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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Yesterday afternoon, I met with an official from the Islamic Association here in Kashgar. I had asked a tour guide to arrange a meeting with a Muslim cleric, to help me understand how Islam functions in China. Instead, he lined up a meeting for me with an official from the Islamic Association, which turned out to be a better choice, because the Islamic association is charged with the responsibility for coordinating between Islam and the Chinese Communist Party.

The tour guide asked me where I wanted to meet. Since I am not from this community, and am not familiar with various restaurants and tea houses, I really thought they should choose the place, but they wanted to be polite. I recommended John's Cafe, since it is the only place I really know about. The tour guide quickly told me that the official could not enter that place, because it was run by Chinese. This is unfortunate, because the folks who run that place are really very nice people. They're from Qingdao. But isn't a racial thing, really. It's the fact that the Chinese eat pork, which is detestable to the Uygurs. Anyway, they selected a local Uygur place with an outside veranda.

The official was warm and friendly, with a firm handshake. Definitely a politician at heart. But it was clear very early in our conversation, that he is also a devout Muslim. I asked him how Islam functioned in a society where religion is controlled by the party. He said that the association would facilitate negotiation between the party and the religious clerics regarding anything that could be politically sensitive. He seemed to downplay any problem, perhaps because he basically works for the government (probably through the Public Security Bureau), and, of course, would not want to be seen as objecting to the government's position.

I also asked him about the nature of Islam as compared to Christianity. I told him that the Christian gospel teaches that God is a God of Love, but also a God of justice. God's standard is perfection, and He is not willing to compromise His standard, but since He is also a God of love, He sent His Son to fulfill the requirements of God's standard and live a perfect life, and then fulfill the requirements of God's justice by taking the punishment we deserve. The official's response was to talk about the prophets of Islam, of whom Jesus of Nazareth is one.

The official asked me about my family. I told him that I had three children, but that I was divorced. He was upset about this. He told me quickly that divorce was not a good thing. I agreed with him and explained to him that under American divorce law, one does not have a choice in such matters. He told me that if a man in their community was single, they would "force" him to find a wife. There is a very strong family orientation among the Uygur people. The Uygur are exempted from the one-child policy. I don't think they have large families, but I would expect to see very, very few one-child families among the Uygur people.

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