Beijing : Islam is making a strong comeback in the Chinese international trade hub of Guangzhou, a city first introduced to Islam more than one thousand years ago, thanks to foreign traders. “My understanding of Islam has become wider and deeper now,” the China Daily reported yesterday quoting Jin Lei, a Muslim from Shandong province who has relocated to Guangzhou. “In my contact with Muslims from different countries, I came to know that Islam is not limited to the mosque, but is a way of life,” he added. Guangzhou is home to four mosques, including the famous Huaisheng Mosque believed to have been built by Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, the uncle of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The city also has a grave believed to be that of ibn Abi Waqqas. Islam declined in Guangzhou during the 20th century and the 2000 national census put the number of Muslims in the city at just 9,838. This is no more the case. Guangzhou Islamic Association puts the number of Muslims living in Guangzhou at between 50,000 to 60,000. Wang Wenjie, its vice-president, says more than 10,000 worshippers perform the Friday prayers at the city’s four mosques. With the mosques unable to accommodate all worshippers, many are forced to pray on the sidewalks outside. “At first, local residents didn’t know what they were doing, but now they are all used to the scene,” said Bai Lin, an imam at the Xiaodongying Mosque. “People in Guangzhou are quite open-minded.”
There are many Halal restaurants in Guangzhou’s Muslim-concentrated areas, offering Arab, Chinese, African and Thai cuisines, IslamOnline.net reported. Just like traders first introduced China to Islam, they are now being credited for its revival in Guangzhou. “The social situation of today’s Muslim community in Guangzhou is quite like that of the Tang Dynasty,” notes Ma Qiang, an assistant professor of ethnology and religious studies at Shaanxi Normal University. “Both communities came into being at a time when China was open to the world and had a prosperous economy,” added Ma, a Muslim who wrote his doctorate thesis on Guangzhou’s Muslim community.
Guangzhou, an international trade hub, has attracted an increasing number of Muslim traders from the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia over the past years. “I first came to China in 1999. I fell in love with it and have mostly lived here ever since,” Mohamed Ali Algerwi, a 39-year-old Yemeni businessman, told China Daily. He has established a private business in Guangzhou and is now exporting mobile accessories, ceramics, tires, car accessories and cosmetics to Arab countries. Abdul Bagi Al-Atwani, a 38-year-old Yemeni, first came to China as a student 15 years ago. He moved to Guangzhou in 1999 and later started trading between China and Arab countries. “I like Guangzhou. It’s a good place for both business and living,” Al-Atwani, who also owns a restaurant, said in fluent Chinese.
Many stores in Guangzhou’s wholesale centers cater to foreign Muslim traders, supplying them with both Islamic goods, like electronic Korans, and daily necessities, like African and Arabian clothes. “Without foreign Muslims, many of us would be jobless,” Fang Qinghao, a store owner in the Honghui International Commercial Center, said. “When prayer times come, they sometimes just pray in my store, and I provide cardboard for them to kneel on,” he noted. “I understand that they have their religion, but we don’t talk about it. We talk about business.