Generation of new imams preach peace

Updated: 2016-05-13 08:27

By Cui Jia(China Daily Europe)

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"The young students are the future leaders of China's Muslims, so it's crucial to make sure they don't go astray," he adds.

Recruitment is also set to rise in places such as Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang and home to the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, one of the 10 such institutes in China and the only one where classes are taught in the Uygur language.

Abudulrekep Tumniyaz, the director, says the start of the academic year in September will see student numbers rise to 120 from the current 80.

Back in Beijing, the prayer hall at the China Islamic Institute also serves as a classroom, where the students learn essential skills for imams, such as interpreting the Quran and leading prayer gatherings.

During jumah on April 8, Xie Shunchao addressed the meeting as part of a practical lesson for final year students. "We have a responsibility to keep the traditions while adapting to social developments," says the 24-year-old, clad in a white ceremonial robe that failed to hide his Converse canvas shoes.

He says life at the institute is never boring, and even though they are studying religion, the students are lively. Like other students, they enjoy playing computer games, watching NBA games and shopping online. The only difference is that there are no women at the institute, he says with a laugh.

Like many students, Xu Fuguang studied at a mosque in his hometown for a year before taking the entrance exam for the institute in 2012. About one in five candidates earn a place at the institute.

The 24-year-old from Hebei province often visits other universities to attend lectures on Middle Eastern history and Islamic culture around the world, which is something he would have missed if he had continued studying at his local mosque.

"My friends now often use social media apps to seek my help if they have problems understanding the Quran," says Xu, who plans to continue his studies overseas after graduation, before returning to China and training as an imam.

He says people sometimes ask for his views on religious extremism, which the authorities say has been behind a series of deadly attacks in China and elsewhere in recent years. "If one day I become an imam, I will tell my followers that violence is always wrong, no matter what you believe. When Muslims start to kill, they are not Muslims anymore, just devils."

Xu adds that he wants to help his co-religionists gain more confidence, "which is badly needed".

Unlike Ma, some graduates may be appointed to mosques that already have older imams, meaning they have to learn how to handle delicate relationships.

"Young and old imams at the same mosque can learn from one another and together to better lead," says Cui Wei, 24, from Gansu province. "Just like any great team, it takes time and patience for them to adjust to each other's values and perspectives."

Walking along the carpet that runs down the middle of the prayer hall at Doudian Mosque, Ma says it is the path he takes to lead the jumah.

"It always reminds me to lead China's Muslims on the right path," he says. "It is a great responsibility."

 Generation of new imams preach peace

A student takes notes during a class at the China Islamic Institute.

 Generation of new imams preach peace

Students at the institute, many of whom are expected to become religious leaders, read a message on a smartphone during a class break on April 12.

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