My trip to China, 13-23 August 2007
Beijing, Xian, Linxia, Lanzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai
As I flew back home to the United States from my very trip to China– my first trip to the Far East—I could not help feeling how every little experience that occurred there made me a richer person then when I arrived on warm, humid night in a crowded Beijing airport. I always believed that traveling the world expanded my horizons, and I will probably keep believing that till the day I pass on. However, as I get older – and some might say wiser, having traveled with a variety of people from different background and cultures, I slowly realize in order to gain knowledge while traveling you must seek knowledge to truly expand your horizons.
The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) had advised us to travel as far as China to seek knowledge. In those days a trip from the Arabian Peninsula to China would have taken 3 years, not to mention countless difficulties and problems in the journey in order to reach your destination (things have not changed much!). And while it seems taxing and burdensome to travel in today’s world of delayed flights, lost luggage, and questionable airline food (or lack thereof), I often remember the Ayats in the Holy Quran that encourages us to travel the earth and learn about past civilizations.
In my journeys around the world, what strikes me is not what amazing monuments past civilizations built, which have stood the test of time and endured harsh climates and wars – although the Great Wall does leave you speechless. What amazes me is the capacity of humanity to rebuild and reform their societies no matter what the tragedies their ancestors faced – granted not overnight as some would like to demand.
But nonetheless, for this visitor, China was nothing short of a modern-day miracle. A country that has been through so much and in spite of all its obstacles become an example of what can be accomplished with hard work, unity and cooperation. And before anyone reading this article thinks I am “out-to-lunch” on some of the problematic issues that are occurring within and outside its borders, I would like to think I am fairly well informed on some of the major news making concerns. However, the focus of my article is a visitor’s first impressions to a land that makes her presence known in not only the global market but, has had a long presence with the intellectually and culturally sophisticated as well.
What struck me on my first trip to China was the amazing kindness and hospitality of the local Chinese people and the eagerness to display a positive image of their culture and country; which I might add they succeeded in – at least with this visitor. Every place we visited, people went above and beyond to make us welcome, including places that may not have had much “material wealth”, but were abundant with qualities that cannot be measure in coins or currency. There was never a place that I visited that did not show a true desire to educate you about who they were, as a people, or teach you the language and culture. Although occasional attempts to teach me Chinese resulted in me learn about 5 words at best, and my hand gestures got me reactions ranging from giggles to bewildered stares. But English-speaking tour guides found a saving grace in me for practicing the lingo, and while in the smaller towns I got the looks that you only get when you’re not a local. But at no time did I feel like I was in an “alien” land, in fact so much of my Islamic heritage seemed so at home in parts of China that were predominantly Muslim.
The universality that I felt in my own homeland and other predominantly Muslim countries I visited is what I felt with Chinese Muslims. The connection that I felt with my Creator when I was praying in a mosque that was 1000 years old in Xian, or the sense of peace I got when I visited a 600 year old mosque, which also serves a museum for legendary explorer Zheng Ho in Nanjing. Many of the Muslims I met in China would greet me in passing with the traditional “Salaam Walaykum” and a smile and made sure to inquire where I hailed from. But what I will probably remember most on this trip was meeting female imams that led me in prayer and the level of dedication and knowledge they each displayed while being so humble about it; especially in a day and age when true knowledge is so scarce at times. I saw amazing strength in Islamic character and admirable behavior in a part of the world that some Muslims don’t often associate with Islam. There is a very rich Islamic heritage that would surprise even the best of researchers.
And while I saw so much that has inspired me, I also saw aspects of life that reminded me about our duties to fulfill in this life as believers of the Almighty Creator and Provider. Poverty is no stranger to this land either, our tour group visited a Muslim orphanage in Linxia that was taking care of children that had been abandoned by their families. The sadness that engulfs you seeing these children is more than you might grasp. We all need sufficient monetary support but, it was at this time that I realized how much we all need love. Having been blessed with a loving family and caring parents who take care of you at every turn, one often tends to take for granted the blessing of love. It was in this moment that I realized why the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) had said, “Anyone who takes care of an orphan, their place will be like this with me in heaven – holding up his index and middle finger together.”
The lack of love in a child’s life has effects that we might never imagine, one small boy would not smile, even after being given several new gifts that he knew were for him to keep. The sadness in his eyes, was not the sadness of a 5 year old boy, it was the sadness that angels seem to have for a child that had seen more than he needed to. And each time you feel like have to many problems or life has short changed you, remember that there are children in this world who even the angels cry for. So, while you celebrate the beginning of our month of fasting, please remember there are children who need not only food, but also a hug and a kind word, maybe even a parent who would like to share the blessing of love.
In the end, I would like to say to all my fellow travelers, to those of who seek knowledge of amazing Islamic heritages, I would suggest visiting China because, it has everything a modern-day traveler could seek. Glamorous, fast-paced cities like Beijing and Shanghai with shopping to complement most wardrobes and lifestyles. And a unique culture that blends in so well with the world. Its timeless treasures like the great wall, nature that resembles Chinese paintings that appear to have come to life and breath-taking mosques that leave you in awe of structures built to glorify Almighty God.