For many Chinese Muslims, the life changing journey of hajj is not only a religious duty, but also an opportunity to present a positive image of Chinese Muslims to the world, correcting misunderstandings that are sometimes held in international society.
From July 20th, around 11,500 Chinese Muslims had started to head in official groups to Makkah, the most sacred of all Islamic sites, for hajj this year. China’s religious authorities organized the groups and chartered 34 flights.
The Islamic Association of China revealed last week that Chinese Muslims visiting Makkah are required to wear tracking devices that include their personal information.
The Islamic Association of China on July 27 published a series of photos showing a group of religious pilgrims, revealing that the Chinese government is forcing the Muslims on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia to wear GPS tracking devices at all times, to monitor their whereabouts while outside of the country as reported by Taiwan News.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing officials have claimed that the tracking devices are for the safety of the travelers themselves. The tracking devices also contain cards with personal identifying information to ensure that the GPS devices can not be exchanged.
A scholar quoted in the report said that this shows that the Chinese government considers Muslims to be at risk of dangerous behavior, and must therefore be monitored at all times, like a criminal on parole.
Making the most
Despite all this, the joyful and excited mood could easily be felt among a group of around 500 Chinese Muslims who took a chartered flight from Beijing to Saudi Arabic over the weekend.
“Chinese hajji” was printed in English and Arabic on the cards hanging on their chests, close to a Chinese national flag.
“We are representing China and Chinese Muslims.”
This was the most frequently mentioned sentence when a Global Times reporter spoke to members of the group, which was mostly comprised of older people.
Li Yong’an, a 38-year-old Muslim from the group, told the Global Times:
“When we are in foreign countries, we should strictly watch our behaviour.
We share the responsibility to safeguard the image of Chinese Muslims.
There are many misunderstandings about us, and we want to show that Chinese Muslims are happy and very friendly.”
Yang Quan (pseudonym), a 34-year-old Muslim from South China’s Guangdong Province, told the Global Times that she was excited to be the fourth one in her family to participate in the pilgrimage to Makkah.
Yang said she is prepared for the trip, which her family members describe as a “harmonious” journey that would benefit her for a lifetime.
The group gathers pilgrims from regions that have small numbers of Muslims, and Li is the only one from Central China’s Hunan Province in the group.
For Muslim-dense regions like Xinjiang, Ningxia and Gansu, the official groups leave from local airports.
The last group of Chinese pilgrims left for Saudi Arabia from Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, on Wednesday.
The hajj of 2018 takes place approximately from August 20 to August 23.
Coordinating a group of mostly elderly Chinese Muslims for a 40-day journey to the city of Makkah under 40 C heat is not an easy job.
But organizers say it is getting easier every year with the improvement of the pilgrims.
The quality of Muslims attending the pilgrimage has improved significantly, as well as the organization and management of the trips, an organizer surnamed Huang, who accompanied the 500 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, told the Global Times.
Chinese food is available three meals a day, and luggage and transportation services have been improved to facilitate the trip for the pilgrims who are mostly in their 50s or 60s, said Huang, who is helping organize the trip for her fourth time.
China’s religious authorities coordinate with local police officers in Makkah to ensure the Chinese groups are protected and also to make sure lines of communication are in place in case of emergencies, according to the China Islamic Association, a national Muslim organization that organizes visits for Chinese pilgrims. Huang said:
“Previously, most of the pilgrims were elderly. The number of middle-aged people has increased during recent years, which gives us more hands for helping during the trip.”
Although there is no age requirement for pilgrims in Islamic teachings, some Chinese provinces set the bar from 25 or 35 years old to around 70 or 75.
According to China’s regulations on pilgrimages, Muslims will receive patriotic education and courses to enhance their awareness about safeguarding national unity and resisting separatism and religious extremism before they begin the pilgrimage.
They will also receive training courses on religious practices, local law and regulations, and security awareness.
Transparent and fair
Every year, China sends around 12,000 pilgrims on the hajj, and the quota is split up among 30 provincial-level Islamic administrations.
Most Chinese Muslims need to register online to get a spot. A physical examination is also necessary before they can join the pilgrimage. Those from regions with large amounts of Muslims need to queue up to get a spot.
Online registration has made the process more transparent and fair, said Huang, adding that those who register online can check their status on a website.
As of Wednesday, more than 64,000 Muslims signed up on the website for registration for the pilgrimage in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
China and Saudi Arabia established diplomatic ties in 1990, which further facilitated the growth in Chinese hajjis.
May Allah accept from all the pilgrims coming from the around world and may He protect them all types of harm.