Chinese Muslims embrace female imams
Ma Guixia, a wife and imam, has had a hectic month leading Muslims through Ramadan celebrations.
Normally, the 42-year-old imam is responsible for guiding other female Muslims in worship and learning the Holy Quran at Wunan Mosque in Wuzhong City, northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
But during the holy month of Ramadan, her responsibilities nearly double as she helps her congregation perform the practices and prayers of Ramadan, which lasts from June 18 to July 18 this year.
Ningxia is home to 2.3 million Muslims of Hui ethnicity, the largest such community in the country, accounting for more than one-third of the region’s population.
Getting up at 4 a.m., Ma prepared food for nearly 70 female Muslims before fasting from dawn to dusk.
During the Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from sunrise to sunset. Children, the elderly and those who are sick do not have to observe the fast.
The evening prayer ends around 10:30 p.m., as Ma’s home is nine kilometers away from the mosque, she lives in the mosque during Ramadan.
“I go back home every one or two days after the morning prayer, doing housework and preparing food for my family,” said Ma, “though I’m busy and tired, I feel honored guiding other female Muslims in Ramadan.”
Ma was born in a religious family, both her grandfather and father are respected imams, her sister and younger brother are also imams in different mosques.
In 2009, Ma passed the qualification test to become an imam organized by the regional Islamic Association.
“In the past, many female Muslims do not have the chance of receiving education in the mosque. Although they were Muslims, they knew nothing about the Quran,” Ma told Xinhua.
In China, the female imam is an innovation, so is establishing female schools in mosques, in response to the country’s calling of gender equality.
Ye Xianglin, 36, started her study in the female school two months ago in the Southern Mosque of Wuzhong City.
“There is a male imam in the mosque who teaches us Islamic scriptures in order to understand the holy Quran,” said Ye, “and I can already read some chapters by myself now.”
Wearing a pair of 10-centimeter high heels, Ye runs a cosmetics shop. Fashionable as she is, she still observes the fast and has done so for years.
“Though it’s hard to observe fast in the hot summer, it’s of great importance for Muslims as it is the season for spiritual reflection,” Ye said.
As early as the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the faithful had set up female Muslim schools around the country. These turned into female mosques operated by women imams in the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911).
Muslims across China began celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan on Friday.
After finishing all her work at 10 p.m., Ma took a taxi home.
“I have to prepare for Eid al-Fitr for my family, after a month of fast, we will visit relatives and friends wishing a happy festival to each other.” Ma said.