Praeambula: Religious fundamentalism is not acceptable in modern, enlightened and progressive societies. This article is dedicated to those Muslims of China who live in peace with their non-Muslim neighbours and respect religion as a private matter.
In China Islam is called huijao 回教, huihuijiao 回回教 "religion of the Hui(hui)", zhenjiao 真教 "the true religion", qingzhenjiao 清真教 "the pure and true religion" (or the religion of the shahada), Dashifa 大食法 "the rules of Persia", tianfangjiao 天房教 "the religion of the Heavenly Cube" (i.e. the Ka'ba in Makka), or, in modern terms, yisilanjiao 伊斯蘭教. The holy book of Islam, the Qur'ān, is called Gulanjing 古蘭經. The creed of Islam, the šahādah, which says that "there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God", is in Chinese called qingzhenyan 清真言 "pure and true words". In China Islam is seen only in the shape of the Sunni branch, with the tradition of the school of law of the Ḥanafī.
Islam as a religion is first mentioned in Chinese sources in a relatively unknown book, Du Huan's 杜環 Jingxingji 經行記. Du participated in Gao Xianzhi's 高仙芝 campaign against the Turks in Central Asia and the state of Shi 石國 that was located in modern Uzbekistan. The Chinese lost the battle of Talas 怛邏斯 in 751, and Du Huan was captured by the Arabs and so had the chance to see Persia and Mesopotamia. In 762 he returned by the sea route. The original book is lost, and only fragments survive in Du You's 杜佑 statecraft encyclopaedia Tongdian 通典. According to the book Minshu 閩書 Mohammad sent out four "apostles" that arrived in China during the Wude reign 武德 (618-626) of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907), one to Guangzhou 廣州, one to Yangzhou 揚州, and two to Quanzhou 泉州.
According to the chapter on the Western Regions (Xiyu zhuan 西域傳) in the official dynastic history Jiutangshu 舊唐書 there was an Arab embassy from the third caliph ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān (Chinese designation Kanmi momo ni 噉密莫末膩) in 651 reaching the Tang court in Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi). Chinese historians count 47 diplomatic missions from the Caliph's court between that date and the end of the Abbasid caliphate. They used the land route as well as the sea route. The land route crossed Persia and the Tokhara (northern part of modern Afghanistan) along the Silk Road and entered Chinese territory north or south of the Tianshan Range 天山, crossed the Gansu Corridor and arrived in the Tang capital Chang'an. Muslim traders were doing business in the Western Market, close to their quarters that were called "Persian lodge" (Bosi di 波斯邸) or "barbarian shops" (hudian 胡店). The sea route crossed the Gulf of Bengal, the Malacca Strait and arrived in China at the southwest coast, where the harbor cities of Guangzou, Quanzhou, Fuzhou 福州, Hangzhou 杭州, Mingzhou 明州 (modern Ningbo 寧波) and Yangzhou saw settlements of Muslim traders from Arabia and Persia. Like Buddhism had come to China in earlier ages as the religion of Indian and Southeast Asian traders, Islam now entered China also by this group of people. In all port cities there were special quarters where foreign merchants lived and sold their goods. Muslim foreigners that lived for generations in China were during the Song period 宋 (960-1279) given the name fanke 蕃客 "barbarian guests", and their living quarters were called fanfang 蕃坊 "barbarian quarters". The local authorities used to deal with these foreigners with the help of "barbarian chiefs" (fanzhang 蕃長) that were so given an official status and operated in official institutions, the "office of the barbarian chief" (fanzhangsi 蕃長司). They were responsible not only for the religious life of their communities by founding mosques (qingzhensi 清真寺) or sacred tombyards, but also took into the hand their political, jurisdictional and financial administration. In the course of time many intermarried with the local population, so that the modern "national minority" of the Muslims (huizu 回族) can not be told apart from average Chinese, except for their religious customs.
During the An Lushan 安祿山 rebellion Emperor Suzong 唐肅宗 (r. 756-762) made not only use of Uyghur troops but also lent out troops from Persia (Dashi 大食) that helped the imperial troops to reconquer the capitals. In the end the Persian troops were allowed to stay in China. According to some sources there were 4,000 foreign traders at that time in Chang'an alone.
The first part of China (in the modern sense) to become fully Islamized was Eastern Turkestan (modern Xinjiang) that was occupied by the western part of the empire of the Qaraqans 黑汗. These had concerted to Islam in the ninth century. When this empire fell apart, the southern part of Eastern Turkestan with the main cities of Yarkant 葉爾羌 and Khotan 于闐 became part of the Islamic world, and Buddhism, which had until then been the main religion in that region, as well as the Christian faith of Nestorianism, fell into oblivion during the 12th century. The northern parts of Eastern Turkestan were only brought into the cultural orbit of Islam during the 16th century.
During the thirteenth century the Mongols conquered not only northern China, but also Central Asia. Chinggis Khan's grandson Hülegü conquered Persia, founded the Il Khanate and looted and devastated Damacus and Baghdad. A lot of Persians and Arab people were enslaved, especially craftsmen that were brought to Mongolia or China to serve as state-owned artisans (gongjiang 工匠). They brought their religion with them and many of their descendants remained in China after the downfall of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368). Part of the enslaved Central and Western Asian peoples served in the border garrisons staffed with so-called "tamachi" troops 探馬赤軍 that conducted their original profession during peacetime and became soldiers during wartime. Persons of higher standing dwelled at the Mongol court and were appointed to high posts in the Central Government, like Counsellor-in-chief or XXX 平章政事, and much more persons in the local administration. Sayyid Shams ad-Din 賽典赤•瞻思丁, for instance, was a high official in Shaanxi, Sichuan and Yunnan, and his sons and grandsons also obtained high posts. Under Mongol rule Muslims belonged to the caste of semuren 色目人, which were only second in status to the Mongols themselves. Compared to Chinese, Muslims from Central and Western Asia occupied a privileged position in China. The court was so much influenced by Muslim persons that Qubilai's grandson Ananda 阿難答 himself became a Muslim as a child. The army he commanded also consisted of Muslims, and in the region he controlled, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai, Islam spread and became one of the the most common religions. In 1365 Tughluq Temür 托和樂鐵木爾, khan of Kašgar), converted to Islam, and forced the whole local population to adopt this religion. Additionally, the Pax Mongolia allowed many Muslim traders to come to China, where they spread Islam in the western and southwestern provinces. Muslims were from then on called Huihui 回回. Islam had become an inseparable part of the Chinese empire. The Uyghur tribes (whose descendants are nowadays called Weiwur'rzu 維吾爾族) and many other national minorities of Eastern Turkestan like the Kazakhs 哈薩克, the Uzbeks 烏孜別克族, Tajiks 塔吉克族, Tatars 塔塔爾族, Kirgiz 柯克孜族, Sala 撒拉族, Dongxiang 東鄉族 and Bao'an 保安族, believe in Islam. Mosques are therefore to be found in many larger cities, like Huaisheng Mosque 懷聖寺 in Guangzhou, the Shengyou Mosque 聖友寺 in Quanzhou, the Zhenjiao Mosque 真教寺 in Hangzhou, the Mosque in the Huajue Lane 化覺巷清真寺 in Xi'an, the Mosque in Niujie Lane 牛街禮拜寺 in Beijing, and the Heytgah Mosque 艾提尕爾清真寺 in Kašgar that is China's largest mosque. There are about 30,000 mosques in China today, and roughly 20 million Muslims.
When Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (Emperor Ming Taizu 明太祖, (r. 1368-1398), the eventual founder of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644), fought against the warlords in the last decade of the Yuan period, there were many Muslims among his troops and officers, like Chang Yuchun 常遇春, Hu Dahai 胡大海, Lan Yu 藍玉 or Muying 沐英. The most famous Muslim of the Ming period is probably the court eunuch Zheng He 鄭和, who had come from a Muslim family in Yunnan. During his travel in 1430 part of his crew was even allowed to travel to Makka for pilgrimage (ḥaǧǧ, chaojin 朝覲). In Ming period maps like that 天房圖 XXX. Ma Huan 馬歡 was also a muslim.XXX
At the end of the Ming period Sufism found its way to China, and many different schools of Sufism developed in the western parts of China, where Islam was widespread. The most important of them was the Ishaniyya (yishanpai 依禪派) whose teachers tried to interprete the Qur'ān with the help of Confucian ideas (yi ru quan jing 以儒詮經). They produced a lot of books in Chinese and Uyghur language. Today Chinese sufi schools (menhuan 門宦) divide into three groups, namely the Naqshbandiyya, Qadiriyya, and Kubriyya. The most important Chinese sufi master was Ma Laichi 馬來遲, head of the Naqshbandiyya. At the same time a specialized system of education developed among Chinese Muslims that is is called "scripture hall education" (jingtang jiaoyu 經堂教育). Cleric teachers (ahong 阿訇 "imam", from Persian akhwand; or mula 毛拉 "mullahs") instruct students in the teachings of the Qur'ān and the Hadīth writings (Shengxun 聖訓), and in Arab language by a special phonetic method using Chinese characters to represent Arab sounds. The Imam Hudengzhou 胡登洲 was the first who brought to China the study of original texts in Arabian language. He founded the so-called Shaanxi group 陜西學派. During the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) Chang Zhimei 常志美, founder of the Shandong group 山東學派, added also Persian texts to the curriculum of Muslim study schools. At that time scholars like Wang Daiyu 王岱輿, Ma Zhu 馬注, Liu Zhi 劉智, Ma Dexin 馬德新 or Zhang Zhong 張中 began translating these texts into Chinese.
This persistent adherence to Chinese customs is a great barrier for the spread of a kind of Islamic culture among Chinese Muslims.
During the first half of the eighteenth century, when the Qing dynasty conquered Eastern Turkestan, they relied on the cooperation of the chieftains of the many city-states in the Tarim Basin. Many oft hem were rewarded with prestigious titles and allowed to reside in Beijing. Yet there were also Muslim polities fighting against the Manchus, like the Hojas from Kokand that repeatedly invaded the southern parts of Eastern Turkestan, the "newly conquered territories" Xinjiang. In the nineteenth century many Muslim communities in Gansu and Shaanxi rose in rebellion against the oppressive local governments. The most threatening rebellion was that of Yaqub Beg (Chinese name Agubo 阿古柏, 1820-1877), head of Kashgar, from 1867 to 1877.
Islam played a relatively quiet role during the Republican period (1911-1949) and during the first decades of the People's Republic. During the Cultural Revolution not only Buddhist temples, but also a lot of mosques were destroyed by the notorious Red Guards. Only after the event of September 11, 2001, some Muslim groups in Xinjiang became radicals, but out of quite different motifs than Islamist movements elsewhere. Radicalism among Uyghurs finds ist source in anti-colonialist attitudes against Chinese oppression, intensified immigration by Chinese settlers, and social discrimination by the new "masters" of Xinjiang. Another source of Uyghurian radicalism might be found in Pan-Turkic movements. The Communist Party tries to attribute acts of terror by Uyghurs, like the indicent on October 28, 2013, to the influence of Al-Qaida, which might be true or not. In any case, this act of terror gives the Communist Party an excuse to intensify the repression of the Muslim population of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and belies the Party's picture of the peaceful coexistence of the many peoples in China. Muslim people of the "ethnic minority" of the Hui (ethnic Chinese with Muslim belief) and other non-Uyghur minorities are not affected by these problems.
Wahhabism was brought to China by Shams ad-Dīn 謝木斯丁(1882-1936) who had performed the hajj, wrote a commentary to the Qur’ān, Gulanjing zhu 古蘭經注, and advocated a religious reform (zongjiao gaige 宗教改革) of Islam in China. The first complete translation of the Qur'ān into Chinese was published in 1927.
Sources: Gao Wende 高文德 (ed. 1995), Zhongguo shaoshu minzu shi da cidian 中國少數民族史大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin jiaoyu chubanshe), p. 809. ● Tang Jiahong 唐嘉弘, Mu Deling 穆德令 (1998), "Yisilanjiao 伊斯蘭教", in Zhongguo gudian dianzhang zhidu da cidian 中國古代典章制度大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), p. 971. ● Yuan Yaoshi 宛耀賓 (1989), "Yisilanjiao 伊斯蘭教", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zongjiao 宗教 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), p. 456. ● Zhang Weida 張偉達 (1992), "Yisilanjiao 伊斯蘭教", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, p. 1390. ● Zhou Weizhou 周偉洲, Ding Jingtai 丁景泰 (ed. 2006), Sichou zhi lu da cidian 絲綢之路大辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), p. 414. ● http://www.islamopediaonline.org/country-profile/china/
January 17, 2014 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail