By Yue Xu, UPIU
Wang is a member of MSA, which holds the Muslims activities in International Center of MSU.(By Xu Yue) ()
A simple, yet fashionable young woman enters the classroom wearing a bright blue polo shirt and jeans. From a passerbyâ€™s perspective, one cannot tell Cong Wang apart from the hundreds of other Chinese students at Michigan State University. However, Wang is also a Muslim, from Chinaâ€™s Hui minority.
In MSUâ€™s International Center, Cong Wang talked about her understanding of Islam in China and how she has adapted to life at an Americ an university within the multifaceted context of Islamic, Chinese, and American culture.
â€œThe religious awareness of the new generation of Hui Muslims in China is not as strong as that of my grandparentsâ€™ generationâ€, Wang said. Though Wang never explicitly mentioned a causational factor behind the erosion of Muslim culture in China, Professor Dru Gladney, president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, postulated that an erosion of Muslim values is occurring due to the dominance of Han culture within the education system. â€œCentralized state education has been one of the most powerful means of integrating Muslims into the Chinese nation stateâ€, he said. In China, the dominant philosophy is Confucianism, and this is evident in schools throughout the nation.
After Wang came to MSU, she joined the Muslim Studentsâ€™ Association at MSU, hoping to cement her identity as a Chinese Muslim, but to this day she has not encountered any other Chinese Muslims to share experiences with. Could it be possible that Chinese Muslims are such a small fraction of the Chinese population that they are rarely enrolled in American universities? According to a report on Chinese Islam released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2008, this is highly unlikely; the Muslim population in China has increased to approximately twenty-two million, which is almost twice the population of Michigan.
Why, then, is there a scarcity of Chinese Muslims at MSU and other American universities? Wang offered two explanations, citing lower income and conservative beliefs as possible contributing factors to low Hui enrollment.
Anna Pegler-Gordon, Associate Professor of American Studies at MSU, offered an alternate explanation, centering on post-9/11 changes to American visa policy. Officers of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services may have started to tighten the visa process for Muslim students following the 2001 attacks, she said. However, Pegler-Gordon also noted that most of the national security protocols regarding student visas have focused on countries with majority Muslim populations rather than countries, such as China, with significant Muslim minorities.
Does Wang feel more comfortable in the U.S. then, since the religious environment is more diverse and open? â€œNot reallyâ€, she answered after a long pause. During the process of getting in touch with the Muslims from other countries at MSU, Wang detected a gulf between herself and other Muslims. They are far more devout, she said, making her reconsider what it means to be a Muslim. Conversely, what the Muslims from other countries have learned about Chinese Muslims is inadequate and inaccurate, she said, leading to misunderstandings and embarrassment. â€œThe images of Chinese Muslims in their minds are as a group of poor people, and for this reason, I know that they know little about Chinaâ€, she said. People see you as a Chinese at first, and then, perhaps, as a Muslim.