CAIRO – Unlike their peers around the world, Muslim women in China are enjoying having female-only mosques and getting a unique opportunity to develop their religious knowledge.
"I feel so blessed to have a mosque I can visit,” 80-year-old Ma Guifang told China Daily on Tuesday, November 20.“Not many female Muslims enjoy such a privilege.”
For the past 20 years, the elderly Muslim lady from the Hui ethnic group has been attending this women-only mosque, a phenomenon unique to China.
The Lulan mosque was built in 1956 by a group of Muslim women who had relocated to Lanzhou from Henan province in central China.
Prayers are led by a male imam in a mosque 100 meters away with the service is usually piped into the room through a loudspeaker to the female worshippers.
The province’s Muslim women are proud of being able to take care of their mosque.
Ma Lan, the 46-year-old caretaker, rises at 4 am to shovel coal into the boiler to ensure a good supply of hot water for the washing ritual.
She even cooperates with other female worshippers in keeping the mosque clean and ready for daily prayers and Friday congregation, which gathers about 150 worshippers.
"Women do all the work here, no matter how physical it gets," Ma said.
The mosque is financed solely by donations from female worshippers and visitors as well.
"We receive about 2,000 to 3,000 yuan ($321 to $481) a month," imam Tao Jinling said, pointing at the list of donors and how much they gave.
"Around 20 to 30 people come to the mosque every day. The number rises to around 150 during the Juma prayers on Friday."
According to official data, China has 20 million Muslims, most of them are concentrated in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions and provinces.
Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China — up to 7.5 percent of the population.
In general, during Muslim prayers, women may not lead men but may lead other women, which is the case of females leading prayers in female-only mosques in China.
In Islam, the majority of jurists maintain that a woman is allowed to lead her fellow sisters in congregational prayer if there is no man to lead the congregation.
Chinese Muslims praise efforts of the women-only mosques in educating females about their religion.
"Only China has women's mosques, but this is not a common practice among Chinese Muslims," said Jin Rubin, secretary-general of the China Islamic Association.
"But one thing for sure is that women's mosques can provide them with a better level of education, which Islam greatly encourages."
Wang Yuming, director of Lanzhou's Xihu mosque, which also runs a school for women, agrees.
"Muslims care about education for women because we believe they are the lighthouse of the family," he said
“Their influence helps to keep our society stable.”
The school costs the mosque about 500,000 yuan every year, but Wang believes it’s worth the cost.
"In addition to teaching the women about the Qur’an and Islam, we also teach them basic math and urge them to tell their children to stay away from drugs," he said.
"Female Muslims deserve a decent level of education and the mosque is the best place to provide that.
"Now that winter has come, we have to make sure the classrooms are warm enough to allow elderly students with arthritis to sit through the classes without pain," said Wang.
Studying at the school for five years, Ma Lanying, 76, said that learning is a lifelong activity for Muslims.
"I feel so proud that I can understand the Qur’an and know exactly what the prayers mean," said Ma, who walks 45 minutes to school every weekday.
Determined to change her life, Ma Aizheng, who worked as a nurse before she retired, said she makes time to study at home in the afternoon after classes finish at 11:30 am.
"Studying the Qur’an has become a spiritual support for me," said Ma.“I didn't have time when I was working and now I have a lot catching up to do.”
Related Links:‘Record’ Chinese Muslims Embark on Hajj
China Muslims…Rich, Nuanced Traditions
Trade Expands China Muslim Minority
No Ramadan for Uighur Muslims
China Muslims Embark on Hajj