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Islam in China

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By: Amtul Mussawir Mansoor

When one hears of China, one thinks of Confucianism, Buddhism, or other Chinese folk religion, but who would have known that Islam was established in China only 18 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death, and had a major influence in the development of China.

Islam was officially introduced to China in the year 650 C.E. during the Tang dynasty (618-907).[1]  Hadhrat Uthman, the third Caliph of Islam, sent a delegation led by Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, the maternal uncle of Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, who invited the Chinese Emperor to recognize Islam.  The emperor was pleased with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad(pbuh), due to the fact that many aspects of Islam were similar to the teachings of Confucius, and he granted the “freedom to propagate their faith and expressed his admiration for Islam.”[2]  In addition to the warm welcome, the first Mosque, the Huaisheng Mosque, was built in the city of Guangzhou to show respect to the delegation sent by the Caliph.

During the Tang dynasty, Arab and Persian traders gradually arrived in China traveling by sea routes and through the Silk road.  The settlers built mosques, mostly along the Canton River.  They were also responsible for bringing various elements of the Muslim culture to the Chinese world, such as various Muslim cuisines and their knowledge of medicine to China.[3]

Great Mosque of Xi’an

Muslims continued to settle in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and these Muslims began to have a great economic impact and influence on the country.  They started dominating foreign and the import/export industry. Consequently, the office of Director of General of Shipping in Quanzhou, one of the largest seaports in China at the time, was held by a Muslim. In 1070, the Song emperor invited 5,300 men from Bukhara, a major Muslim city along the Silk Road, to settle in the Chinese cultural borders, and to act as a buffer between the Chinese and Liao Empire.  These men were led by Prince Amir Sayyid, who is regarded as the father of the Muslim community in China.  Prior to the Prince, Islam was regarded as ‘Dashi fa’ (law of the Arabs), but he renamed Islam to ‘Huihui Jiao’ [the religion of Huihui (Muslims)].[4]  In addition, in 1080, around 10,000 Arab Muslim men and women settled in northern and north-easter provinces of China, further increasing the Muslim population in China.

Muslim influence further grew during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), which was ruled by the Mongols.  In the previous dynasties, Muslims were regarded as important figures in the society but were never entrusted with governmental positions, due to the Chinese’s aversion towards minor ethnic groups.  But to keep the Chinese majority in check, the Mongol rulers decided to elevate the status of many minority ethnic groups within China, including the Muslims.  They also greatly encouraged Muslim migration in order to balance out the Chinese majority.  The newly acquired Yuan territory was broken into twelve smaller districts and eight of the districts were governed by a Muslim governor, while the remaining four districts had Muslims as the vice governor.  So the Muslim population greatly increased during this time, reaching four million by the fourteenth century.[5]

The Mongol rules placed a great importance on science especially related to agriculture, so they turned to known Muslim scientists to further their cause.  Kublai Khan brought Iranian scientists to Beijing to build observatories and make advances in calendar making and astronomy.  In addition, several Arab medical texts in the field of anatomy, pharmacology, and ophthalmology were introduced in China.  One of the most famous books in the history of medicine, Avicenna’s The Cannon of Medicine, was translated into Chinese during this time.[6]

When the Yuan dynasty was overthrown, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was established.  Muslims were heavily involved in the founding of the Ming Dynasty, so much so that many of the commanders who had a major role in overthrowing the Yuan government were Muslims.  Some scholars even believe that Hongwu Emperor, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, was a Muslim, due to the fact that his wife was a Muslim, many of his trusted generals were Muslims, and that he forbade the drinking of wine.[7] In addition, he ordered the building of several mosques in Southern China, and wrote a 100 characters in praise of Islam, God, and Prophet Muhummad.[8]

During the Ming Dynasty, the Muslims fully assimilated themselves with the Chinese culturally. They adopted the Chinese language, dress, and surname.  Muslims continued to hold influential positions in the government.  One of the most famous Muslim from the Ming Dynasty and Chinese history, is Zheng He.  He was a mariner, an explorer, a diplomat, and a fleet admiral known for making the famous voyages around the globe.  Particularly, his expeditions had a great impact in Southeast Asia, as the Indonesian Islamic scholar Hamka claimed in 1961 that “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaya is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.”[9]  Islamic scholarship also increased during the Ming Dynasty.  Several books were written by Wang Daiyu and Liu Zhi, which include, ‘A Commentary on the Orthodox Faith,’ ‘Islamic Philosophy,’ ‘The Last Prophet of Islam.’  In addition, to writing books, many of the Islamic works were translated into Chinese, to prove to the Chinese people that Islam was not inferior to the teachings of Confucius.

When the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by the Manchu people, a minor ethnic group, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was founded.  During this time period, the social treatment of Chinese Muslims took a sharp turn and grew worse.  The Manchu especially used brute force on the Muslim community, for their support to the Ming Dynasty.  The government forbid constructions of new mosques and Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Consequently, the relationship between the Qing government and the Muslims deteriorated, leading to rebellions.[10]  As a result of the rebellions, the Qing government organized a massacre of the Yunnanese Muslims (Yunnanese was the location of the rebellion), so many Muslims had to flee the region and take refuge.  Millions of Muslims died during the rebellion and the ordered massacre.  During the Qing Dynasty, Sufism spread in northwestern China.[11]

In 1911, the Qing Dynasty fell, and as a result, the brutality towards the Muslims ended.  The Republic of China was established, and Sun Yat Sen, asserted that the country equally belonged to the Han Chinese, the Hui (Muslim) and the Tsang (Tibetan).  Due to increased transportation and establishment of the new modern government, Chinese Muslims were able to travel to Middle East and study Islam in a more formal setting.  Islamic scholarship also flourished as there were more than a hundred Muslim periodicals at the time before the Sino-Japanese War of 1937.  In addition, the Chinese Muslims felt the need for unity among Muslims, so the ‘Chinese Muslim Federation’ was founded, with chapters in various cities.  It was estimated that just before the Communist revolution, there were 48 million Muslims in China with more than 42,000 mosques.

As the Communist government took control and founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many minority cultures were harmed including the Hui (Muslim) people.  The government constantly accused Muslims and other religious groups of holding “superstitious beliefs” and promoting “anti-socialist” trends.  Mosques were defaced and copies of the Quran were burned.[12]  But in 1979, Deng Xiaoping, seized control of the government, and the government began to liberalize its policies towards Muslims and their practice of Islam.  Since then the government has been largely respectful of Islam.  This is seen when the government ordered advertising agencies to resist using pig images, cartoons, or slogans, in 2007, the year of the pig, due to the sensitivity of the Muslims.[13]  Currently, there are 25 million Muslims in China, about 2% of the entire population.  It appears as though Islam is undergoing a modest revival and there is a reawakening of interest in Islam among the young.  There have been many nationwide Islamic established to coordinate activities between the Muslims.  There are also eight different translations of the Quran in the Chinese language.  There has been various concession granted to Muslims by the government of China, such as: Having separate cemeteries; Muslim couples may have their marriage consecrated by an Imam; Muslim workers are permitted to take days off during major religious festivals; Chinese Muslims are allowed to make Hajj; where Muslims are a majority, breeding of pigs is not allowed.[14]

When one thinks of China, Islam doesn’t come to mind, but Islam played a significant role in Chinese history.  It was introduced within 18 years of Prophet Muhammad’s death, and Muslims played a crucial role in the development of early Chinese culture, and were responsible for trade, astronomy, and medicine.  Muslims not only influenced China socially and scientifically, but also influenced their political and economical systems.



[1] BBC Team, “Islam in China (650-present),” BBC – Religion & Ethics, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/

islam/history/china_1.shtml.

[2] Dawood C. M. Ting, “Islamic Culture in China,” in Islam the Straight Path, ed. Kenneth W. Morgan (New Dehli:

Motilal Banarsidass Publications, 1987), 344.

[3] Wikipedia Team, “History of Islam in China,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Islam_in_China.

[4] Raphael Israeli, Islam in China (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002), 284.

[5] Ibid, 285.

[6] Wikipedia Team, “History of Islam in China,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Islam_in_China.

[7] Ting, 340.

[8] Wikipedia Team, “History of Islam in China,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Islam_in_China.

[9] Rosey Wang Ma, “Chinese Muslims in Malaysia,” Fruits for the Week, http://210.0.141.99/eng/malaysia/

ChineseMuslim_in_Malaysia.asp

[10] BBC Team, “Islam in China (650-present),” BBC – Religion & Ethics, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/

islam/history/china_1.shtml.

[11] Wikipedia Team, “History of Islam in China,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Islam_in_China.

[12] Israeli, p. 243.

[13] Louisa Lim, “Ban Thwarts ‘Year of the Big’ Ads in China,” National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/templates/

story/story.php?storyId=7480083.

[14] Wikipedia Team.  “Islam in China.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_China.

Posted by on December 26, 2011. Filed under Asia,China,Islam,Islam: A Religion of Peace. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

22 Responses to Islam in China

  1. Zia H. Shah

    December 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Great Mosque of Xi’an
    The Great Mosque of Xi’an (simplified Chinese: 西安大清真寺; traditional Chinese: 西安大清真寺; pinyin: Xī’ān Dà Qīngzhēnsì), located near the Drum Tower (Gu Lou) on 30 Huajue Lane of Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China, is the oldest and one of the most renowned mosques in the country founded in 742.[1]

    It was built and renovated in later periods (especially during the reign of Emperor Hongwu of the Ming Dynasty). It remains a popular tourist site of Xi’an, and is still used by Chinese Muslims (mainly the Hui people) today as a place of worship. Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, the Great Mosque of Xi’an is completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic lettering and decorations, for the mosque has neither domes nor traditional-style minarets.[2]

    1. Geography of China: Sacred and Historic Places By Britannica Educational Publishing, pg. 181-182, Kenneth Pletcher
    2. Asian Historical Architecture at http://www.orientalarchitecture.com

  2. Muhammad Azimul Haque

    December 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Chinese Hui Muslims developed several martial arts methods of their own. One such is Tantui was developed partly with help from Zheng He

    http://www.plumpub.com/info/Articles/art_TMmuslimkf.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_arts_practiced_by_Muslim_Hui

  3. Zia H. Shah

    December 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Khalifatul Masih V, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad’s recent comments about China and Islam

    He said:

    The Holy Qur’an and other literature is sent to far-off countries in their local language. All this is because this age is a blessed age and blessed are those who are partaking in this and are trying to renew the era of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him). Temporary enthusiasm is not enough, what is required is utmost effort. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Germany has been enabled to serve in China as well as in other neighboring countries. Earlier, this task was done by a few hundred. In light of the effusion of letters to me, it seems that thousands would join in this revolution about which the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) gave the glad-tidings; he said that the latter-days will also be blessed.

    Friday sermon, September 23, 2011

  4. Rafiq A. Tschannen

    December 27, 2011 at 3:40 am

    Ibn Batuta also gives interesting aspects of the Muslim community in China during his visit there.

  5. Pingback: A turning point for China — Islam or Christianity? | The Muslim Times: A Blog to Foster Universal Brotherhood

  6. Pingback: December 2011 eGazette – A watershed moment for China: Islam or Christianity? « Al Islam Ahmadiyya

  7. Pingback: December 2011 Alislam-eGazette: A watershed moment for China: Islam or Christianity? | The Muslim Times: A Blog to Foster Universal Brotherhood

  8. Abdul Rahim Hubbs

    January 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Being a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I have long appreciated the similarities between Islam and Traditional Chinese religious and philosophical thought and practice.

    Islam is indeed synonymous with the teachings of Lao Tze, Confucius and the Buddha. Islam is even intertwined with the ancient medicine of China.

    Great article and may Allah continue to spread and flourish True Islam in the great land of China. Ameen.

  9. Daoud

    January 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    As-Salam aleikum,
    Very great article! I’m also a licenced aucpuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine from Shanghai University, all along my studies there, I saw so many connections with concepts of Taoism and Islam. About myself, there is no doubt that Allah, in His Mercy, sent prophets and messengers all over the world, since the Creation.
    Wa Salam,
    Daoud, from Brittany (France)

  10. Zia H. Shah

    January 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Ahmadiyya Muslim Community launches a new state of the art website, to engage Christian, agnostic and atheist readers.

    Especially check out the Homepage and page about ‘Revelation,’ which is important as the secular world is in denial of it altogether.

    Find the link in the Muslim Times or try: http://islamforwest.org/

    Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

  11. Pingback: A watershed moment for China: Islam or Christianity? – For Christians, To be Born Again in Islam!

  12. Pingback: A watershed moment for China: Islam or Christianity? – Is the West ready for Islam?

  13. Muhammad Michael Mark

    January 31, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Assalamualaikum.

    I am Muhammad Michael Mark is a Malaysian Chinese Muslim.
    In Malaysia, most of the Islamic books are translated and written in Malay Language. In addition, my Malay Language is not good, so can you send to me a few of Chinese Books for study or reference?

    I will wait for your reply.
    Thank You.

    Mailing Address:

    1097-B, Jalan 11,
    Kampung Baru Ampang,
    68000 Ampang,
    Selangor Darul Ehsan,
    Malaysia.

  14. Rafiq A. Tschannen

    January 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    as a start please try http://islam.cn/Chinese.htm

  15. Daoud

    February 1, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    As-Salam aleikum
    Brother Muhammad Michael Mark, I’m glad to read you are a chinese malay muslim. Usualy in Malaysia you can request easily some books about Islam in chinese, but not about Ahmadiyya. I have lived in Malaisya and if you want, I can send you some ahmadis books in chinese and english I have still with me. Just contact me on my facebook’s profile at David Boussion dit Colombani
    Wa Salam,
    Daoud

  16. arif pk

    March 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    sir please send me som details about islam in china for my desertation

  17. Rafiq A. Tschannen

    March 14, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Please – among other things – read also Ibne Battuta’s Travels to China. He is giving an interesting description of Muslim Communities in China at the time of his visit. (stronger and more respected than now!)

  18. rumah untuk Dijual Di seremban

    March 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    I’m now not positive where you’re getting your information, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.

    Thank you for excellent information I used to be
    on the lookout for this information for my mission.

  19. Here

    July 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    As-Salam aleikum,
    Great articles. On my recent travel to Central Asia 5 Stans I saw many ancient monuments of Muslim culture but there were also Buddhist temples in Uzbekistan, which was a surprise to me. Any ideas who could build those temples?

  20. Saad

    July 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    @Here It was most likely the Kushans

  21. faizah

    August 8, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Asalam aleikum my am faizah coming to china to study i have searched for muslims address in china bearing no fruits please help me .i will be in shandong

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