New generation of imams preaching peace and harmony

Updated: 2016-05-03 08:12

By Cui Jia(China Daily)

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 New generation of imams preaching peace and harmony

Students read the Quran during a class at the China Islamic Institute, the country's top academy for Quranic studies, in Beijing. Wang Zhuangfei / China Daily

Recently graduated religious leaders are working to generate and reinforce positive images of Islam to help Muslims identify and avoid extremism. Cui Jia reports.

People often find it hard to reconcile Ma Jiacheng's youth with his status as the imam, or religious leader, of the biggest mosque in North China. They expect to meet a grave, elderly man, not a smiling 26-year-old who left college only last year.

Ma is one of a number of recently appointed young imams taking a new approach to religious teaching. They combine their understanding of Islam with new ideas in the hope of generating and reinforcing positive images of China's Muslims.

Ma first visited the Doudian Mosque in the Fangshan district of Beijing in 2013, when he was a student at the China Islamic Institute, the country's top center for Quranic studies. Now, he is entering his ninth month at the religious center, which features a prayer hall big enough to hold 2,000 worshippers.

He was appointed to the post after he graduated last year, replacing the previous incumbent, who had retired. Five of his classmates are now imams at mosques around China.

Young graduates of institutes across the country have become a major force in driving Islam forward in China, helping young Muslims to identify and reject extremism.

Ma, from Shihezi, a city in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, came to Beijing to study at his "dream school" in 2011. Last year, he was one of the first 26 students to be awarded a bachelor's degree in Islamic studies by the institute, which had only awarded plain certificates of graduation before then.

The member of the Hui ethnic group said he loves to speak in a loud voice, which he calls a characteristic of men from China's northwestern regions, and that helps when he's leading prayers.

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