Chinese Muslims Celebrate Eid in Beijing

BEIJING, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Millions of Muslims across China began celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, on Friday.

The start of the Eid al-Fitr varies based on the observation of the new moon by local religious authorities. Northwest China's Qinghai and Gansu provinces started celebrating the festival on Friday while the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region will mark it on Saturday.

"It is auspicious that the Eid al-Fitr falls on the same day as Jumu'ah (Day of Assembly) when everybody goes to the mosque for Friday prayers," said Ma Yun, a Hui minority and head of the Dongguan mosque administration committee in Xining, capital of Qinghai Province.

"It was not until 9pm on Thursday we finally decided that Eid al-Fitr would fall on Friday this year," said Ma, adding that it was coincidence that Malaysian Muslims mark the festival on the same day.

Some 300,000 Muslims, most of whom are ethnic Hui, visited the Dongguan Mosque on Friday. Some came as early as 3am to reserve a place in the prayer hall.

Ma Jun, a snack shop owner, wearing a pristine robe and white hat, prayed in a queue of people that stretches as far as 5km outside the mosque, with the voices of Imams coming from loudspeakers. The Arabic prayer is first, followed by a Chinese version.

A middle-aged woman is distributing cash to children at a crossroads outside the mosque. Within half an hour, 600 renminbi (or US$98) was handed out to 600 children. "Whether they are ethnic Han or Tibetan, I just want them to be happy," said the woman.

In neighboring Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where more than half of the 22 million population are Muslims, business is flourishing due to the celebrations.

Malik Nurlan, a young Kazakh man, suffered pain in his arm after a whole day of chopping meat. "So many people are buying beef and mutton!" said Nurlan, who sold 11 sheep and two cows in a single day.

With about 20 million Muslims in China, the event is also celebrated in other provinces or cities such as Gansu, Ningxia and Beijing.

Thousands of Muslims went to Niujie Mosque in downtown Beijing on Friday afternoon. Tens of thousands more will come on Saturday when Eid al-Fitr formally falls in the capital, said Chang Chongyu, head of the mosque administration office.

In Ningxia, where most of the Hui minority lives, a five-day holiday will begin on Saturday. Highways and most scenic spots will be free of charge during the holiday.

"I will have a family get-together in the first two days and spend the other days sightseeing with my kids," said Yang Li, who works in a government department in the regional capital of Yinchuan.

For Ma Jinliang, a cycling enthusiast in Ningxia, this year's end of Ramadan is quite special. "It is remarkable that the final of the 14th Tour of Qinghai Lake Cycling Race coincides with Eid al-Fitr, which falls on Saturday in Ningxia," said Ma, who will watch the race in Zhongwei City.

The 2,940km race, the top cycling competition in China with a total prize of US$1 million, traverses Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia, where the majority of China's Muslims live. It will end on Saturday in Yinchuan.

"Feeding ourselves is not a problem for us any more," said Ma, who cycles in the suburbs every weekend. "We focus more on improving quality of life with more people joining sports clubs or going to the gym."

Ye Jianguo, 80, a villager from Maying Township in neighboring Qinghai Province, is impressed by the changes to the Eid al-Fitr celebrations in recent years.

"Before 1980, most of us were struggling in poverty," said Ye, who had to cut a piece of brick tea into four parts in order to present them as gifts when visiting relatives and friends.

In the 1980s, Ye only need to cut the tea into two parts as crop output improved. In the 1990s, families not only had enough brick tea, but also could afford to buy tea with crystal sugar and longan, he said.

Sanzi, a popular snack among Chinese muslims, is made of wheat-flour dough and pulled into thin noodles and skilfully deep-fried in heat stable palm cooking oil.
For this year's celebration, Ye bought a sheep, eight chickens, 25kg of palm oil to cook fried snacks and a full table of milk and drinks. "Five bags of flour are consumed in my shop every day and I have a daily net profit of more than 300 renminbi (or US$49)," said Ye, who runs a bread shop in the town.

In Kashgar, the westernmost city of China where sporadic terrorist attacks have dampened tourism, Memtimin Haji hopes for more visitors.

After attending Jumu'ah prayers at the Etgal Mosque on Friday afternoon, he rushed back to his souvenir shop close by. "Business is a bit better on Friday when people gather at the mosque for prayers," he said.