2008-07-08 09:12:31 GMT 2008-07-08 17:12:31 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
YINCHUAN, July 8 (Xinhua) -- At a grand mosque modeled on India's Taj Mahal, Ma Chunjun, 24, a graduate from the Islamic Scripture College of Ningxia, the only higher school which trains senior Islamic clergymen in the region, was telling a group of visitors of the history of Chinese Muslims.
Ma has been working as a tourist guide in the newly-built Garden of Hui Nationality's Folkway, the largest museum displaying historical documents and relics about the Chinese Muslims.
Unlike many of his predecessors who chose to be imams or religious administrators, together with nine classmates, he signed an agreement in March with China North Industries Corp, a major defense product manufacturer as an Arabic translator.
Before starting his career in Beijing, he worked part-time in the Garden of Hui Nationality's folkway.
As part of China's reform and opening-up in the poverty-stricken northwestern region, more and more graduates from the Islamic college have chosen to leave the religious life and go to coastal areas or the Middle East as translators, further their study in Arab countries, or teach in local Arabic schools.
Another 10 of Ma's classmates are expected to go to Sudan as project translators. Five chose to teach, and most of the rest will go to Yiwu City in eastern Zhejiang Province and southern China's Guangzhou City to be translators and trade managers, said Wang.
Nobody has chosen to be an imam, although every one of them could get a ahong (imam) certificate before graduation.
This is partly because of the over-supply of ahong in the region. Graduates had to find other job opportunities. Currently, Ningxia has 3,760 mosques and more than 6,000 ahongs.
"It's not bad for them to embrace the economic boom. It helps to reduce poverty here. We could not force them to be in the mosque," said Su Yang, headmaster of the Islamic Scripture College of Ningxia.
Ningxia is home to 2.17 million Muslims of Hui nationality, accounting for over one third of the region's total population and more than one tenth of China's 20 million Muslim population. Surrounded by deserts, Ningxia has long been one of the poorest areas in China.
Compared with graduates from the public colleges, those from the Islamic college are valued more highly by employers because of their Islamic belief, Su said.
Of the 70 graduates this year, 10 will go to the China North Industries Corp. Seven will go to Azhar University of Egypt for further study. Some will go to Sinopec and Petrochina as overseas translators and the rest will work in coastal areas and tourist sites, he said.
All the seven graduates who will study in Egypt at public expense are female Muslims, he added.
In Yiwu City, the largest market of petty commodity wholesales in China, more than 1,500 Arabic translators come from Wuzhong City of Ningxia.
"It's natural for them to choose to be translators under such heavy living burdens. The yearly income of those working overseas is around 150,000 (21,866 U.S. dollars)to 200,000 yuan (29,155 U.S. dollars), which can lift a whole family out of poverty," said Yang Jinbo, who teaches Qu'ran in the college.
Because of the good employment prospects, some Muslim students living in cities also go to the Islamic college. Some 270 applicants competed for 100 posts last year.
Although most of the graduates join the economic boom, there are some still sticking to their Islam dreams.
The 33-year-old Na Xuebao came back to Ningxia as an ahong after working half a month as a translator in Yiwu.
"In Yiwu, the relationship among people is purely money. That made me sick," he said.
Na was quite satisfied with the status quo. "I once wished to be a qualified imam or a good translator. Since I was not accustomed to the life as a translator, I strongly believed I could be a good ahong," he said.