Islam and women

Islam and women
The active historical contribution of women to Chinese Islam has developed differently in various regions. As early as the seventeenth century, nüxue (women’s religious schools) were created by Muslims in central China; the southwest province of Yunnan followed suit in the eighteenth century. Male Islamic scholars constituted the earliest teachers, replaced in the eighteenth century by suitably trained women. By the end of the eighteenth century, women’s religious schools in central China (Henan province) became nüsi (women’s mosques), with resident women ahong (religious leaders) taking charge of all religious affairs.
In the Republican Period (1911–49), Muslim scholars began to link progress in women’s status and education with the significance of women’s mosques. Mosques and schools for women developed quickly. Some modern women’s schools in Beijing and elsewhere catered both for Muslim women’s secular and religious education, with a few girls’ primary schools set up in the northwest region of Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia. The number of women’s mosques continuously increased until 1958. All women’s mosques were closed in 1966, but even during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) a few women ahong still performed their religious duties.
Since the 1980s, Hui Muslim women have come to occupy a prominent role in the reconstruction and organization of religious life, whether in relation to administration, political representation, education, training or mosque restoration. Although most women’s mosques and schools are still linked to (men’s) mosques, their administrative committees consist predominantly of women. Women ahong fulfil multiple functions, responsible for teaching, ritual and prayer guidance, for sermons, counselling, and also for political representation. Female administrators manage mainly the daily affairs of women’s mosques but can also be found on committees managing affairs of men’s mosques. Independent women’s mosques, a growing trend in central China since the 1990s, are legally registered sites of religious activity, enjoying thus equal social position with (men’s) mosques. Outstanding women ahong and female administrators may become elected members of local branches of the Islamic association as well as of the People’s Congress. Women determine independently all activities and affairs of women’s mosques, including training of young ahong and provision of adult education. Traditional mosque-based Persian language education (jingtang jiaoyu) and modern Arabic-centred Islamic education coexist in many Muslim communities, as is the case in southwest China. Elsewhere, as in northwest China, girls’ Arabic language schools are the preferred educational model since the 1980s.
In daily life, the dress of Hui Muslim women in central China is largely indistinguishable from that of other Chinese women. Wherever Muslims live widely dispersed, observation of religious dress is mostly confined to older women, or is worn during worship in the women’s mosque. However, due to greater contact with international Islam through pilgrimages and visits, due to Islamic Brotherhood (Yihewani) reform of religious education and fundamentalist teaching, religious dress, as in other countries, is becoming for some women a visible symbol of distinctive Islamic identity. In the close-knit northwest (Ningxia, Qinghai and Gansu) Muslim communities, women of Hui, Salar, Dongxiang and Baoan nationalities wear a headdress (gaitou) or a scarf, the colour varying with age.
Where there is no history of women’s own religious organization and leadership, as in the western province of Xinjiang, Uyghur, Kazakh, Tajik and women from other Muslim minorities adhere to a more prescriptive Islamic praxis of hijab and domestic confinement, in stark contrast to their Chinese-speaking Muslim sisters in the rest of China.
See also: Islam in China
Jaschok, Maria and Shui, Jingjun (2000). The History of Women’s Mosques in Chinese Islam. Richmond: Curzon.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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