Islamic Culture In Lanzhou
    2013-02-16 15:37:32         Web Editor: Wang Wei

If you've been to Lanzhou, the capital of northwest China's Gansu Province, you may have enjoyed the tasty halal food, sight of colorful turbans on Muslim heads or the sound of prayers floating from the local mosques. But if you don't know the local Islamic culture, you can't say you know Lanzhou. To bring you more about Islamic life in Lanzhou, here's Wang Wei.


Prayers resound through Lanzhou every Friday afternoon as local Muslims gather for congregational prayer, or as Muslim people call it, Jumu'ah.

During Jumu'ah, Muslims from around the city often come to Xiguan Mosque, the largest mosque in Lanzhou and dating back to the 14th century. Ma Zhong has been the Imam of the mosque for more than five years.

"During Jumu'ah time, the mosque is packed inside and outside. There are about 4,000 to 5,000 people then. During regular prayers there are about 400 Muslims. I would say the mosque is the religious cultural center of Lanzhou. Moreover, it's also one of the top ten sights of Lanzhou, so it's a window for people from outside the city to get to know Lanzhou."

A tour in the courtyard of the mosque gives a visitor a brief idea of the religious culture in the city, but exploring further gets you in touch with what religious faith means to the local Muslims.

Walking into one of the buildings affliated the mosque, you find that the mosque is much more than a place of worship. It is also a school providing both higher and primary education for Muslim boys and girls.

"We have about 40 students in the boys' school. We try to train Muslim clerics and talents as well as provide another opportunity of education for dropouts. Their tuition, food, clothes and accommodations here are all free. There are more students at the girls' school, around 400, so we can't provide them with free food and accommodations. Students there are a combination of drop outs and unemployed. We provide Chinese, English, Arabic language courses as well as vocational classes like sewing and computer skills so they can make a living on their own after graduation."

Yao Jingjing is a Lanzhou citizen who joined the girls' school after dropping out of public school.

"I studied at the Lanzhou Institute of Technology, but later I dropped out. After staying at home for some time, my mom sent me here to study. I was interested in learning about what I believe in. And after graduation, I can even become a teacher and am already teaching in the school now."

Zhang Xiumei, a teacher at the girls' school, says the school also works to dispel local stereotypes and ignorance of Muslims and Islamic faith as rural and uneducated.

"The educational level of the local Muslim people is rising and that of their children's education is also rising with them. A lot of students from our school have a bachelor's degree and most of their children are college graduates, too. Some of them even have PhDs. And we're providing education to people who can't afford higher education."

As a Muslim mother, Zhang Xiumei says Muslim parents are strict with their children at home. She says in educating children at home, morality comes first. She tells her children not to lie, steal or swear as they all violate basic Islamic doctrines. She says children are required to greet elders with certain words when they come home to show respect. She says religious belief can help promote social harmony and give people mental strength.

"All people have difficulties in life, like troubles at work, or serious illness, and people feel depressed. And in some extreme situations where there is nothing family and society can help you with so some feel so helpless that they choose commit suicide. However, Muslims always think that hardship is a test by Allah, and we should get over it and never give up. And that's what we've been telling our kids. It helps them to develop a strong will."

Other Islamic beliefs include not eating pork, not drinking alcohol and no gambling or fortune telling. They also pray five times a day. Imam Ma Zhong says the rules help Muslims to live a healthy and harmonious life.

"The regular daily prayers help Muslims keep good healthy hours. Not eating pork can helps avoid tapeworm infections, not drinking helps maintain a sober and rational mind. No doing fortune telling helps avoid superstition and makes Muslims healthy and reasonable at all times."

There are now more than 200,000 Muslims in Lanzhou, accounting for about 8 percent of the city's total population.

For CRI, I'm Wang Wei.


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