Living in a Chinese city that is majority Muslim, there are mosques on every corner like there are churches on every corner in the United States’ Bible belt. Though I felt very comfortable with many aspects of the new culture we were living in, the mosque was a place of mystery for me. As a foreigner, woman, non-Muslim, and non-native speaker of the language, there were parts of it I couldn’t be part of. The parts I could participate in were still mysterious to me. I think for many of my Muslim friends who grew up in secular China, Islam was also a mystery, despite their families’ best efforts to teach them and pass down their religion and heritage.
There are pockets of the Chinese Muslim community who are pious and focus much of their energy on learning Islam and the Quran. The women are separated from the men in their learning, and this is the scene I came upon, walking down the street passing a neighborhood mosque. The students, all older women, were focused intently on the teacher as she spoke. It was a warm day, so the window was open and I was able to capture the moment unnoticed.
Over my seven years living there, I had the privilege of getting to visit mosques regularly to celebrate friends’ weddings and baby showers. After some time, it had the same feeling as attending weddings and events for friends Stateside, in churches. Though there are parts of the mosque that remain mysterious to me, I have come to see it as a place where community happens, a gathering place to rejoice together and mourn together, not unlike what I grew up with going to the Hindu temple with my parents or the Anglican Christian church I choose to attend now.
Open the windows and the doors. Welcome the stranger, the unfamiliar, the different. Across religion, language, culture, race, gender, oceans…distance dissolves into love.
To see this piece in person, visit the Asian American Resource Center in Austin, TX where it will be on exhibit with the rest of my solo show, And the Distance Dissolves Into the Love, until June 24, 2017. Please contact me if you are interested in making this part of your permanent art collection.