Fasting or not, Uygurs show guests a good time
Issue Time:2017-07-14

Fasting or not, Uygurs show guests a good time

Kashgar residents dance in one of the city's public squares.

Ramadan tests self-discipline of Muslims in Kashgar, but provides a festival atmosphere for tourists

Turdigul Ali sat staring up at a clock hanging on a wall in her brother's house in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on June 12. She was waiting for it to reach 10:30 pm, so she could perform a short prayer and bring an end to her daylong fast.

It was something the 35-year-old Muslim had repeated every day since May 27 during Ramadan-a holy month of fasting observed by some Muslims. Those who fast are not allowed to consume any form of food or beverage during daylight hours. The end of Ramadan will be marked in Xinjiang by the festival of fast-breaking on Monday.

Turdigul's brother's house sits on the edge of a 40-meter-tall loess platform and overlooks the Tuman River.

Women wear colorful scarves in the old town of Kashgar.

It is a traditional Uygur residential area known as the high platform neighborhood, which has a history of more than 1,000 years and is a landmark of Kashgar's old town that currently has more than 220,000 residents. Most of them are Uygurs and a large number are Muslim.

The loess, which formed the platform, is also the raw material Turdigul's brother, Aniwar Ali, who is a pottery craftsman, uses to make traditional Uygur bowls and jugs, which are popular among tourists.

Although the 50-year-old doesn't work at his kiln during Ramadan, his business is as popular as always.

The "high-platform neighborhood" is one of the city's major tourist attractions. 

"Many people have asked me why I don't make pottery during this month and I always patiently explain to them about fasting," said Aniwar, who has been learning the craft since he was just 7 years old.

Aniwar and Turdigul were the only members of their family who chose to fast this year, because their 75-year-old mother had been unwell and their spouses had to take care of their young children.

As Turdigul was enjoying her fast-breaking meal on June 12, Aniwar's daughter, Nazera Aniwar, 7, excitedly tried on the new dresses her mother had just bought her for the fast-breaking festival.

Naan bread is a popular staple in the region. 

Many visitors were drawn to the old town after it was renovated, and it became one of China's top tourist destinations in 2015 due to the preservation of Uygur architecture and lifestyle.

Dawut Shawut, 36, was born and raised in the old town. He earns a living by showing visitors the alleyways and bazaars of the old town on his horse-drawn cart.

He always waits at the entrance of the old town while visitors watch a daily welcoming ceremony featuring traditional Uygur music and dances at 10:30 am. There has been no exception during Ramadan, because it is also the peak season for tourism in Kashgar.

Roasted eggs are a popular delicacy in the old town. 

"It takes about an hour and a half to go around the old town on my horse-drawn cart and I can make about 450 yuan ($65) a day-about 30 percent more than in other months," Dawut said. "Fasting doesn't affect my ability to provide tourists with good service. Uygurs know how to show guests a good time."

A century-old teahouse is located at the heart of the old town of Kashgar.

It is normally packed with locals who want to relax and enjoy cheap, delicious tea that has been brewed by the same family for generations.

A Muslim woman prepares dinner for her family during Ramadan.

It is still open during Ramadan, but it is obviously much quieter because many of the regulars need to fast.

Abudulrehman Tash, 60, decided not to fast this year for personal reasons, and carried on the routines of socializing with his friends in the teahouse every Tuesday at 2 pm.

"Fasting, or not, is a personal choice. People in the old town will not judge you for that," Abudulrehman said.

The teahouse is just a few minutes' walk from Xinjiang's biggest mosque, Id Kah. Thousands of Muslims from the old town flood into the mosque for jumah-Friday prayers-at 3:30 pm during Ramadan.

Two Muslim women shop at a bazaar. 

People start to gather around 2 pm and soon long lines are formed. They all wait orderly and quietly to gain entrance to the mosque for prayer.

Although the food market opposite Id Kah may seem quiet in the daytime during Ramadan, it certainly comes to life when daily fasting is over.

People flock to the market, which specializes in traditional Uygur cuisine.

The locals are spoiled for choice, with a vast variety of food including barbecue lamb kebabs and spicy lamb feet. The food market is then turned into a big fast-breaking party around midnight.

Muslims gather in Id Kah mosque in Kashgar for Friday prayers. 

Dilhuba Memet, 15, has been helping her mother at a stall selling Uygur-style wonton soup and noodles after school during Ramadan because the business is much busier than usual, she said.

Dilhuba said she is looking forward to the fast-breaking festival, known as Eid al-Fitr. There will be a three-day holiday for people from all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, which is home to 51 percent of China's Muslim population.

"My family will visit our relatives in the old town where people will be in their new clothes and putting on a beautiful display of good food for guests," she said.

"Like Spring Festival, the fast-breaking festival brings people, especially the family, together."

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