China Is Erasing Mosques and Precious Shrines in Xinjiang
Until a decade ago, the pilgrims would travel by bus, car, donkey and foot to gather by the thousands at the Imam Asim Shrine in the desert on China’s western frontier.
They trudged through the sand dunes to kneel at the sacred site dedicated to Imam Asim, a Muslim holy man who helped defeat the Buddhist kingdom that had ruled here over a thousand years ago. The devotees were Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, and often joined annual festivals to pray for abundant harvests, good health and strong babies.
They tied strips of cloth carrying prayerful messages to wooden posts around and near the shrine. They delighted in fairground amusements on the site’s edge, where magicians, wrestlers and musicians entertained the crowds. They clustered around storytellers reciting ancient tales.
“It was not just a pilgrimage. There were performers, games, food, seesaws for the children, poetry reading, and a whole area for story-telling,” said Tamar Mayer, a professor at Middlebury College who visited the Imam Asim Shrine for research in 2008 and 2009. “It was still so full of people, and full of life.”
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