Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The day being a Muslim made me proud!

As a practicing Muslim I've always been very proud of my religion and have tried to abide by the basic tenets, praying whenever and as much as possible, abstaining from alcohol and other sorts of addictions, traveling and exploring the world (and eventually Mecca) and so on.

My proudest moment in being a Muslim though came on a recent trip to Shanghai, China.

I'm not a big fan of solo trips but I had to make this one for our outbound travel company, V3 Travels, as we were invited to attend the International Luxury Travel Market in Shanghai. So I went ahead for it and just like every other work trip extended my stay by a few days to explore Shanghai.

Now obviously a trip for me cannot be complete without doing some of the walking tours and I had signed up for a Ghost Walk on a Friday evening of my stay. Since I knew that I'd like to go and read namaz in the afternoon and also check out some interesting mosques of Shanghai.

So I made my way to the Huxi (pronounced 'who she') mosque located amidst high-rises in an otherwise very sterile part of town. My friend Noshir's imitation of a Chinese saying 'Assalam Walaikum' with a thick accent and squinted eyes was the image that brought a smile to my face. I did not know what lay in store for me.

I arrived at Changde Lu in the northern Jing'an area and was completely mesmerized by what I saw. The entire section of the street around the mosque was taken up by food stalls - just like back home. :-)

The dominant community selling food, fruits, halal meat et al were the Uyghurs of the Xinjiang province. An area marked by being in the news for all the wrong reasons. But having been to Kashmir a couple of years ago I knew that there's always another reality on the ground than what governments or media project.

The amazing thing was that these Uyghurs did not look very Chinese but rather like an Uzbek friend I had. I went to one of the stalls serving kababs and nang (which looked and tasted the same as the Indian naan) and sat down to order. Before I could a couple of really big black guys came and sat next to me with a huge amount of food. They looked towards me and gestured me to partake of their food. I politely refused saying that I'd go and order my portion. But they insisted and exclaimed, 'You Muslim brother from India. Eat.' I was so impressed by their generosity that I did not have the heart to resist any further and started eating with them. We kept finishing seekh after seekh and kept ordering for more. While eating they told me they were from Sudan and the company they worked for sent them to Shanghai.

Before long, two young Chinese Muslims joined us. They were from outside the city but lived and worked for a software company there. They bought tea and brought it to the table for everyone to share from. Beautiful aromatic Uyghur tea. It was becoming quite a magical meal already.

As we were on the last morsels of kebabs along came two very handsome looking old'ish men in their 50's. They said they were from Turkey and had brought some fruits, namely apricots and apples, to share with us. We sat there eating, chatting, laughing, making jokes about each others' countries for a long time after - all bound by one common thread. The common thread of belonging to one religion. Of following one book. What a beautiful day it was.

We dispersed only when the muezzin called and it was time for prayers.

I still get goosebumps when I think about that day. My warmest experience of a city robbed of it's warmth by rapid modernization and uncontrolled urbanization. By far it was the most magical and most proud moment of my entire life as a Muslim so far.

The Chinese brothers that got us tea.

Sudanese brothers who bought me the food. 
The great looking Uyghurs have fabulous food to offer.

The Turkish guys buying fruits. 

This Uyghur man sold the best watermelon I've had in a long time. His family in the background.