One o’clock rolls around, and what had previously filled the table – a feast of chicken, beef, sweet rice, special bread, and stir-fried vegetables – now fills our bellies. As I begin standing up from the table, my Chinese grandmother, a sweet Hui lady in her late 70’s, tells me, “Don’t you run away now; we still have to wrap the dumplings. You are staying to wrap the dumplings, aren’t you?” Her question leaves room only for a Yes.
Beijing’s Temple of Heaven park complex attracts many tourists each year with its buildings’ elaborate wooden architecture and meticulously kept grounds. Before the complex retired to tourism, however, it served as a place of Heaven worship, where for hundreds of years Chinese emperors performed the Border Sacrifice, during which a spotless animal was sacrifice and prayers made for protection and blessing.
Though I’m not a Muslim, I was given the chance to learn Surah, or chapter 97 of the Quran in a class at a mosque. During the class, the Imam told a story related to this chapter, The Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr, ليلة القدر). This was the night Allah gave his revelations to Muhammad for the first time through the angel Gabriel.
In the Eleventh Century, two brothers led a group of Salar people from the Oghuz Turks tribe, fleeing from persecution in their hometown in Samarkand, which is located in today’s Uzbekistan. As they searched the desert for a new place to settle, the group suffered great hardships, but they all believed Allah would guide them to their final destination; these people were all Muslims.
Squatting just inside the glass doors of his family store, Hassan watches the residents of the quarter walk by as they head home from work. Hassan is not an intimidating figure. He is a short, bony guy with a thin wispy goatee hanging from his chin. As he sees strangers come into view, he hops up and opens the door while waving us over.
We are excited to find someone who wants to talk. We have heard stories about the Huihui, but we are hoping to meet someone and hear directly about their history and culture. We quickly learn that Hassan is a teacher at the local mosque. He has traveled overseas to study Islam and is very comfortable talking about Islam and the history of his people.
It is often stated that Hui can be found in every county across China. It is debatable whether or not that is true, but Hui do stretch all the way across China from the far northwest of Xinjiang to the far southeast on the beautiful island of Hainan. China is not known for its beaches, but Hainan Island has beautiful vacation spots and a few Hui. About ten thousand Hui call Sanya, the southern city on the island, their home year around, and during the winter months when temperatures drop below freezing in the northwest another 50,000+ Hui travel to Sanya to escape the cold winters of their hometowns.