Buddhist jewelry, short-shorts and neighborhood bars. These are typically not the first things that pop into one’s mind when thinking of Muslims. I live in a city with mostly Han people and roughly thirty percent Hui people. Despite the people group categorization, at first glance it can be difficult to differentiate the Hui from their Han neighbors. Traditionally, the Hui people have a distinct culture that can be characterized from the outside by their clothing and lifestyle choices. However, cultural lines between the Han and the Hui are becoming more and more blurred. From a surface level, it can be hard to distinguish who is who.
Take my friend Lu Lu for instance. I met Lu Lu at the gym. When I met her, she was wearing short sleeves and a Buddhist style jade necklace. When we met up later to hang out, we went to a restaurant that had no indication of being Halal. We had great conversations about our families, dreams, and interests, but never once did she mention that her family is Hui, nor that religion plays an important role in her life. It wasn’t until I specifically asked her that I found out that she is, in fact, Hui. I was shocked! There was nothing about her lifestyle or appearance that seemed Hui.
Muslims, Hui people included, are known for their full-coverage dress. Women, at minimum, wear clothing that completely covers from the neck down. Most wear head coverings that do not permit their hair to be seen, and the most conservative even cover their faces, exposing only their eyes. However, among the Hui in my city, these traditional “fashion rules” don’t always apply. Many women choose not to wear the head coverings, some for job related reasons, wanting to blend in and not be discriminated against, others for vain reasons such as wanting to show off their long hair. Long-sleeved attire is also not a desirable look for many younger Hui girls, so they are adopting the fashion styles of the Han people, making them look less like the older Hui community. I brought a Hui friend to a get together last week, and none of my friends realized she was Hui because her shorts were so short!
Certain lifestyle choices can also make the Hui hard to distinguish. Our neighborhood is full of “Halal bars” that are packed out almost every night. Traditionally, alcohol is prohibited in Islam. However, I’ve had several Hui friends tell me that wine and beer do not count as alcohol, and therefore it’s ok to drink them. I’ve also heard that if the occasion is special enough (a wedding, holiday, etc.), then alcohol consumption is permitted. Other people may simply justify their alcohol drinking by committing to do more good things to make up for this one bad thing. Whatever the reason, from the outside it’s clear that drinking alcohol has lost its taboo among many Hui people, and it’s widely practiced, whether permitted or not.
From the outside, Hui people, especially the younger generation, are becoming harder to distinguish from their Han neighbors. However, no matter the outside appearance or lifestyle choices they make, the ideas of Islam are still largely ingrained in them and are at the foundation of their identities. Being in this city and meeting Hui people who range from older and conservative to younger and less traditional has served as a motivation to get to know people for who they are, not for who they “should” be or appear to be.
Please pray with me that as Workers in our city meet and interact with our Hui neighbors and friends, we won’t get hung up on expectations but will instead see them as people in need of a Light, in need of a Savior.