Friday, 10 July 2009

Urumqi looks to the future with prayer

Urumqi looks to the future with prayer
By Hu Yinan, Mu Qian and Lei Xiaoxun (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-11 08:48

URUMQI: Contrary to earlier reports, mandatory Friday prayers were held in some mosques in Urumqi, which is still struggling to recover from the July 5 riots.

Urumqi looks to the future with prayer
Children play on Xiheba Qian Street in Urumqi, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on Friday. [Xu Jingxing]
Urumqi looks to the future with prayer
Mosques run by Uygur and Hui communities in the city's Liudaowan area were opened for the afternoon prayer, a bold move by imams that scotched rumors that the government had asked all the mosques to shut their doors to avoid more violence.

A municipal official of the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region said the authorities did not ask any mosque to close. Some imams did close a few mosques, but they did so voluntarily out of security concerns.

Memetimin Hudaberdi, deputy chief of the Islamic association of Shuimogou district, which runs the Uygur mosque in Liudaowan, told China Daily that more than 1,000 people, almost as many as on other Fridays, prayed in the mosque.

"The imams believed things would be under control, that's why they decided to keep the mosques open," he said.

The Friday congregational prayer, jumu'ah in Arabic, was a critical test for the authorities in their relentless efforts to restore order in the city.

Tens of thousands of armed police have been deployed to restore normalcy in the city. On Friday, they continued patrolling Urumqi's densely populated areas and using loudspeakers to urge people to maintain ethnic unity.

Combined with a heavy security presence, the efforts have restored peace and order to a large extent. But some people still fear that it could take a long time before the city emerges out of the shadow of the gruesome riots.

A notice in Uygur saying jumu'ah had been cancelled and advising the faithful to pray at home was posted outside the Yanghang mosque in Tianshan district, one of the worst affected areas in Sunday's riots.

But the Uygurs who began gathering there around 1 pm, more than an hour before jumu'ah, said prayers in the mosque cannot be cancelled. Some claimed to have walked across the city to attend the prayer.

"It's incumbent upon all Muslims to attend jumu'ah in a mosque," said Abdullah, a construction worker from China's westernmost city of Kashgar.

With tears welling up in his eyes, the 23-year-old, surrounded by dozens of anxious Uygurs and supported by up to 100 others outside, said no one wanted violence. Many among the crowd burst into tears when Abdullah said his 18-year old brother, who is still in high school, had been missing since July 5.

The mosque gate was opened around 2 pm, and more than 1,000 people joined the prayer half and hour later.

"This (jumu'ah) is the call of the people and the mission (of the mosque). Not letting people in could only have produced negative results," said Yasim Xukur, a civil servant, just after the prayer.

The 28-year-old said the Uygurs involved in July 5 riots "are not true Muslims".

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