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Reclining beggars line the gates, asking alms from the women who casually come and go. Though the women of Jinan have enjoyed a mosque of their own for much of their lives, such spaces are extraordinary in a global religion still largely dominated by men. Meanwhile, in Urumqi, the capital of the autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang that sits 2, miles west of Jinan, Muslim women live very different lives. One week before Ramadan began, I witnessed a police officer harass a veiled woman on the street. Along with her hecarf, she had donned a China muslim girl dating face mask, likely as a way of skirting the city-wide ban on face veils that local authorities have imposed.
The policeman appeared to have assumed that she wore the creased white face mask for religious rather than health reasons, as Muslim women there sometimes do. In Urumqi, it is forbidden for students, teachers, and civil servants to participate in the Ramadan fast. Such is the bifurcated state of religious freedom in China, where Muslim women either enjoy unprecedented space for religious expression or face more restrictions on their faith than they would almost anywhere else in the world — all depending on who, and where, they are.
And behind both extremes lies the powerful hand of the Chinese state. Zhang Pingyun is in her 50s. She offered spiritual guidance to the women, exhorting them to approach the month of fasting with a sense of gratitude. One need not be a woman forced into a burqa under the Taliban in Afghanistan, or forbidden from driving a car in Saudi Arabia, to appreciate how empowering such a scene is.
I attended a private Christian college where, as a female student, I was barred from taking preaching courses and from leading the daily school-wide mandatory chapel services. But there stood Zhang, preaching boldly in that religious space like it was her right. And under Chinese law, it is her right. Unlike the U. The Chinese constitution may often China muslim girl dating honored in the breach, but gender equality is a concept that many Hui Muslim women have apparently internalized.
Government policies have done more than encourage a sense of self-confidence among Hui Muslim women. In the s, Chinese authorities began to require that all religious sites, pagodas, chapels, and mosques register with the government and comply with certain guidelines. Many experienced the new regulations as unwelcome state interference that restricted their activities. But for female-only mosques, whose existence had been tenuous for much of their history, mandatory registration was a welcome gift, not a restriction. That uncompromising Soviet-style push for equality has made itself felt across religious boundaries in China.
For me, it was a revelation. I was accompanied that day by a young American Christian man. Sometimes the difference between liberation and persecution divides neatly along gender lines. They had developed gradually over several centuries, evolving out of the need of a tiny minority religion to stem the inexorable tide of Chinese Confucian culture by ensuring Muslim mothers knew their own religion well enough to pass it to their children. No revelations of religious empowerment awaited me there; it proved very difficult even to broach the topic of religion with many Uighurs, the largely Muslim Turkic-speaking ethnic group who call Xinjiang home.
Barna, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her identity, told me that she and her husband came to the United States in search of greater freedom. Whereas Muslims in central and eastern China enjoy relatively broad freedom to practice their faith, Uighurs in Xinjiang live with tight strictures on their religious expression.
Uighur men in some counties must register each time they enter the mosque, and only government-approved mosques are permitted to operate. Chinese authorities claim that such strictures are needed to combat radical Islam, which they allege has caused the periodic violence now plaguing the region.
Unlike the scattered Chinese-speaking Hui who have no true homeland or ethnic connections abroad, Uighurs identify as a Turkic people with a history of autonomy in a homeland where many Uighurs now feel marginalized by discriminatory policies. Such sentiment has fueled a nascent separatist movement and boiled over into ethnic tensions, visible in such disturbances as the deadly Urumqi riots.
But critics assert that the religious restrictions only serve to feed what has become a vicious cycle of repression and violence there. Life is difficult for many Uighurs in Xinjiang. But the weight of religious restrictions has fallen disproportionately on Uighur women, whose space for expression of their faith — already circumscribed within the confines of a conservative culture — has been crushed.
But they have made no such attempts — perhaps, Barna agrees, because authorities see no benefit in encouraging more people to attend the mosques. Xinjiang authorities discourage or even forbid government employees — not only civil servants but also teachers, police, military, and employees of the massive state-owned enterprises that dominate the region — from wearing hecarves.
This can force observant Uighur women to choose between their job and a fundamental element of their religious expression. The young woman had graduated from college with the hope of becoming an English teacher. She sat for the requisite government examination, passed, and was offered a job.
But she wears a hecarf, and on top of all the other control that the work unit tried to levy on her — no fasting during Ramadan, restrictions on praying on government property — the hecarf ban was too much. China muslim girl dating quit the teaching job and took a position as a translator at a small private company. Now that she lives in the United States, Barna hopes to start a family, attend graduate school, and return to the career path she was forced to abandon in China.
In that way, Barna is one of the lucky ones. Authorities often refuse to issue passports to Uighurs, especially in southern Xinjiang, or require a huge bribe before processing Uighur applications for the travel document. In the past several years, hundreds of Uighur families have attempted to flee China on forged travel documents, only to be detained in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia.
In July, Thailand repatriated more than Uighurs under pressure from Beijing, despite objections from human rights groups and the U. Half the police were lined up on both sides of the front entrance, so that worshipers had to first walk through a virtual gauntlet of uniforms before entering the mosque compound. Proselytizing is carefully monitored.
A firmer separation between government and religion, as exists in the United States, largely commits authorities not to intervene in internal faith-based practices, even if those practices otherwise contravene widely accepted principles. That includes religious exemptions to laws outlawing discrimination against women, a type of religious freedom which can create isolated enclaves of pres gender roles. For Zhang, that means that she can practice Islam with the same freedoms — and the same moderate proscriptions — that belong to Chinese Muslim men.
But for millions of Uighur women, it means being forced to choose between faith and career, freedom, even ethnic identity. Muslim women in China get the best or the worst of state-mandated religion — and it all depends on where they live, and who they are. Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a journalist covering China from Washington. She was ly an assistant editor and contributing reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: BethanyAllenEbr. Sincea ly unnoticed network of ro, buildings, and military outposts has been constructed deep in a sacred valley in Bhutan.
By Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian. As part of a tradition dating back to the late 19th century and unique to China's 10 million Hui Muslims, Zheng is one of hundreds of female Imams leading all female congregations in the women's only mosques of northwest China. Though able to teach and lead prayers for women, they are forbidden from overseeing funeral rituals or washing male corpses before burial.
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