Muslim Village in Harmonization with Han Culture

Despite pouring rain outside about 400 Muslims came swarming into the Dingda Mosque in Sang Po village, from all directions.

Friday's Islamic congregation ceremony is the most important activity of the week, when chanting of sutras resounds in all 11 mosques there, just like it was 600 years ago when the villagers'ancestors arrived. The village, inhabited by the Hui ethnic group, only has a population of no more than 5,000.

Besieged by cities and villages of the Han people, Sang Po village is located in the northwest of Henan Province in central China, where China's first dynasty, Xia (21th-16th century B.C.), was founded and inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th Century B.C.), known as the characters of "Jiagu," were excavated.

"Non-Islamic culture is everywhere," Liu Zhiheng, imam of the Dingda Mosque said, "But the Islamic culture still exhibits distinct characteristics."

The roofs of the buildings here are built in the design of the ancient Chinese palace roofs, but the symbol of the crescent moon on top of these roofs represents the existence of Islam.

Written in the language of Arabic, Han antithetical couplets are used by Sang Po villagers now to spread the teaching of Alcoran.

Intermarriage with Han people are also acceptable now in the village. Some Han women have married in after converting to Islam, but Sang Po women are still prohibited to get married with Han people.

"Islam means "peace" in Arabic," said Liu. "It is a non-violent religion that is prone to a peaceful coexistence with different cultures, just like Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism that Han people deeply embrace."

The Doctrine of the Mean and The Great Learning, two of the famous Four Books, are Liu Zhiheng's favorite readings. He often quotes from Confucius, a figure of worship for the Han people, when he preaches Islamic tenets.

"Mohammed calls all Muslims brothers and sisters, while Confucius advocates benevolence and righteousness as well as fraternity," said Liu.

Most of the 20 million Muslims in China live in Xinjiang Uygur and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regions in the northwest, with about 700,000 in Henan Province in central China.

Ancestors of Muslims may be traced back to the business envoys trading among Empire Tang, Persia and Arabia since the 6th century A.D..

There used to be some conflicts between the Hui and Han people in past history, when the Qing government implemented the policy of racial discrimination.

But all of these are in the past, as the Great Han nationalism was extinguished and now economic development is bringing more and more people together, Liu believes.

What Liu cares most for now is other Islamic regions all over the world. "Wars and chaos break out due to the prevalence of hegemonism in some western countries," said Liu.

Peace produces prosperity for the Sang Po village. Succeeding to its commercial tradition, Sang Po is engaged in the industry of pelt processing and exportation, which makes it Asia's largest fur processing base, with annual earnings of tens of millions of U.S. dollars annually.

Han people account for over 90 percent of all laborers coming in to pursue job opportunities as well as wealth.

Although they never celebrate the Lunar Spring Festival, Sang Po villagers like to present gifts to their Han friends.

Lots of western people are also lured to do business here, but ang Po people do not disseminate Islam to Christians. "Religion is a personal affair, we never force others to take our belief", 78-year-old villager Ding Yuanqin said.

But it is a pressing task to teach children in the village with Islamic doxy, since many of them are increasingly infatuated with the Internet and singing Karaoke.

"Islam is the spiritual sustenance of all Muslims," Bai Huzhan, an official with the village said.

"Smooth syncretizing with the principal culture enables the Sang Po people to sustain and even develop their Islamic culture in the very core area of Chinese culture," according to Shui Jingjun, a sociologist who has made several investigation there.

People's Daily Online ---