like the Uygur and Hui are well represented in governments at all levels.

So when people say that the July 5 violence occurred because the Uygurs felt discriminated by the majority Hans, I really cannot believe it. I have personally witnessed how well Muslims and Han Chinese get along.

One day while sitting in the yard of the Niujie mosque, I met a young man who I later learned was an Egyptian. Named Ahmed, he had come to Beijing to marry a Han Chinese girl who he met in Cairo while she was studying there.

But according to religious ritual, a non-Muslim girl or man cannot marry a Muslim unless he or she converts to Islam.