The place where Jin Meihua, a female imam, preaches her sermons is a very small courtyard in the Wunan Mosque in Wuzhong city, in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
The 40-year-old Jin is among the first batch of female imams in the region. "My wish is to deliver virtue," said Jin.
Born into a religious family, she studied the Koran, the sacredtext of Islam, under her father when she was very young. But, as afemale, she could not go to mosques like her father. To help more women like herself to have the opportunity to learn the Koran and to pray in mosques, Jin decided to become an imam.
Last year, she passed the exam held by the Ningxia Islamic Association, and became one of eight female imams in Wuzhong. In Ningxia, where one third of China's Hui minority lives, the numberof registered imams is 5,000, of which there are only 30 female ones.
The status of female imams is unique to China. "Religion shoulddevelop with the times, " said Hei Fuli, secretary of the Ningxia Islamic Association."The emergence of female imams and mosques serving only women also goes along with the trend of the times."
Mosques serving only women are playing a more and more important role in the life of local women. They go to pray, and tostudy Arabic and the Koran there.
Imam Jin has five students, and some 50 women from nearby villages come to hear her preach.
"Because of illiteracy," Jin explained, `` many women here feelfrightened by the modern changes and developments in society. WhatI can do is to help them reject unhealthy thoughts, and to do goodthings under the influence of the Koran."
"Jin has earned a fine reputation with her sermons," said Ma Wanyun, imam of the Wunan Mosque.
Most of the first batch of female imams in the country come from traditional religious families, and are over 40 years old. Besides, most of them have secondary education, and can explain Koran in standard Chinese.
In the Koran, females are respected as the first teachers of children and the basis of family harmony. But in the past, most Moslem females had to stay at home, and had no opportunities to receive education or join in social life.