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Farrukh Travels: Into the Muslim History of China - Islam Online

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  • Zafar Khan
    Farrukh Travels: Into the Muslim History of China By Farrukh Younis** April 30, 2005 http://www.islamonline.org/English/artculture/2005/05/article01.shtml In
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2005
      Farrukh Travels: Into the Muslim History of China
      By Farrukh Younis**
      April 30, 2005


      In our Farrukh Travels series we will follow Farrukh
      Younus as he travels around the globe. Farrukh is a
      young British Muslim from a Pakistani background who
      has to travel a great deal in his work. In this
      monthly series Farrukh will share his adventures,
      cultural observations, and spiritual contemplations in
      his search for that which we share and that which is
      unique to each place and community.

      “A-l h-a-m-d-u l-i-l-l-a-h-i R-a-b-b
      il-`a-l-a-m-e-e-n.” So began the recitation for
      Jumu`ah (the Friday Prayer). Every letter pronounced
      meticulously by the imam, self-consciously aware as he
      led the small congregation of about 20, that he is not
      a native Arabic speaker. The congregation was fully
      Chinese, mostly men over 50, but with a handful of
      youngsters in their early teens.

      Qinjing Mosque—also known as Kylin (Unicorn), Shenyo,
      or Ashab Mosque—was originally built in 400 CE during
      the Northern Song Dynasty. It is one of seven mosques
      that were built in the city of Quanzhou. This city,
      described as Zaytun by Marco Polo, was the most famous
      port city of the Eastern world, and the starting-point
      of the maritime Silk Route.

      I have traveled to this part of China many times, but
      I never had the opportunity to explore the nearby
      Muslim heritage. Today, having finished a meeting
      early, I returned to the hotel, rented a taxi, and
      headed in the direction of Qinjing Mosque in the hope
      of making it for Friday Prayers.

      Arriving late at the mosque and certain I had missed
      Friday Prayers, I couldn’t help but notice the large
      Buddhist temple nearby. For centuries, Muslims and
      non-Muslims have lived here in peace with their
      neighbors, be they Arabs, Chinese, or other
      ethnicities. Later, Muslims and their descendants were
      commonly identified with surnames such as Pu, Guo,
      Ding, Xia, Li, Jin, Ma, Tie, Ge, Shan, Mi, Ha, Yang,
      Huang, and Su.

      Expecting a mosque similar to the Nu-Jei Mosque in
      Beijing, I was saddened to discover that what lay
      before me were essentially ruins, the remnants of a
      community that once flourished.

      The architecture is a blend of Chinese and Arab
      styles. I am led through a central courtyard where a
      few pillars still stand. The inscriptions on the front
      walls, including the direction of the qiblah, seemed
      to be verses of the Qur’an. To the side lay a well,
      dug when the mosque was originally built, and despite
      droughts, it has never dried up. For many centuries
      this well served as the primary source of water for

      Excavation in recent decades brought up a series of
      tombstones, with inscriptions in both Arabic and
      Chinese. A few of them are displayed alongside the
      “museum.” Sadly the museum was not much more than a
      collection of photos of individuals who have visited
      the mosque and some brief history, with little else in
      relation to the mosque or other Islamic artifacts.

      To the side of the ruins I found a relatively new
      construction, large enough to fit perhaps 60 people.
      This served as the prayer hall—a far cry from the
      drawings in the museum of what the local community is
      hoping to build.

      After taking some photos I decided to make one last
      round of the mosque grounds to try to capture
      something different before leaving. On my way I met
      the imam of the mosque, whose English was as good as
      my Russian. My “as-salamu `alaykum” encouraged him to
      say “ana min China” (I am from China), signaling that
      I reply. I said, “Ana min Angleterre”—I immediately
      thought to myself, “dude, he isn’t French!” Of course
      at that moment I couldn’t think of England in Arabic
      but tried anyway, “Ana min England … United Kingdom …
      Great Britain.” No luck. Between him, a Muslim couple
      who were visiting the region, and an old fellow who
      was hanging about the place, we came to conclude that
      conversation wasn’t going to be a highlight of this

      Eventually I understood that Jumu`ah Prayers were to
      be held at 1 p.m. I wasn’t late, and I was welcome to
      stay. Woohooo! As much as I had wanted to use the
      water well dug initially with the original mosque,
      given that it was fenced off, I decided I would be
      better off not causing a stir and using the bathrooms
      for wudu’ (ablution). (They need a water boiler, the
      water was freezing!)

      At prayer, I found myself surrounded by old Chinese
      men, who had the most amazing full beards. If we go by
      the photographs we see, the West Chinese men do not
      have facial hair on their cheeks, just a few strands
      on their chin. These guys not only looked good, but if
      there were a Chinese Muslim version of Harrison Ford,
      they would be it!

      As the khutbah (sermon) progressed in Chinese, I
      managed to pick up a few words: tawheed (belief that
      God is One); kafir (disbeliever), mushrik (one who
      worships multiple gods). I also noticed the imam’s
      continuous pointing to his head and his heart.
      Although I had no clue what the sermon was about, I
      came up with the following on the basis of his
      signaling: God Almighty has blessed us all with both a
      heart and a mind. Use both the heart and mind to find
      the truth. If you use one and ignore the other, you
      will not find the correct balance.

      Was that interpretation my subconscious telling me
      that what I need to do is balance the knowledge of my
      mind with the sentiments of my heart? Is this what we
      do when we do not understand something: try to find
      the things that are common to us and then give the
      things that we see and hear the value we think we
      recognize? May God have mercy and help us all find
      that balance.

      After leaving the mosque, my driver and I stopped for
      lunch and then made our way to a Muslim graveyard, one
      of many lining the city, with thousands upon thousands
      of Muslim graves.

      On the foothills of Mount Lingshan are the tombs of
      two of the four Companions that Prophet Muhammad sent
      eastwards to preach Islam. Known as the “Holy Tombs,”
      they house the Companions Sa-Ke-Zu and
      Wu-Ko-Shun—their Chinese names, of course. The other
      two Companions went to Guangzhou and Yangzhou.

      In China they are referred to as the second and third
      saint, and I saw some photos in the Qinjing Mosque of
      what seemed to be a celebration at their graveside on
      the day of `Eid.

      Driving through the city of Quanzhou, as in many
      Chinese cities, one reaches a large archway with an
      Arabic inscription along the top. Passing through
      there is another archway to the left that leads to a
      large car park. Across the adjacent river is Longshan
      Park, the funeral ground for these two Companions, and
      a host of other individuals, some Muslims, some not,
      who were buried on that spot in later days.

      Halfway up the hill, past a series of steps, there is
      a large enclosure, horseshoe in shape, with a central
      cover. In the center of the enclosure are the graves
      of the two Companions. To one side is a plaque
      documenting that Admiral Zheng visited the gravesite
      of these two Companions and prayed for them before he
      left on his fifth sea voyage.

      While I asked God Almighty to forgive those who have
      gone before us and those who are to follow—the
      prescribed prayer when at a graveyard—I walked back to
      the car, contemplating how these two men must have
      traveled to the other side of the world in their time,
      a journey that we can today cover in 14 hours, but
      that would have taken them many months. They didn’t
      have the comfort of a BMW or that of a 5-star hotel.
      They came from a far-off land, settled in an alien
      land, learned the local language, and preached the
      simple truth of Islam. How lucky were these two men!

      One can only imagine the struggles and challenges they
      met, the way in which they overcame them—they, like
      many others before and after them were true pioneers.
      And may God Almighty forgive them their sins, and
      grant them peace and the best success in the
      Hereafter. Ameen.

      Making our way out of the city, we headed in the
      direction of Zheng He’s tomb. This famous Chinese
      admiral also happened to be a Muslim. His tomb is off
      a side road, past a number of factories, nestled in a
      hillside about 20 minutes from Longshan Park.

      Upon approach, a unique archway led to a magnificent
      tree-lined, unevenly paved passage, which after some
      500 yards ended in a series of steps leading to the
      tomb. Climbing the stairs, I reached the tomb, had a
      look around, said a short prayer, and made my way

      This time, a lengthier return to the car along those
      500 yards left me time to think. This man is one of
      the most famous men of Chinese history: a Muslim
      leader of his time, a traveler whose trips dwarf those
      of Columbus, a man whose ships were easily four times
      the size of Columbus’s and whose mission was to set
      out into the world, showing the world the strength of
      the Ming Dynasty. Having achieved so much, in the end,
      like any of us, he died. His tomb, in need of
      desperate repair, is now falling apart, lodged away on
      the side of a hill, all but forgotten.

      It seems that no matter who we are, where we go, what
      we do, none can or will escape death. Those who
      achieve great things may be remembered by history, but
      to what avail? It is to God Almighty that we return,
      and as people we should endeavor never to forget this,
      to live our lives in the best way possible, to be good
      to our neighbors and friends (and even our enemies),
      and to ensure that whenever it is that we die, we do
      so in our best state of faith. And may God have mercy
      and let none of us die except in our highest state of
      Islam. Ameen.

      Back at the hotel I showed my photos of the mosque,
      the graveyard, and the tomb to some Chinese girls at
      the hotel to help me translate the inscriptions,
      commentaries, and plaques I had found at these

      Some script was in modern Chinese, though much of it
      was in old Chinese. With our “team” (four native
      Chinese girls, one East European proficient in
      Chinese, one of the native Chinese bellboys, and I) we
      managed to decipher over a period of two-and-a-half
      hours the various inscriptions, adding significantly
      more value to the photos and my understanding of the
      history. The notes to them follow:

      * The Qinjing Mosque is recognized as one of the top
      cultural sites and is thus protected by the Cultural

      * An inscription on the Qinjinag Mosque wall is a
      peace treaty between two kings, the big king
      acknowledging that the Companions of Muhammad (and the
      Muslims) had brought with them knowledge of Islam, and
      that Islam in itself has much to contribute to the
      Chinese people. The small king, the representative of
      the Muslims, was obliged to respect the big king. As
      long as that mutual relationship of trust, friendship,
      and honor was in place, the big king would not attack
      or harm the small king and his people.

      * Zheng He was not buried alone, but with his wife,

      Once upon a time, Quanzhou was of central importance
      in global economics, a flourishing multi-cultural,
      multi-faith center, a city of great history. Today
      like most of China, much of the past is being brushed
      aside at the expense of rapid growth and development.

      It transpired that my “translation team” themselves
      knew very little about Islam, or the history of the
      city of Quanzhou and its famous old mosque, or the old
      multi-faith communities in that region. What started
      as a short adventure for me became a beautiful
      discovery for us all.

      In the history of the world there is a lesson for us
      all. Big or small, we will all die and be brought
      before our Creator. I pray that we all pass the tests
      of life in our own best capacities and that on that
      day when we stand before our Creator, we will all do
      so smiling, as God Almighty says:

      [The early immigrants [those who migrated to Madinah
      when persecuted by the Quraish in early Islam] and the
      helpers [those who helped the immigrants] and those
      who followed them up with beneficence, Allah is well
      pleased with them, and they are well pleased with
      Allah.] (At-Tawbah 9:100)

      **Farrukh I. Younus holds a masters degree in
      international business management and works in the
      emerging telecoms industry. He resides in Surrey, UK.
      His interests include travel, nouvelle cuisine, and
      chocolate. You can contact him at:

      Send instant messages to your online friends http://uk.messenger.yahoo.com
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