WASHINGTON, April 2 (IslamOnline) - Chinese Muslims, repressed and brutalized by decades of Communist rule, are re-igniting an un-faltered commitment to Islam.
Even though repression continues, economic reforms and the relative easing of draconian Chinese laws have brought hope to the community. Seizing the opportunity, Chinese Muslims, and more especially the young, have shown a growing interest in becoming proficient in Islamic and Arabic studies.
Over 23,000 Muslims are enrolled in China's ten leading Islamic institutes and mosques according to Ma Yunfu, vice-president of the Islamic Association of China.
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which has the distinction of being the home to the largest Muslim community in China, now has 3000 students training to be imams. Another 5,000 Manla, or young Islamic disciples, are studying Arabic and Islamic doctrine part time.
In addition, the Nigxia Economic Institute, located in the provincial capital of Nigxia, is now offering 3-4 year Arabic courses and special training classes. Nigxia University also opened an Arabic language department this year.
Ningxia has 1.78 million Muslims, making up one third of the province's total population. Several private schools teaching Islamic doctrine and Arabic language have also sprouted throughout China's western provinces.
Tian Xiping, a young Muslim from Tongxin County, the largest Muslim community in Ninxia told the People's Daily newspaper that, "systematic study of Arabic enables me to have a good command of Islam[ic] instructions and religious terms. I plan to advance my study abroad after graduation from the Ningxia Islamic Institute. "
Ma Jing, a female student, also from Tongxin county, who attends an Arabic school said, "I'd like to learn Arabic and expect to become an Arabic translator in future. As an Islamic intellectual, it is a must to study religious theory as well as commanding professional skills."
Over 300 students have graduated so far from Ma Jing's school and more than 20 have continued their higher studies in the Sudan, Yemen, Kuwait, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Southwestern Yunan Province, with a total Muslim population of 600,000 belonging to Hui ethnic group, has also seen a surge in youngsters' enthusiasm to learn Islamic studies and Arabic. Most of its 800 mosques now have attached Arabic schools catering to the growing interests of thousands of students.
Ma Zeiqu, a 16-year-old female student in Juming Village religiously attends her Arabic classes at a neighboring mosque. Such is her enthusiasm that she has never missed a single class despite heavy rains and snow.
Economic reforms in China have also led to increased trade with the Middle East, sparking an enormous demand for translators proficient in the Arabic language.
According to An Chunren, dean of the Foreign Language Department under the Ningxia University, "There is an urgent need to train a huge number of professionals in the fields of trade, foreign affairs, tourism and enterprise management along with increasing economic and trade contacts with Arab countries."
According to official data, China has 20 million Muslims. Most of them are concentrated in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions and provinces. Smaller Muslim communities can also be found throughout interior China.
Islam came to China via Muslim businessman during the Tang Dynasty. There have also been reports of companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) coming to China.
Against this tide of Islamic resurgence in China, the regime, however, has unleashed a brutal crackdown against Islamist freedom fighters in Xinjiang province fighting for a separate homeland.
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