Location: London, United Kingdom

Thursday, March 09, 2006


I’m in Peking today and have just read an article in the China Daily about some of our muslim friends over here. Yet again we have an example of their refusal to integrate.
Their values are seemingly at odds with just about every other culture.
Tie Yongxiang, a muslim from Gansu Province in a remote part of China, has never seen an aeroplane or watched television. In fact, when asked if he had heard of China said, "I know what China is, it is a country run by people who are supposed to be helping us." You can already see a bit of an attitude problem here….
"Us," as he puts it, are the Dongxiang people, an muslim ethnic group that has lived for eight centuries in Gansu Province. Of the 25 townships in the county, 19 do not have a single Chinese resident. Most people do not speak Chinese, and some, like Tie, have only a vague notion of China, even though they live in the middle of it. The geographic isolation has helped preserve a devout Islamic culture and an ancient language, but it has also separated the Dongxiang people from the prosperity lifting other parts of China.
The Dongxiang, one of China's 56 officially recognized ethnic minorities, are now among China's poorest and most illiterate people. Ring any bells?
Though some of the population are too poor to send their children to school, they have (surprise, surprise) pooled enough money to build village mosques and graceful towers with elegant curved roofs that serve as burial vaults. "The Dongxiang people have always believed in Islam," said Ma Ali, 36, the imam at an old mosque in Hanzilin village. Indeed, even within a larger region known as the center of Islam in China, Dongxiang has a reputation for being particularly devout. However, the Islamic atmosphere has become watered down over time, and so now the older people want to protect their culture, and particularly Islam. "A lot of young people really want to go out and see the rest of China," a younger resident said, "But often their families don't let them. It's still very, very isolated."
The distinctive local language is a source of pride. But it is also blamed for Dongxiang's educational shortcomings. The language is oral, so children never learn to read or write in their native tongue. In grammar school, the curriculum is in Chinese and therefore many children drop out. Government statistics show that the average person in Dongxiang attends just 1.1 years of schooling. Because of the cost, or so they say, many families never send their children to school at all, and particularly daughters.
But they can build those mosques.


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