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Beijing's Muslim community flourishes
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Gone are the days when the Niujie Street, the largest area inhabited by Muslims in Beijing, is featured by narrow lanes and run-down houses on both sides.


The more than 1,000-year-old street is now wide blacktop and the buildings on both sides are new and much taller.


Niujie, with about 12,000 Muslims, has gone through the city's largest reconstruction project in the past decade and more.


Sixty-one-year-old Ma Youyun, born in Niujie, has witnessed the dramatic changes in the community. As a beneficiary of the renewal project, he has moved into his new home, an apartment with a floor space of 96 square meters in the Niujie West Lane from a shabby one-story cottage, without private toilet, in which he had lived for more than 50 years.


Before the reconstruction, the per capita floor space for Niujie residents was only 5.1 square meters on average, according to government statistics.


The 340,000-square-meter run-down houses have been replaced by apartment buildings and new facilities, such as Beijing's biggest supermarket especially for Muslims, the city's best beef and mutton shops, a Muslim hospital, nursery, primary and secondary schools for Muslim kids from the neighborhood. A rest home is under construction.


"The infrastructure has improved greatly. Thanks to this and more new facilities, I find that more and more Muslims have moved into our community," said Zhang Changzheng, an official of the neighborhood committee of the Niujie East Lane.


However, the real soul of a Muslim community did not vanish with old buildings being pulled down, because former residents of the street have stayed there instead of being relocated to somewhere else.


Enjoying a preferential price, much lower than the market one, 90 percent of the former Niujie residents have managed to buy a newly-built apartment and moved back to the community, which is located in downtown Beijing where housing price is quite high.


Ma has stuck to his old routine though living in a new apartment. At 5:00 a.m. every day, he left home for the Niujie Mosque, just opposite his home, bathed there and waited for the first of five prayers of the day together with many other white-capped neighbors.


The mosque, the oldest building in the community, stands where it was first built in 996 A.D. and the latest maintenance work has just completed to greet the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.


A week ago, the community has just held a grand celebration for the end of Ramadan, Muslim Holy Month. About 6,000 people performed the ritual in the mosque and the audience was ten times their number.


"It was so crowded that day. People are excited. I saw believers from abroad," said Li Wenshu, the Imam of the mosque.


In recent days, Ma and his neighbors talked more about the ongoing 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).


"The CPC national congress is not only a big event of the country, but also a concern of us," said Ma, "Because but for the Party's good policies, we could not live such a good life."


Some taboos are followed in the community: no non-Muslim restaurants in this area and no tabooed food in any shop.


This even turns to a big attraction. People from the rest parts of the city come here for authentic Muslim cuisine.


(Xinhua News Agency October 21, 2007)

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