Muslims praying on the last day of Ramadan

Reimagining the Silk Road

Muslims praying on the last day of Ramadan

Lanzhou, Gansu, 2009

On the final day of the holy month of Ramadan, Chinese Muslims (Hui 回) who belong to the Yihewani (伊赫瓦尼) doctrinal school congregate in Grand Sand Ground (Da Sha Ping 大沙坪) outside Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province. Grand Sand Ground is a massive area of the same silt that gives the Yellow River its famous color. Hui arrived in buses, cars, taxis, and on motorcycles and bicycles. They funneled into the manmade valley, passing beggars and the physically disabled who lined the way asking for alms. Representatives of mosques held banners high over the white caps. Others asked for donations for mosque repairs or renovations. I estimated that there were nearly a thousand people—all male—congregated during the prayer. The men laid down blankets in rows, facing west—toward Mecca. Several speeches reminded the gathered of the importance of the day and exhorted them to be good Muslims and observe their duties. Prayer gatherings like this one, outside urban cores, have been a mainstay of Hui practice for centuries. The gathering was a formidable spectacle of the strength and unity of the Yihewani in northwest China.