BEIJING – More than three years since converting to Islam, Aysha Xiong, a Han Chinese woman, still keeps her new faith a secret over fears of being targeted with her family.
“If the neighbors start gossiping about how I have changed, my parents will get hurt a lot,” Xiong told South China Morning Post on Sunday, March 12.
Xiong, 23, is one of only a few Han Chinese who converted to Islam.
Preserving respect for Islam, the young woman started reading about the faith during high school.
For her parents, religion was little more than people burning incense sticks at Lunar New Year.
At that time, she met a Hui friend whose cousin was a local imam. During college, she decided to adopt Islam as her new faith.
Despite taking the decision three years ago, Xiong, who lives in the town of Binchuan, Yunnan province, still keeps her new faith a secret.
“My father was worried I was being tricked into this and would take a wrong path,” she said.
While her mother came to understand her decision, her father still insisted she should quit.
“He won’t say it to my face, but I know he is worried at heart,” she said. “He often asks my mother to persuade me.”
Xiong said she never wore a hijab or performed prayers when visiting her parents in her hometown.
“I don’t want to give my parents any more pressure,” she said.
Xiong has been looking for a suitable job that would allow her to wear a hijab, failing to achieve her target yet.
“I have to make a living first,” she said, adding that she puts her headscarf back on after work every day.
On The Hijab social media channel she helped found, Xiong wrote: “As long as I work hard, one step at a time, I will one day gain freedom of belief at a job I love.”
According to official data, China has 23 million Muslims, most of them are concentrated in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions and provinces.
Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China — up to 7.5 percent of the population.
Roughly half of Muslims live in Xinjiang, an oil-rich expanse of Central Asia where a cycle of violence and government repression has alarmed human rights advocates and unnerved Beijing over worries about the spread of extremism.
Chinese authorities impose restrictions on Uighur Muslim in the northwestern region of Xinjiang especially during Ramadan.