BY MAKHDOOM BABAR
I have been travelling to China very frequently for the past 15 plus years as a professional journalist. For the most of the time, I take flight of China Southern Airlines that gives me an opportunity to make a brief stay at Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. By virtue of these constant stopovers at Urumqi, I was able to make many friends at this beautiful city.
Population of Urumqi city is around five million and out of these five millions there is quite a reasonable population of 2 millions comprising Muslims citizens of China in this city. Due to presence of such a huge number of Chinese Muslims in Urumqi, a reasonable number of my friends at Urumqi is out of the local Muslim community while the larger part of my friends’ list from Urumqi has non-Muslim Chinese. So having the opportunity to keep meeting both Muslim and non-Muslim Chinese and at most of the occasions meeting them together, I came to know that there was an immense harmony and inter-faith peace amongst the Muslims and non-Muslim residents of China.
Despite the fact that since 2009 a foreign funded and foreign backed militant organization with the name of East Turkistan Islamic Movement continues making attempts to disrupt the peace in Xinjiang, yet there has been no let up in the inert-faith harmony amongst the residents of Xinjiang and especially in Urumqi.
However, during the last Fasting month of Ramadan, a French news agency released a mischievous news item and fed it to all the media organization across the world that subscribe to this French news agency’s service. In the said news item, it was stated that Chinese government had put a strict ban on Muslims in Xinjiang region for fasting and have ordered that no official of student of the Muslims community would be allowed to keep the fast during the month of Ramadan. Though a strong denial of the same came from Chinese government via State News Agency Xinhua, yet the news that found reasonable space in international media, disturbed many amongst the global Muslim community. Since I was a witness to the immense religious freedom that the Muslims in particular enjoy immense religious freedom, this news also came as a big surprise and shock for me.
I talked to different friends on phone in Xinjiang at the cities of Kashghar and Urumqi, they also expressed their surprise over such a news as they were unaware of any such ban or restriction by the Chinese government. Last month I received an invitation by the top Chinese newspaper to attend an international Media seminar on One Belt and One Road . I considered it as a wonderful opportunity to personally examine the state of affairs regarding religious freedom in China and especially in Xinjiang.
Since Eid-ul-Azha, one of the top festivals of Muslims and Mid Autumn Day or the Mooncake Festival, a very important Festival of the Chinese people were falling very close to each other, it was set to be an amazing opportunity to personally witness the level of inter-faith harmony. So after finishing my assignment at Beijing, I headed for Urumqi to celebrate Eid and Mooncake Festivals with my Chinese friends. At Urumqi, I was taken to Grand Mosque by a local Muslim friend Mr. Aleem who works with a local organization. We offered prayer and I was briefed about the sermon by the Imam of the mosque.
The Mosque that is around 150 years old was full of the people who had come to offer the prayer. I was told by Aleem that there were over one hundred Mosques in Urumqi city alone with around ten to fifteen being the grand ones. I was really impressed to see the extraordinarily maintained double storey mosque. I was told by Aleem that the Chinese government was responsible for the maintenance and furnishing all the mosques in the city. This centrally air conditioned and centrally heated mosque that was very well furnishing with thick carpets and the amenities was a perfect example to judge as to how much dedication, care and respect was the Chinese government extending towards the religious facilities of Muslims.
Aleem dropped me back at hotel as he had to rush for being with his father for the slaughter of the lamb that they had bought for sacrificing on Eid. He told me that the local government had made arrangements at different sports in the city to facilitate the Muslims for sacrificing the animals in a very organized and comfortable manner.
More than half a million animals were sacrificed in Urumqi but the city remained clean and neat as usual as government had made special arrangements for assisting Muslim citizens in removing the offal etc of slaughtered animals after the sacrificial rituals were over, Throughout the city, Muslims families were having BBQs both inside and outside their residences and they were also joined by their non-Muslim Chinese friends and neighbors.
I was invited by Aleem to his residence for Eid Dinner where he lives along with his parents and sister Munawar who teaches English language at a government University in the city. When I reached at Aleem’s residence, I was amazined to see that many of the local non-Muslim Chinese friends of Aleem and his family were also present to the grand dinner. All of them had brought different Eid gifts for Aleem and his family.
All the dishes were prepared by Aleem’s mother. Very tasty and mouthwatering dishes were having a lot of variety. I asked Aleem’s sister Munawar about the relations between the Muslim and non-Muslims residents of Urumqi to which she said that the presence of so many non-Muslim Chinese friends from their neighborhood at this grand Eid dinner was self explanatory about these relations. A day after celebration Eid with Aleem’s family. I was invited by one of my Chinese friends Mr. Zhang to celebrate the Chinese Mooncake Festival, a traditional Chinese festivity. There I was again pleasantly surprised to see that many Muslim locals were also present at Mr. Zhang’s place with lot of gifts to celebrate this festival.
This gave me a complete idea that there was complete inter-faith harmony amongst the Muslim and non-Muslim Chinese in Xinjiang and that the Muslims were very comfortably enjoying the immense religious freedom with in fact a great support by the government of China.