Borden Meets a Chinese Muslim On His First Day in Cairo
New Year's Day (1913) is Borden's First Day in Egypt
William Borden arrived in Cairo on New Year’s Day, 1913. He was met at the railway station by Dr. Samuel Zwemer, the “Apostle to Islam” whom God used to awaken Borden to the spiritual needs of Chinese Muslims years earlier in Nashville.
The brilliant sunshine, exotic colors, and the dust and heat of Egypt were not unfamiliar. He had visited before on his (round-the-world) graduation trip, traveling up the Nile seven hundred miles toward the heart of Africa. William wrote at the time:
Upper Egypt completely fulfills my expectations—the Nile itself, the contrast of the fresh green fields with the quivering sand beyond, the groves of date palms, villages of flat roofed houses, camels with their dusky riders crossing the desert which stretches away as far as the eye can see. It really is delightful.
Our first donkey-ride in Egypt took us through the town and out into the desert to the Bishareen encampment. These people are…very different from any others we have seen. They wear their hair hanging in loose gimlet-curls, about eight inches long. They are quite black and have clear-cut features. . . .
There really is an awful mess of Orientals here in Egypt, very difficult to sort out! There are Egyptians and Turks as white as any of us, who wear the red fez, the only way I have of knowing them to be natives. Then there are people of various shades of blackness who wear the fez also. Besides these there are innumerable Arabs, Sudanese and other races.
But now it was as a missionary, not a tourist, that Borden was in Cairo…
Immediately he found himself unexpectedly in touch with China. Another missionary had discovered a Chinese student in El Azhar University, of whom he spoke to Borden on the day of his arrival.
The lonely student was from the very province (Gansu) in which William was hoping to labor, and was so cut off from his own country that he did not even know of the fall of the Qing Dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China (January 1, 1912).
Borden was excited to meet him, as his journal (January 1, 1913) shows:
Went to El Azhar with Mr. Gairdner. Met the only Chinese student there—the first Chinese Muslim I have ever seen, so far as I know.
Unfortunately, this young student might have been the only true Chinese Muslim that Borden ever ended up meeting, although he had been praying for them and planning to live among them since the end of his freshman year at Yale seven years earlier.