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Gov't-led tour makes Mecca dreams come true


17:51, May 28, 2013

URUMQI, May 28 (Xinhua) -- Abulaiti Mamati's dream came true on Oct. 25, 2012.

That was the day that the 64-year-old imam from a local mosque in Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, embarked on his pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five obligatory acts for Muslims, through an annual government-organized trip to the Holy City of Islam.

At 30,000 yuan (4,896 U.S. dollars), Mamati said the package tour spared him from the arduous planning process and made his trip to Mecca carefree.

Before he and the other pilgrims left, the local government also arranged physical exams for them, minimizing the risk of illness during the trip, said Zhang Feng, an official with the committee of ethnicity and religion in Kashgar.

Translators, doctors and chefs also travelled with the tour group, offering services that made it easier for tourists to travel in the foreign country, Zhang added.

"We also didn't need to worry about lodging, as hotel rooms were booked ahead of the trip," Mamati said.

The annual government-led tour takes up to 100 pilgrims on a month-long trip to Mecca. Its popularity is evident in the long list of names of hopeful pilgrims.

Abdu Wayit is awaiting his turn. The 65-year-old shop owner's greatest dream is to visit Mecca before he turns 70.

"Money is not a problem, but the quota is very limited," Abdu said.

Abdu runs a shoe store on Wustanbowie Street, a bustling commercial street dotted with stores selling traditional Uygur handicrafts. With tourism booming in Xinjiang, his business is thriving.

His shop can earn some 8,000 yuan in net profits after rent and other operating costs. Both a shrewd businessman and a devout Muslim, Abdu has never missed one of the five daily calls to prayer.

The calls to prayer that emanate from the minaret of a nearby mosque have such a strong hold over shop owners like Abdu that they leave their shops unattended while they go to the mosque.

"Nothing gets stolen around a mosque," he said.

The mosque they attend, Idkha Mosque, is the largest in the region, covering an area of 16,800 square meters. The prayer hall can hold up to 3,000 people.

Though open to tourists, the mosque switches from a buoyant scenic spot to a quiet place of worship when prayer begins. Ticket sales and tours are put on hold to give way for religious activities.

During Jumu'ah, a congregational prayer held every Friday, the mosque teems with multiple-colored taqiyahs, short, rounded prayer caps worn by Muslims, as more than 30,000 people flood into the mosque, occupying all available space, said Abulimiti Sopee Haji, deputy director of the Kashgar municipal publicity department.

The mosque also becomes a center of celebration during festivals such as Kurban Bayram, the Feast of the Sacrifice, when hundreds of thousands of muslims gravitate toward the mosque to honor God's merciful act of using a sacrificial lamb to spare human life.

"It was my biggest wish to visit Mecca," Mamati said. "Now, I'd love to travel to as many more places in China as my health permits."

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