China’s nu ahong – female imams

Anne Miller Darling for Saudi Aramco World
Photo: Anne Miller Darling for Saudi Aramco World

Talk about Islam and the secular state: see this interesting story and photo essay about China’s nu ahong, or female imams.  What a testament to the diversity of Muslims worldwide – not to mention that these women seem fierce! The photo above is one of my favorites – I love her formidable spirit. This woman cooks for her community when they break the fast during the month of Ramadan.

“China’s Hui Muslim women inhabit religious communities, homes and social spheres shaped not only by Islam but also by China’s Confucian culture and its Communist secular state. The photographs indicate how they have come up with unique strategies to help themselves flourish in these circumstances.”

Special thanks to Islamfemina for sharing this story.


9 thoughts on “China’s nu ahong – female imams

  1. I’ve read similar story about China’s female ahongs at the Washington Times and are immediately strucked dumbed by the misplaced amazement at the existence of such figures in the Muslim world.

    The Washington Times article even gave the impression that China’s female ahongs owned their existence to communism’s support of equal opportunity.

    A female scholar of Islam is neither strange nor a rarity. Equally not rare or strange is a woman who leads other women in prayers. The only difference is that in China, entire mosques are set aside for women.

    A little research into history will give up numerous names of female scholars of a long time past including that of Nafisa, a descendant of the Prophet who used to preach to both men and women.

    In our modern times, both Malaysia and Indonesia have numerous female scholars of Islam who regularly appear on state televisions of their respective countries to give religious talks. In these two countries and in Singapore, female scholars of Islam teach both at private homes, institutions and mosques, and are often invited to speak in public forums where they address both men and women.

    In Malaysia, among the well-known of these female scholars are Dr Sharifah Hayaati Syed Ismail, Salbiah Omar, Dr Fatimah Zahra and Siti Norbahyah Mahmud.

    While the Middle East and countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh lack female Muslim scholars, south-east Asia does not. If history can be used as a basis, then it is south-east Asia is the part of the Muslim world which is following Islam’s injunction in this respect.

    A Muslim woman who is a teacher to be men and women is hardly an eccentricity – Sayyidatina Aishah was one of them. To show of amazement of a Muslim women who is a teacher to just women is to betray profound ignorance of Islam itself as a religion and that of the history of the early Muslims.

  2. Firham:

    I’m not sure that people’s amazement is a show of their ignorance, Firham. What it demonstrates is that we as Muslims have not done enough to demonstrate the equality of the sexes permitted by Islam. When people are bombarded by images that paint Muslim women as oppressed – and indeed when a Muslim woman receives death threats for leading a mixed-gender prayer in New York City, the picture painted is not one of equity for women.

    I highlight the story about China as interesting (not amazing, if you read my words) because even Muslims tend to forget that the faith extends beyond our immediate communities – whatever they may be.

    I stand with you in frustration that Southeast Asia is oft ignored in conversations about Islam. Islam in Indonesia is very different than the Islam of Saudia Arabia.

    Except that the fundamentalist movement there is beginning to have its way with the government – and the civilians. The scholars and forward-minded Muslims you mention are being attacked regularly by those who wish to kill Indonesia’s pluralism and institute wahhabism.

    If we don’t continue to highlight stories showing the different faces of Islam, even Muslims will forget the progressivity allowed by the faith. To call up our history – for example, that the Prophet’s wife Aisha led prayers – doesn’t solve what’s happening on the ground today. The point is that the clerics today want such stories to be eccentricities. The Prophet would not have prohibited women from driving, nor would he have condoned parents killing their daughters for “honor”. Doesn’t seem that some contemporaries care for history except when it’s useful to them.

  3. Amazing, Amazing piece of work. I only hear oppression, independence, nationalism, etc… in XingJiang, and have even seen sons of Imans go on to get prominent position in the Communist party by abandoning Islam and believing in “China” as a religion. btw, she has a lot eggs 🙂 Must be the mosque kitchen. This really gives them a good opportunity to socialise as well.

  4. zkashan – what’s happening in Xinjiang is political, similar to Tibet, and that situation is divorced from the Hui Muslim scenario. I suggest you read up on Xinjiang from the Uyghur point of view. And should we be amazed that sons of imams would go communist ?

    If that happened, then that sad but remember even prophets’ sons and wives had been disbelievers.

    In the US of old, sons of rabbis had been known to be gangsters, and children of Orthodox Jews growing up to be non-practising.

    I agree that Muslims should not really go that way since Islam is the best there is – whether intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, Islam provides – but rejecting the best is not something unknown.

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