Personal narratives are always powerful. They are the sum of experiences of a person and thus they can capture what lengthy discussion about abstract qualities and beliefs of a community cannot capture. The following is the first in a series narrative by a Chinese Hui Muslima. Some of the problems that she describes are faced by not just Chinese Muslims but by Muslims in other countries also. Here is her story:
Note: Things have greatly improved in China since the time I was growing up so some of this may not apply anymore.
Being a minority I was always reminded consciously and unconsciously that I was different. There were things that I could not do which other Chinese people could do. This was despite the fact that my parents were not particularly religious. Being a child and then a teenager I did not understand why we could not eat pork or why alcohol was prohibited but thanks to Allah even in those times I refrained from these things. If you go to any Chinese social gathering you will see these two things. Some people do understand that we have these prohibitions but there were many people who did not. This just meant that I was effectively barred from taking part in social gathering. This also limited the number of friends that I had.
There were times when I wished that I was not Muslim and later on there were times when I wished that I lived somewhere else. Some of the Muslims that I knew took the other road i.e., for them being Muslim was equivalent to an ethnicity so alcohol, pork and partying was not a taboo for them. I did not really know where I belong. For adults its easier to adapt but children do not know how the world works. Its not fun when people make fun of you if you can’t drink or people try to pretend to be interested in Islam when they actually want to hit on you.
The generation of my grandparents did not have such qualms. They were well integrated and non-Muslims greatly respected their faith. I think it is the general trend in the Chinese society regarding the gradual break down of traditional values like respect, piety and humbleness that made my experiences different from theirs. My generation and the subsequent generations also will see the full brunt of modernization. People seem to be less understanding in my generation. They want to look and act ‘cool’ which is just another word for mindless imitation of the West and so the older values are being replaced. We can learn a lot of good things from the West but imitating without thinking is bad. I did not realize what was going on until much later and only after comparing my experiences with that of my grandparents. That said my experiences are not universal as there are many Chinese Muslims who do not have to face such problem.
Next: Part II: Fitting In