Among China's Muslims, a Long-Standing Tradition of Women Prayer Leaders

December 16, 2006

Source: Herald-Tribune

Wire Service: AP

WUZHONG, China: At a tiny courtyard mosque tucked down a back alley in China's Muslim heartland, Wang Shouying leads other Muslim women in prayers and chants.

Every day, Wang dons a green velvet robe and white scarf and preaches to dozens of women at the Little White Mosque in western China's Ningxia region.

Wang is a keeper of a centuries-old tradition that gives women a leading role in a largely male-dominated faith. She is a female imam or "ahong," pronounced ah-hung, from the Persian word "akhund" for "the learned."

"We need to train and educate our female comrades how to be good Muslims," Wang said between prayer sessions. "Women ahong are the best qualified to do this because they can relate to the female faithful in ways the male ahongs can't."