China has some of the oldest Muslim communities outside the Near East. Located in the city of Kaifeng, is the old capital of the Song Dynasty where one thousand years ago, it was considered to be a great and powerful city as well as a meeting place for peoples of all faiths.
Today, the region is known for women-only mosques featuring female imams leading the congregation. Built in 1820, the Wangjia Alley mosque is said to be the oldest surviving women’s mosque in Kaifeng. Trained by her father, the imam at the historical mosque is Guo Jingfang who says she sees women’s mosque as a Chinese tradition.
So how did China become so progressive regarding women’s issues?
Back in the late 16th Century, there a revival of Islamic culture and education in the region which called for a greater appreciation of the women’s role in “preserving and transmitting” the Islamic faith. According to the BBC, “ women’s mosques grew out of a double movement in the Chinese Muslim world – the need to preserve the community, and the desire for women’s education.”
“When our mothers were girls it was the only place where poor Muslim women could receive an education. The women did it together. Women supporting women,” says a female worshipper.