Source: China Daily
China’s Muslims prepare for sacred pilgrimage
Updated: 2012-09-26 07:58
By Xue Chaohua in Lanzhou and Cui Jia in Beijing (China Daily)
After five years on the waiting list, Wang Wancheng finally boarded a chartered flight from China to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Wang, a 60-year-old Muslim who runs a small business in Northwest China’s Gansu province, applied for a seat on the aircraft arranged by the China Islamic Association as early as 2007, when he was able to afford the 35,000 yuan ($5,550) trip.
He said he was overwhelmed by joy that he can join 299 others from Gansu’s Dongxiang to perform the hajj in Mecca this year.
In his village, it is certainly breaking news, and residents held a farewell party on Sunday before he headed for Lanzhou, the provincial capital, where the chartered plane took off.
After about a 10-hour flight, the group of 332 Muslims is expected to land in Medina, 427 kilometers north of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, on early Wednesday (Beijing time). In Medina, the pilgrims will first visit the Prophet’s Mosque before heading to Mecca for the hajj.
The China Islamic Association planned 82 chartered flights this year to send more than 13,800 Chinese Muslims to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage. The aircraft taking Wang is the first flight this year, and everyone taking the flights is expected to arrive in Mecca by Oct 18.
The chartered flights organized by the association will take off in the coming few days from cities populated by large numbers of Muslims.
Currently, more than 23 million Muslims call China home. Islam entered the country around 1,300 years ago.
The number of Chinese Muslims taking the trip is increasing every year as incomes rise, said Guo Chengzhen, the association’s vice-president. “Only about 1,000 people went to the holy city in 1989 when the association first organized chartered flights for the pilgrimage.”
Muslims who are healthy and wealthy enough to go on the 38-day trip are required to apply to the local branches of the association first.
But there is a long waiting list in provinces and regions in western China with large Muslim populations, and some may have to wait for years, Guo said. “In some coastal regions without such a large number of Muslims, applicants may be able to go just one year after submitting their applications or even sooner.”
Among the 13,800 Chinese pilgrims this year, about 3,200 are from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region – the largest group of all.
Besides organizing the trip, the association also takes care of the Chinese pilgrims during the physically demanding journey.
There will be a special medical team including 52 doctors and paramedics to go with the pilgrims, whose average age is 62. “We require staff members who are there to assist the pilgrims carrying medications for heart attacks at any time,” Guo said.
From assigning imams who will guide the pilgrims during the hajj, to making ID cards with Chinese flags and contact details, the association’s services are worked out to every detail. “We almost have contingency plans for everything. We have to prepare enough ice just in case the air conditioning in the tents doesn’t work during the heat in Mecca,” he said.
The association organized several training sessions in China, from introducing procedures during the hajj to knowledge of basic international traveling, as some of the Muslims may have never set foot outside their villages before.