Of the 45 participating nations at the Games, more than half
were predominantly Muslim, including nations like Khazakstan that fuel China's
burgeoning economy with its vast reserves of oil, gas, and minerals. Some 30
percent of the food served at the Games was certified Halal.
Guangzhou's new Waqqas Mosque is one of many of China's recent forays
into Islamic infrastructure -- a market that
promises to earn Beijing as much in soft power with the resource-rich Muslim
world as it does contract revenues.
China has even left its mark on Mecca. Early last year, the state-owned
China Railway Construction Corporation put the finishing touches on the Mecca
Light Rail, a metro linking Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest cities in Saudi
Arabia, allowing pious Muslims to perform the obligatory once-in-a-lifetime
pilgrimage in air-conditioned comfort.
Most recently, Algerian authorities granted a coveted
contract to build the Grand Mosque
of Algiers, the latest of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's
extravagant infrastructure projects, to the China State Construction
Engineering Corporation (CSEC), a national enterprise with a broad portfolio of
infrastructure projects in the developing world.
The mosque will be the third largest in the world, after those
in Mecca and Medina, spanning some 400,000 square meters. And in a kind of my
minaret is bigger than your minaret to Algeria's perennial adversary, Morocco,
the mosque will tower at 300 meters, 90 more than Casablanca's King Hassan II
Beating out construction firms from Algeria and Lebanon for
the contract late last year, CSEC promised to complete the massive project in
only four years for an astounding 109 billion Algerian dinars, or $1.5 billion.
When news of the contract first broke on ElWatan.com, the Web site for Algeria's
leading independent newspaper, commenters lambasted the project, exclaiming in
French that they'd rather anyone build the mosque than the "godless Chinese."
"Even an Israeli company would be better," one commenter
wrote, "At least they believe in God."
But not everyone agrees.
"Religion doesn't and shouldn't interfere in the business
world, I think that the Chinese company got the bid because it presented and
justified the competitiveness of its performance," said Aziz Nafa, an Algerian
economist specializing in developmental studies. The Algerian firm's proposal was
$600,000,000 higher than the winning Chinese bid.
China has engaged in and often won a number of such
cutthroat races to bring Islam to Muslims in Algeria and across the Muslim
world. Analysts say that, after September 11, 2001, Islamic infrastructure projects
have seen little competition from the United States.
"There is no question that China has reached out to
Muslim-majority countries over the past ten years [since 9/11]," said Haris
Tarin, director of the Washington D.C. office of Muslim Public Affairs Council
(MPAC), a group advocating
against Islamophobia in American society.