How wonderful ma'shallah
YINCHUAN, June 23 (Xinhua) — At a tiny courtyard mosque in China’s most populous Muslim region, Jin Meihua leads other women in prayer and chants.
Every day, the 44-year-old dons a black robe and violet scarf and preaches to dozens of women at the Little White Mosque in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous region, where most of the country’s Islam-faith Hui ethnic minority live.
Jin has a routine life. “Except attending funerals, I always stay in the mosque, teaching the female Muslims Islamic scriptures.”
She is a female imam or “ahong,” pronounced ah-hung, from the Persian word “akhund” for “the learned.” In China, a female imam is an innovation, despite being rare in Arabic countries.
Jin has 15 students, mostly middle-aged and elderly people. They learn slowly and need two years to grasp “The Holy Qu’ran.”
“Many female Muslims do not have the benefit of a school education. Although they are Muslims, they know nothing about the Qu’ran. I want to teach them the holy scriptures and hope they can be inspired and think independently,” she said.
“Women ahong are the best qualified to do this because they can communicate with the female faithful in ways the male ahongs can’t.”
As early as the late Ming dynasty (around the 17th century), the faithful had set up female Muslim schools around the country. These turned into female mosques operated by women imams in late Qing dynasty (around the 19th century).
The practice of female imams then spread to all the Chinese Muslim societies, said Shui Jingjun, a Henan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences researcher.
In the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), religion was banned. It was revived in the 1980s, increasing the numbers of Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Christians, among others. The government’s push for gender equality helped broaden Muslim women’s roles.
However, China’s women imams are not equal with the male prayer leaders. They do not lead salat — the five daily prayers considered among the most important Muslim obligations. The prayers are instead piped via loudspeakers into the female mosques from the nearby male ones.
Still, the female imams guide others in worship and are the primary spiritual leaders for the women in their communities. In the female mosque, the female Muslims can learn the Qu’ran and the Islamic doctrines, as well as the Arabic language.
“The appearance of female mosque and female imams has met the female Muslims’ demand for religious knowledge and promoted harmony in the Muslim society,” said Hei Fuli, vice chairman of the Islamic Association of Ningxia. “The Arabic teachings have also enriched their lives.”
Currently, Ningxia has more than 80 female imams. There are more than 3,600 registered mosques and 6,000 ahongs in the region, he said.
Unlike most of her classmates who went to the coastal areas as translators, Zhao Dongmei, 21, a graduate from the Tongxin County Arab Language School in 2005, chose to be a female imam in Yuanzhou District, Guyuan City. Here, nearly half of the population is Muslim.
The timid girl with a mauve scarf and a pair of glasses, received her imam certificate issued by the local Islamic association before graduation. She became a female imam in the female mosque a month after marriage.
“I teach 10 young girls Arabic and Islamic scriptures. They all come from the countryside,” Zhao said, adding, “They can further their studies, be translators or spread what they have learned in their villages.”