Indeed, the Chinese ethnic Muslims began to go on Haj pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, long time ago with the earliest Haj visit recorded in the historical literature being in the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D-1644 A.D.) when the famous Chinese navigator Zhen He, a Muslim, led his fleet to Makkah to perform Haj during one of his seven marine adventures. The Chinese Muslims used to follow two routes to Makkah, one by sea and the other by land.
The land route ran along the Hexi Corridor in Gansu and passed Xinjiang, Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt before crossing the Red Sea and reaching the Jeddah port. The marine route started from Hong Kong and passed Myanmar and India until arriving at Jeddah port. Nevertheless, the Chinese ethnic Muslims, encountered difficulties in their efforts to reach Makkah for Haj. Hardships were due to financial reasons, difficult and long journey and backward transport means, as the Muslims had to walk, ride on horse or in carriage, or take the ship to perform Haj. The trip often took them months, or even years, in which they suffered a lot with some of them dying on the way.
Since the People’s Republic of China was founded, the Chinese government has adopted the policy of religious belief freedom, respecting the Muslims’ religious belief, protecting their rights to go to Haj. With the support of the government, the Chinese Muslim, in 1952, organized the first Haj team of 16 people, who had to return to China for some reason after arriving in Pakistan. In 1955, when the Bandung International Conference was convened in Indonesia, the late Premier Zhou Enlai of China met with Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia and discussed with him about Haj. In the meeting Prince Faisal promised to help the Chinese pilgrims with their visas. In the same year, a 20-member Chinese team, which included famous Chinese Muslims Da Pusheng and Ma Yuhuai, accomplished their mission. Between 1955 and 1964, the China Islamic Association organized 10 Haj trips to Makkah attended by 132 Hajis. However, after the Cultural Revolution in China, the Haj trips came to a stop. Fourteen years later in October 1979, the Haj visits resumed. Since the 1980s, China began to organize the Haj trips with the pilgrims responsible for their own expenses. The Chinese government also facilitated visits to their relatives in Saudi Arabia.
Even when the country was short on foreign currencies, the government allocated part of the foreign currency quota for the Hajis. Since 1986, with the support of the government, China Islamic Association started to organize the Chinese Haj teams. Such practice has become a regular and well-organized move since then, which has three following features.
First, the number of the Hajis has grown considerably from 2,200 in 1985 to 13,500 this year. Second, the management and services are excellent. The Muslim pilgrim has been incorporated into the government management tasks, which ensure its legal status. Furthermore, China Islamic Association provides all-round service for the Chinese Muslims from the start to finish. Third, the pilgrimage has been made easy. Chinese airlines have launched five direct-flight take-off airports reaching Madinah, shortening the flight hours and saving travel expenses.
To safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the Hajis and facilitate the trips, the government and the China Islamic Association have taken a number of measures.
The government issued the Regulations on the Religious Affairs in 2004, which is the first comprehensive decree regulating the religious affairs. In accordance with the Article XI in the Regulations, “The national Islamic organization is responsible for organizing the Chinese citizens holding Islam as their belief to go on Haj overseas.” This article conveys two messages. First, it clarifies and protects the basic rights of the Muslims going on Haj, which are not be infringed on by any organization or individual. Second, the article designates the China Islamic Association as the main body of organizing, managing and serving the teams and regulates that no other organization or individual can organize the Haj teams.
To help Muslims perform their pilgrimage, the China Islamic Association sent its first Haj Working Team in 1986, which helped the pilgrims with the Haj visa application, ticketing, traffic, accommodation and all formalities in Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan, and Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia. Because China had yet to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, the increasing number of Hajis had to go to Saudi Arabia via a third country. In 1989, China and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement deciding to set up business offices in each other’s capital city. To facilitate the Haj for its Muslims, the Chinese government once arranged six chartered flights directly to Jeddah and helped 900 Chinese Hajis get visas on arrival.
In July 1990, the two countries established diplomatic relations, thus laying the foundation to cooperate in politics, economy and culture and making it easier for pilgrims to perform Haj and get consular protection. After getting the Haj visas in Beijing, the pilgrims take the direct flight in Beijing or Urumqi of Xinjiang to Jeddah and take the chartered plane back from Jeddah. In 2005, the government, to shorten the travel duration and reduce the cost of Haj, launched the direct flight from China to Makkah. Later, it also initiated direct flights to Makkah taking off from Lanzhou, Yinchuan and Kunming respectively. Now, the Chinese pilgrims can take the chartered planes to Makkah from five Chinese cities, namely, Beijing, Urumqi, Lanzhou, Yinchuan and Kunming.
The illegal organizers of the Haj teams, only focusing on money, organize trips by deceiving pilgrims. This practice undermines the government-organized Haj. Moreover, the legitimate rights and interests of the Hajis when they are abroad are not guaranteed. Many pilgrims have been deceived and are forced out of their hotels to the streets.
In 2005, the China Islamic Association established the Haj Working Office. Besides, the provincial religious and ethnic administrations established offices to organize and serve ethnic Muslim pilgrims in China. In recent years, as the number of the Chinese pilgrims increases, it is becoming more significant to manage and serve the Haj teams. And it has significant bearing on the national security and stability, ethnic unity and the international image of China to enhance the management of and improve the service for the pilgrims. As a result, the China Islamic Association, in the recent years, has been studying how to organize, manage and provide service for the Haj teams. By learning from the overseas experience in this regard, the association has improved the management system of the Chinese Haj affairs and formed the regulated, institutionalized and regular mechanism of Haj work.
On the invitation of Saudi Arabia, the association organizes Haj delegations each year. Working together with the Saudi Haj Ministry, the guide agencies of Makkah and Madinah, the General Auto Trade Union, the United Agency Office and other supervising bodies and service agencies, the association summarizes the Haj organizing and service of the previous year, makes plans for the next year, signs relevant agreements of service, thus ensuring that the Chinese Muslim pilgrims can perform their Haj in Saudi Arabia.
The association has set out a target of ensuring the “safe, orderly and well-behaved Haj” and requires that all of its staff to be diligent and dedicated to their work and service while holding the notion of “Haj First.”
Chinese Consul General