Wow Mongolia for your next vacation! Interesting
WHERE A MOSQUE LOOKS LIKE A TEMPLE
Inner Mongolia and Chinese regions with sizeable Muslim communities are fast becoming hot holiday spots for Malay-Singaporeans
By TUMINAH SAPAWI
MOTHER and daughter were standing at the entrance of the Great Mosque in Hohhot, the main city in Inner Mongolia. "But it doesn't look like a mosque, Mummy," said eight-year-old Nur Aziqa Abu Zaren. "But it is. Look at the Arabic calligraphy on the walls," explains Madam Rubiah Salleh, 38. At first glance, the traditional Mongolian architecture makes it look like a temple.
But closer scrutiny reveals some common features of a mosque such as the mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca. There are also several Qurans on the shelves.The 300-year-old Great Mosque is one of the attractions in Inner Mongolia, which is becoming a hot spot for Malays looking for alternative vacation destinations. Besides Inner Mongolia, Beijing and some parts of China, as well as Uzbekistan, with large Muslim populations are packing in Malays from Singapore too.
Although the number is not large, it grew in the past year, says travel agent Hussin Abdul Hamid. When Malays balik kampung (go back to their roots), they headed for destinations like Indonesia and Malaysia traditionally. Mr Hussin is the managing director of Halijah Travels which organises tours to Inner Mongolia and China on a regular basis.
Between May and July this year, his tour agency organised four different groups of about 30 people each to both Inner Mongolia and Beijing. Due to popular demand, he will organise yet another tour to these two places. In November, Mr Hussin will include two other provinces in China in the itinerary -- Xian and Ningxia. They are well-known for their Muslim communities and architecture. Such tours are organised by Muslim agents and offer halal meals as well as visits to Islamic institutions like mosques or madrasahs (religious schools). Of course, they also take in the usual places of interest such as the Summer Palace and Forbidden City in Beijing.
Prayer times are observed during the tours and the groups usually stop at the nearest mosque for this. These are some of the factors that attract a growing number of Muslims to such tours, which cost $1,380 for a seven-day itinerary. The main draw is, of course, the opportunity to meet their Muslim counterparts in these places.
Besides Halijah Travels, T.M. Fouzy Travel & Tours also offers China tours. Mr Abu Bakar Abdul Rahman, who oversees the China tours there, is packaging one for the September and November holidays. Inner Mongolia is not included for the November holidays because it will be winter then. Families with children will not enjoy themselves as much as in summer, when the greenery is breathtaking. Spring and summer are the best times to visit these places because that is when the flowers are in full bloom and the days are longer than the nights.
T.M. Fouzy packs charity into its tours. Clients are asked to take along unused clothes still in good condition for the children at the madrasahs. "While we foster closer rapport with our Muslim brothers and sisters, we try to help them in whatever way we can," says Mr Abu Bakar. Many of his clients have already gone on the pilgrimage and umrah (minor pilgrimage) and are interested in the lives of Muslims elsewhere.
Madam Rubiah, who went on a tour to the Gold Coast, Australia last year with her husband and four children, says: "Unlike the Gold Coast which was all fun and entertaining, Inner Mongolia was an eye-opener for my children. "They learn that Muslims are not just Malays and Arabs. There are Chinese and Mongolian Muslims too and although their way of life differs slightly, their religious beliefs are similar." And, instead of saying Assalamualaikum (Muslim greeting of peace be upon you), they say Salamolekom.
One can tell a Mongolian Muslim from his headgear. Women wear white scarves to cover their heads while men put on a songkok (cap). A Muslim house is also distinguished by Arabic calligraphy on the door. Although language can be an obstacle, bilingual guides help the tourists communicate with the local people. Madam Rokiah Anang, 59, who went on the May and June trips organised by Halijah Travels, says: "Although there was no exchange of words except for Assalamualaikum, we feel the closeness simply by being together."