Recorded by Ha Guangtian, Dongsigou Graveyard, Qingtongxia, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, 21 January, 2015.
The deceased is a female member from an influential Jahriyya family. In the background of the frame we can see the ahongs and other locally renowned Sufi disciples, who have been assigned different sections of the Holy Qur’an to recite simultaneously. Conventionally, the Qur’an is divided into thirty sections, each transcribed in a small pamphlet; all thirty, gathered together, are named one xia (box). Most families cannot achieve the recitation of a complete xia (the whole Qur’an) during a funeral since they are not able to invite a group large enough – at least 30 reciters – to recite all thirty books. What we see in this video is a rare case of all thirty books – in fact, some are even reading the same sections – being recited at the same time.
The large group in the background is not the only site where voices of recitation and commemoration can be heard. Those close to the deceased – often her sons – could initiate their own recitation apart from the group. Rather than a collective voice submerging all others, what we hear is a remarkable polyphony that bespeaks the sorrow of the bereaved. The open space and the distance of the sons from the group render their voices particularly touching. They recite as the tomb of their mother is being closed, the sound of the digging shovels clashing with that of their Qur’anic recitation.
Women are not excluded from visiting the graveyard – as they often are for some Hui Muslims in China – but they are not allowed to participate in the collective recitation. They kneel on the side, at the margin of the frame. Those labouring to bury the grave are not prohibited from speaking at this solemn moment. On the contrary, it seems that cooperation, particularly the requirement that they finish the job before the sound of the recitation runs out, impels the loud voices giving instruction to their co-workers.