Muslim in China, Chinese in Egypt

Ding Lan poses without her veil to show her long hair in Luoyang, China in Henan Province Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

‘Musilin’ (穆斯林) means Muslim in Chinese. This project records young people moving from China to Egypt to study, and understand Islam. They are Muslim - but they do not know much about this religion. Once in Egypt they discover it through the study of Arabic, the Koran, and through life in Cairo. 
Over the last year, I spent time inquiring within this hidden world, documenting their daily life as young foreigners with struggles between religion, culture, and genders’ divide.

I decided to tell this story through the experience of Ding Lan (Fatima is her Muslim name), a 22 year old young woman that I met in Cairo. Young Chinese Muslims like Ding Lan come for Al Azhar, the highest Islamic Institution, worldwide known and free.
 They are Huizu (a Muslim minority in China), from regions as Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia or Henan. They are between 20 and 25 years old, as average and live in two specific areas in Cairo: Abbasseya and Nasr City. After Cairo, I followed Ding Lan back to her home in China in Henan province. There, I searched for the Muslim elements in her life and cultural background to understand her choice to move to Egypt. Through her eyes and my documentation, I aim to show Islam in all its cultural diversities.

02_1 Lan follows a lesson in a female class in Al Azhar University, the very well-known center for Islamic studies. Nasr City, quarter of Cairo, Egypt. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

03_1 People from the Muslim community of Luoyang take a rest on their way to the top of Fu Niu Mountain, where they go for spiritual travel. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

04_1 Ding Lan, left, poses for a portrait in Al Azhar University, Nasr City, Cairo; Xiaoli, Lan’s roommate, poses for a portrait in front of the sea during her first visit in Alexandria, Egypt. Xiaoli is a 20 year old Muslim woman from Ningxia Province. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

05_1 Ding Lan sits in her former classroom at the Beijing Minzu Daxue in Beijing. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

06_1 The Ding family gathers around their great-grandfather’s grave on the 36th anniversary of his death. Ding Guangyou was the Imam of Mapo village in Henan Province, China. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

07_1 Dan Xianju, 75, Ding Lan’s grandmother, has prepared the dinner for her family, Shanxi Province, China. Meals always adhere to Islamic dietary law. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

08_1 Ding Xiangzhen, the Imam’s daughter and Lan’s aunt, poses for a portrait in the yard of her house, where she organizes a Koranic school during the summer; Dresses hang in the sun at Ding Lan’s great-grandmother’s home. Jin Yufan, the great-grandmother, is 100 years old and was the wife of the Imam when he was still alive. Henan Province, China. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

09_1 Young girls at the Koranic summer school try the new veil they have to wear as a uniform in Henan Province, China. When she was a child, Ding Lan followed the same lessons. Now she is a teacher. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

10_1 A woman puts away her notebooks after a Koranic lesson in Mapo village, one of the Muslim areas in Luoyang, Henan Province, China. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

11_1 Sufeiya and her father, Ding Shixiao, pose for a portrait during the 36th anniversary of the death of Ding Lan’s great-grandfather, Ding Guangyou, who was the Imam of Mapo village, Henan Province, China; A Muslim woman rides her electric bicycle in one of the streets of Sangpo, a village of six thousand Muslims, with six mosques only for women (with female Imam), and five only for men. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

12_1 Ding Lan waits for the bus school early in the morning in Nasr City, quarter of Cairo where she lives. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

13_1 Chinese girls read the Koran in a little Koranic school in Nasr City, Cairo, where part of the Muslim Chinese community live, as well as many other people from Central Asia. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

14_1 Fatma, 22, Muslim (Huizu), right, from Henan talks with her friend (Hanzu, non Muslim) in a basketball court after they played, in a sport center nearby the airport in Cairo. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

15_1 Lan and Xiaoli have fun at the beach while visiting Alexandria, Egypt for the first time. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

16_1 Xiaoli writes text messages to her Chinese friends in Cairo, waiting for Ding Lan to switch off the light before bed. They share the same room in their apartment in the 8th district in Nasr City. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

17_1 Muslim women gather in Luoyang to read the Koran. Ding Lan, back from Cairo where she studies Arabic, is supposed to show them how to pronounce it in the correct way. Henan Province, China. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

18_1 Ding Lan prays in a mosque in Abbasseya, a quarter of Cairo. Giulia Marchi/Anzenberger

View more work by Giulia Marchi here.