Who would have thought that out of all places in the world many people, including a lot of Muslims, would be migrating to China to flee political instability and other hardships in their countries. Apparently there are more than a thousand Iraqi refugees in Yiwu alone and Muslims from other parts of the Muslim world have also settling in China because of economic reasons. This is interesting to know since economics was the main reasons for the establishment of the first Muslim communities in both China and Korea. In the case of Korea however the Muslim community completely assimilated into the locals so that even its trace is gone from the populace but not so in China where the contacts with the rest of the Muslim world continued. Here are a few relevant excerpts from an MSNBC news story.
YIWU, China – For more than three years, Khaled Rasheed and his family spent the nights huddled in fear as bombs exploded near their home in Baghdad. Like generations of would-be emigrants before him, he dreamed of a better life elsewhere. But where?
Finding a place that was safe was Rasheed’s top priority, but openness to Islam and bright business prospects were also important.
It wasn’t long before he settled on a place that had everything he was looking for: China.
As part of this campaign, China has sought to portray itself as more open to Islam than other non-Muslim nations.
Over the past 20 years, the government has gradually allowed its own Muslim minority to rebuild institutions that were devastated by state-sponsored attacks on Islam during the Cultural Revolution. Islamic schools have opened, and scholars of Islam are being encouraged to go abroad to pursue their studies. Unlike Christians, China’s estimated 20 million Muslims are considered an ethnic minority, a status that confers certain protections and privileges.
“In America, for people with my religion there can be a lot of problems,” said Adamou Salissou, 25, from Niger. “The image they have of Muslims is that they are terrorists. Chinese don’t have a problem with religion. They think, ‘It’s your religion and it’s okay.’ “
With funds from a Chinese government scholarship, Salissou is pursuing a master’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at Xiamen University in Fujian province, where a community of Arab traders thrived in the 7th and 8th centuries. Salissou’s brother Nour Mahamane, 23, joined him this fall and is studying for a master’s degree in petrochemistry in Shanghai.
‘They are free here’
Mosques in areas such as Yiwu, where foreigners are concentrated, have been given more freedom than some others, which are under strict state control. Officials at the mosque here estimate that more than 20,000 Muslim immigrants, about 1,000 of them from Iraq, have settled in the area over the past five years.
“The main feeling is that they are free here,” said Ma Chunzhen, the imam. “People are buying apartments and cars. They want to live here for good.”
When he first arrived in Yiwu from Beijing in 2001, Ma said, there were just over 100 people in his congregation. Services were held in a rented space in a hotel room. These days, up to 8,000 people attend the Friday prayer service in the shiny new mosque that was converted from a silk factory’s warehouse with money from foreigners who had settled in the city.
Things are of course not perfect as the following excerpt attests but still they are pretty good.
In Yiwu, there was anger in the Iraqi community after an Iraqi man, Mostafa Ahmed Alazawi, was found dead in his rented home on March 30. His family wanted him to be buried in China and applied to the city for a piece of land. The city ruled that foreigners could not be buried in China, forcing the family to ship the body back to Iraq. The decision fueled outrage among the Iraqis. Through a friend, the family declined to be interviewed.
Anwar said that despite the tensions he’s happier to be in China than elsewhere in the world.
“My brother lived in the Netherlands for nine years,” he said. “There, if you are a foreigner, you are below them. When he came to China, everything was different. Here, if you are a foreigner, you are treated better than Chinese.”