By Li Ya’nan
July 2 marks the 15th day of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan in Xinjiang. To get a better understanding of the traditions involved in this month-long period of fasting, introspection and prayer, I decided to visit the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest ethnic minority population centers in Urumqi.
I saw people passing by clothing stores, fruit shops and clinics and noticed some stores had placed tables with water, naan bread, watermelon, hami melon and other foods in the middle of their stores. Several shopkeepers told me that this free food was meant for passing Muslims to partake of after sunset when their daily fast came to an end.
“We hope this food can replenish people’s energy so they can enjoy a big dinner with their families after they get back home.”
Storekeepers told me that since the doctrines of Islam called for Muslims to offer free food to other Muslims, the sick or people travelling long distances, Muslims were more willing to help these groups in need during the holy month. Many followers visit strangers in hospital to provide money or necessities.
“As Muslims, we want to show mercy during this holy month and live in harmony and love,” said Yu Ying, a shopkeeper selling ethnic handicrafts on the second floor of the bazaar’s building No.4.
Yu Ying is a pious Muslim. So long as her health allows it, she takes part in the Fast of Ramadan with her family. “Generally, if ill, we are allowed to not fast,” she said, explaining that previously only an older family member in his 70s didn’t participate in the fast.
“During the day of the summer solstice, the Fast of Ramadan lasts for 18 hours. It is the longest day of the holy month,” she said, adding that the holiday wasn’t just about Muslims doing more good and tolerating others, but also about improving self control.
“This is the high season for Xinjiang tourism. Since the Grand Bazaar is crowded with tourists, our business is better than usual,” said Da Arji, a seller of the traditional musical instrument the rewap. “I eat breakfast at 4 am and then pray. After doing some cleaning, I open my store. Though it’s not easy to fast in the summer, experiencing the hunger makes me cherish my life much more,” he told me.
At a small stall that had been open for only a month, Amat Abra was making milk ice cream. Coming from Kashgar, Abra’s boss Samat said, “I am in poor health, so I don’t fast.” Selling ice cream priced 5 yuan ($0.80) per cup, Amat told me that he can earn as much as 2,000 yuan in a single day.
Amat Abra makes icecream under the guidance of his boss Samat. Photo: Li Yanan
In the supermarket nextdoor, traditional Xinjiang foods such as sangza, naan bread, biscuits, drinks, cold dishes, vegetables and fruits sat neatly on shelves.
Tulahong Mamat, 73, is in good health. Both he and his wife, Ayihan Rozi, fast together during the holy month. They have two daughters, one is a doctor, the other a public official.
“My daughters don’t fast, and I never force them. Some of my relatives don’t fast either. As fasting is a personal choice, it is meaningless to force people to do so,” Mamat explained.
Mamat emphasized that sincere Muslims are not allowed to do bad things and that behavior such as murder, arson and envy were all considered evildoing. He told me that Muslims restrain their desires during the fast to examine if they are following the will of Allah.
At 9 pm, Alim’s speciality restaurant was crowded with customers, old men out for a walk, middle-aged people purchasing necessities and college students discussing exam scores among them. The fast was not affecting Alim’s business. “During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, it’s our free choice to do business or not. Since now is the peak tourism season, I keep my restaurant open to make money,” Alim said.
Information Office of Chinese Embassy in Egypt for Youm7.
This article was initially published by People’s Daily newspaper.