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The Festival of the Birth of the Prophet in Pi county, Sichuan

by on Tuesday, 27 December 2011 Comments

[sigplus] Critical error: Image gallery folder stories/focustale/hui is expected to be a path relative to the image base folder specified in the back-end.

 

 
The Festival of the Birth of the Prophet is one of the three most important Islamic festivals, it commemorates the birth and the death of the founder of Islam, Muhammad. On the 5th November 2006, the Festival of the Birth of the Prophet was held at the Pitong township mosque in Pi County, Sichuan. Before the festival, after the mosque's imam, Ma Rugang and the director of the management committee of the mosque, Ma Junru, have carried out prepatory arrangements for the festival, Muslims come to donate grains, oil, meat and money, and arrange for a groups of people to take responsibility for grinding the flour, buying certain items, frying flour-and-salt sesame oil cakes, cooking the meat and other dishes, the other odd jobs that the festival entails are all carried out by Muslim volunteers.
 

The Hui people see the different tasks surrounding the festival as good works, therefore, they often strive to outdo each other. Everyone takes part to decorate the gate, the main hall and the surroundings of the mosque with lanterns and streamers, and banners, the banners commemorate the calligraphy of Muhammad with Arabic writing, as well as incorporating slogans celebrating the festival. The festival normally lasts for two days, on the first day people come to the mosque in the evening to recite scriptures in praise of the Prophet, after the worship ceremony a symposium is held, the second day is a more formal commemoration. At the appointed time, the Muslims bathe and change their clothes, dressing up and congregating at the mosque to recite scripture, praise the Prophet and worship. The imam pronounces the main events in the life of Muhammad, his achievements and his moral character, as well as exciting historical tales about the hardships undergone in missionary work, of wisdom and bravery, of skill at debating and of war, instructing the Hui people not to forget the teachings of the Prophet, and to be good Muslims.

On this day Muslims also have to "taw/ba" (توبة rendered in Chinese as 討白 tǎobái), which means to repent. The Hui people believe: "Men are not sages or saints, how are they not to sin? To know thy sin and to correct it, that is the greatest of acts." (Chunqiu Zuozhuan: Xuangong Ernian). "Taw ba" consists of making up for their former misdeeds, asking God's forgiveness, promising not to continue in sin, and commiting oneself to this new course in life through good works. After the ritual, they dine together. Dozens of table laden with dishes are spread, everybody makes merry, in a feast together. As to those who had contributed to the meal by donating in the spirit of Niyyah (نیّة rendered 乜貼 niètiē in Chinese: the intention one evokes in his heart to do an act for the sake of Allah) but are unable to come themselves have to rely on friends, relatives and neighbours to bring a flour-and-salt cake for them to try1.

What makes the feast of the Prophet so special is that the people come together to praise the Prophet, the people donate things for a common goal and that the people eat together, which shows how united the Hui people are, and how they celebrate the festival imbued with the spirit of friendship. The Hui people of Pi County invite Muslims from the surroundings of Chengdu and even Aba Prefecture to celebrate the feast of the Prophet with them. As well as its ritual significance, this day is an opportunity for Muslims to interact with each other, the imams discuss theological issues and preaching methods with each other, and the Hui people wish one another well, and talk about all kinds of things, in an atmosphere of great joy. A group of students who, off their own backs, set up a Muslim student society at Sichuan University and Southwest University for Nationalities, volunteered to serve as stewards for the festival.

Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart, photos by Liang Zhun

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1. Interestingly Chinese sources ascribe the origin of this flour and salt cake as what Abu Ayyub al-Ansari prepared for Muhammad when his house was chosen to host the Prophet on his arrival in Medina, and was even purportedly named by the Prophet as 油香 yóuxiāng , although this cake does not appear in English language versions of the life of the Prophet. For Chinese version of the origin of this cake see here.

 

 

 

Liang Zhun (梁准)

廣州人,九○年代到四川發展。她是中國國家高級攝影師,也是作家,重心放在民族攝影,善於呈現故事面的人性情懷。

"Ah-zhun" (AZ) is a photographer and reporter from Canton who has lived in Sichuan for the last fifteen years, researching the ethnic minorities of southwestern China. She has taught photography in two universities of Chengdu, and is a member of the Chinese Society for Ethnographic Photography. She has volunteered in the areas devastated by the Sichuan earthquake for more than five months. She is now starting anew as the chief editor of "A-Z cultural enterprise, Shanghai", a company specializing in cultural exchange and creation.

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