The hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence.
From Xian in China to Mecca in Saudi Arabia it is a distance of 6,812 km or 4,232.781 miles.
This post might be a surprise to many in the West that think there is no religious freedom in China, but China handles religious freedom similar to how Singapore does it. And Singapore is seldom if ever criticized in the Western media for its religious restrictions.
The U.S. Department of State says that Singapore’s government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and handicap political opposition, and it does. One of those restrictions is a limited freedom of religion.
For instance, Singapore bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church by making public meetings illegal. The Falun Gong, banned in China, also has problems in Singapore.
China recognizes five religions — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism but has banned certain new religious movements that are considered cults. China does not recognize cults as religions.
In the video embedded with this post, Al Jazeera follows Chinese Muslims as they prepare to undertake the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca from Xian in China.
The ancient city of Xian in Shaanxi province is home to about 60,000 ethnic Chinese Muslims.
Xian claims it has a Muslim history going back more than thirteen hundred years when Islam was first introduced to China in 650 AD, and the oldest mosque in China was built in 685-762 AD in Xian during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.
Chinese Imam Ma Yi Ping speaks both Chinese and Arabic. He studied at the Islamic University of Medina and has made the hajj several times. He was taught in secret to be a devout Muslim by his parents when Mao ruled China and the mosques in China were closed.
Despite the persecutions that took place during China Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) for all religons, Islam survived.
Ma Yi Ping says that after Mao and the Gang of Four were gone and China opened for trade with the world, he did not have to study the Quran in secret anymore.
Since the 15th century, Xian Muslims have been going to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage.
In the past, during the ancient days of the Silk Road, these journeys started and ended in Xian’s Muslim quarter. Today is no different.
Continued in Part 2 starting June 1, 2016
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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