Lidasan: Embracing diversity in China

Lidasan: Embracing diversity in China

ON MY recent trip to China, I visited the Islamic Institute in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The Institute is an institution known for its commitment to academic excellence and Islamic teachings.

Together with some international media delegates, we were warmly welcomed by the school's director, Imam Abudurehep Turmniaz, who expressed his gratitude for our interest in studying their educational methods. He explained that the school aimed to provide a holistic education, combining traditional Islamic teachings with modern academics.

The Institute is one of the Islamic schools of theology in China and the only one that teaches in the Uighur language. It was built in 1987, and currently has 280 students. The education system focuses on Islamic courses, such as Quran recitation and interpretation, Arabic, as well as Uighur literature, Mandarin, geography, and computer skills. The aim is to develop better communication skills with Muslims in Xinjiang and other parts of China, as Mandarin is their official language and Uighur is their mother tongue.

According to Imam Turnminaez, the institute has produced hundreds of graduates, with many returning to their hometowns to become imams or teachers at local madrasah supported by different Muslim organizations in China.

I was fascinated by how the school seamlessly integrated Islamic values into every aspect of the students' learning. The students dormitory provides a suitable environment for learning. Their cafeteria was clean and adjusted to the needs of the students especially during the month of Ramadhan.

In the classroom we visited, the students were learning Arabic and the Quran. The students were articulate in expressing their thoughts and views in Arabic and Uighur.

I was inspired by the Institute's unique approach to education. The students' enthusiasm and connection to their faith enhanced their learning experience, ensuring a well-rounded development of their intellect, character, and spirituality. My experience taught me that the negative narratives we see or read on social media about China and Xinjiang were not true, especially the lives of the Uighur people.

China has a Muslim population of 30 million, with almost half living in Xinjiang. The Uighur ethnic group, which makes up the largest Muslim group, has approximately 10 million people primarily residing in Xinjiang.

In Xinjiang alone there are approximately 24,000 mosques, serving about 29,000 religious organizations to cater to the Muslim population. The second largest Muslim group is the Kazakhs, with about 2 million living mainly in Xinjiang. The Hui are another significant Muslim ethnic group. Imam Turmniaz said that Muslims in China are free to pray and fast as they wish. The Chinese Constitution protects them from practicing their faith.

Before departing the Institute, I expressed my gratitude to Imam Turnminaez and the staff, acknowledging the remarkable environment they had created for their students.

I left the Islamic Institute with a renewed hope, believing that by embracing diversity and merging faith with academics, educational institutions had the power to positively shape the lives of future generations.

In flying back to Davao next week, I am eager to share my learnings with my family and partner organizations so that such practices could inspire others to consider a more integrated and culturally inclusive education system.

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