History of Islam in China
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The history of Islam in China began when four Ṣaḥābā—Sa‘d ibn Abī Waqqās (594–674), Ja'far ibn Abi Talib, and Jahsh preached in 616/17 and onwards in China after coming from Chittagong-Kamrup-Manipur route after sailing from Abyssinia in 615/16. Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas again headed for China for the third time in 650–51 after Caliph ‘Uthman asked him to lead an embassy to China, which the Chinese emperor received warmly.
Origin of Islamic China
China-Arab Trade relations
China's long and interactive relationship with the various steppe tribes and empires, through trade, war, subordination or domination paved the way for a large sustained Islamic community within China. Islamic influence came from the various steppe peoples who assimilated in Chinese culture. Muslims served as administrators, generals, and other leaders who were transferred to China from Persia and Central Asia to administer the empire under the Mongols.
Muslims in China have managed to practice their faith in China, sometimes against great odds, since the seventh century. Islam is one of the religions that is still officially recognized in China.
According to the historical accounts of Chinese Muslims, Islam was first brought to China by Sa'd ibn abi Waqqas, who came to China for the third time at the head of an embassy sent by Uthman, the third Caliph, in 651, less than twenty years after the death of prophet Muhammad. The embassy was led by Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās, the maternal uncle of the prophet himself. Emperor Gaozong, the Tang emperor who received the envoy then ordered the construction of the Memorial mosque in Canton, the first mosque in the country, in memory of the prophet. Hui legends seem to confuse the 651 visit with the initiation of Islam as early as 616/17 by earlier visits of Sahabas.
While modern historians tend to argue that there is no evidence for Waqqās himself ever coming to China, they do believe that Muslim diplomats and merchants arrived in Tang China within a few decades from the beginning of Middle Ages (Hijra). The Tang Dynasty's cosmopolitan culture, with its intensive contacts with Central Asia and its significant communities of (originally non-Muslim) Central and Western Asian merchants resident in Chinese cities, which helped the introduction of Islam.
Arab people are first noted in Chinese written records, under the name Ta shi in the annals of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Ta shi or Da shi is the Chinese rendering of Tazi—the name the Persian people used for the Arabs). Records dating from 713 speak of the arrival of a Da shi ambassador. The first major Muslim settlements in China consisted of Arab and Persian merchants.
Despite conflict between the Tang and the Abbasids during the Battle of Talas in 751, relations between the two states improved soon after. In 756, a contingent probably consisting of Persians and Iraqis was sent to Kansu to help the emperor Su-Tsung in his struggle against the rebellion of An Lushan. Less than 50 years later, an alliance was concluded between the Tang and the Abbasids against Tibetan attacks in Central Asia. A mission from the Caliph Harun al-Rashid (766-809) arrived at Chang'an.
It is recorded that in 758, a large Muslim settlement in Guangzhou erupted in unrest and the people fled. The community had constructed a large mosque (Huaisheng Mosque), destroyed by fire in 1314, and constructed in 1349-51; only ruins of a tower remain from the first building.
During the Tang Dynasty, a steady stream of Arab (Ta'shi) and Persian (Po'si) traders arrived in China through the silk road and the overseas route through the port of Quanzhou. Not all of the immigrants were Muslims, but many of those who stayed formed the basis of the Chinese Muslim population and the Hui ethnic group. The Persian immigrants introduced polo, their cuisine, their musical instruments, and their knowledge of medicine to China.
Many Muslims went to China to trade, and these Muslims began to have a great economic impact and influence on the country. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Muslims in China dominated foreign trade and the import/export industry to the south and west.
In 1070, the Song emperor, Shen-tsung (Shenzong) invited 5,300 Muslim men from Bukhara, to settle in China. The emperor used these men in his campaign against the Liao empire in the northeast. Later on these men were settled between the Sung capital of Kaifeng and Yenching (modern day Beijing). The object was to create a buffer zone between the Chinese and the Liao. In 1080, 10,000 Arab men and women migrated to China on horseback and settled in all of the provinces of the north and north-east. The Chinese materia medica 52 (re-published in 1968-75) was revised under the Song Dynasty in 1056 and 1107 to include material, particularly 200 medicines, taken from Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine.
The Arabs from Bukhara were under the leadership of Prince Amir Sayyid "So-fei-er" (his Chinese name). The prince was later given an honorary title. He is reputed of being the "father" of the Muslim community in China. Prior to him Islam was named by the Tang and Song Chinese as Dashi fa ("law of the Arabs") (Tashi or Dashi is the Chinese rendering of Tazi—the name the Persian people used for the Arabs). . He renamed it to Huihui Jiao ("the Religion of the Huihui").
The Yuan Dynasty of China, continued to maintain excellent relationship with other nomadic tribes of Mongolia. The Mongol rulers of Yuan Dynasty elevated the status of foreigners of all religions versus the Han Chinese, and placed many foreigners such as Muslim Persians and Arabs, Turkic Christians, Jews, Tibetan Buddhist Lamas, and Buddhist Turpan Uyghurs in high-ranking posts instead of native Confucian scholars, using many Muslims in the administration of China. The territory of the Yuan was administered in 12 districts during the reign of Kublai Khan with a governor and vice-governor each. According to Iranian historian Rashidu'd-Din Fadlu'llah, of these 12 governors, 8 were Muslims; in the remaining districts, Muslims were vice-governors.
The state encouraged Muslim immigration, as Arab, Persian and Turkic immigration into China accelerated during Yuan period. In the fourteenth century, the total population of Muslims was 4,000,000. It was during this time that Jamal ad-Din, a Persian astronomer, presented Kublai Khan with seven Persian astronomical instruments. Also, The Muslim architect Yeheidie'erding (Amir al-Din) learned from Han architecture and helped to designed and construct the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, Dadu, otherwise known as Khanbaliq or Khanbaligh. Dadu would last until 1368 when Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty and future Hongwu Emperor, made his imperial ambitions known by sending an army toward the Yuan capital. The last Yuan emperor fled north to Shangdu and Zhu declared the founding of the Ming Dynasty after razing the Yuan palaces in Dadu to the ground. The city was renamed Beiping by the Ming in the same year.
In the mid 14th century, the Ispah Rebellion led by Chinese Persian Muslims broke out in South Fujian. After the rebellion was suppressed the local Han Chinese in Quanzhou turned against Semu people and great misery was brought upon Muslim population. Quanzhou itself ceased to be a leading international seaport.
Genghis Khan, and the following Yuan Emperors forbade Islamic practices like Halal butchering, forcing Mongol methods of butchering animals on Muslims, and other restrictive degrees continued. Muslims had to slaughter sheep in secret. Genghis Khan directly called Muslims and Jews "slaves", and demanded that they follow the Mongol method of eating rather than the halal method. Circumcision was also forbidden. Jews were also affected, and forbidden by the Mongols to eat Kosher. Toward the end, corruption and the persecution became so severe that Muslim Generals joined Han Chinese in rebelling against the Mongols. The Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang had Muslim Generals like Lan Yu who rebelled against the Mongols and defeated them in combat. Some Muslim communities had the name in Chinese which meant "barracks" and also mean "thanks", many Hui Muslims claim it is because that they played an important role in overthrowing the Mongols and it was named in thanks by the Han Chinese for assisting them.
Muslims continued to flourish in China during the Ming Dynasty. During Ming rule, the capital, Nanjing, was a center of Islamic learning. The Ming dynasty saw the rapid decline in the Muslim population in the sea ports. This was due to the closing of all seaport trade with the outside world. However it also saw the appointment of Muslim military generals such as Mu Ying who campaigned in Yunnan and central Shandong. These two areas became leading centers of Islamic learning in China. The emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was the founder of the Ming Dynasty. Many of his most trusted commanders were Muslims, including Hu Dahai, Mu Ying, Lan Yu, Feng Sheng and Ding Dexing. The Ming Dynasty also gave rise to the famous admiral Zheng He.
Muslims in Ming dynasty Beijing were given relative freedom by the Chinese, with no restrictions placed on their religious practices or freedom of worship, and being normal citizens in Beijing. In contrast to the freedom granted to Muslims, followers of Tibetan Buddhism and Catholicism suffered from restrictions and censure in Beijing.
Immigration slowed down drastically however, and the Muslims in China became increasingly isolated from the rest of the Islamic world, gradually becoming more sinicized, adopting the Chinese language and Chinese dress. During this period, Muslims also began to adopt Chinese surnames. Other Muslims, who could not find a Chinese surname similar to their own, adopted the Chinese character most similar to their own - Ma (馬) for Muhammad, Mai for Mustafa, Mu for Masoud, Ha for Hasan, Hu for Hussain and Sa'I for Said and so on. The Hui, Salar, and Dongxiang are Muslims in China who use Chinese surnames. As a result the Muslims became "outwardly indistinguishable" from the Chinese.
In addition to names, Muslim customs of dress and food also underwent a synthesis with Chinese culture.The Islamic modes of dress and dietary rules were maintained within a Chinese cultural framework. In time, the immigrant Muslims began to speak local dialects and to read in Chinese.
Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) was ruled by the Manchus.
In the Qing Dynasty, Muslims had many mosques in the large cities, with particularly important ones in Beijing, Xi'an, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and other places (in addition to those in the western Muslim regions). The architecture typically employed traditional Chinese styles, with Arabic-language inscriptions being the chief distinguishing feature. Many Muslims held government positions, including positions of importance, particularly in the army. As travel became easier, there were many exchanges between China and the outside world. Around this time, Chinese Muslims also became the first Muslims in New Zealand (See Islam in New Zealand). Sufism spread throughout the Northwestern China in the early decades of the Qing Dynasty (mid-17th century through early 18th century). The most important Sufi orders (menhuan) included:
- The Qadiriyya, which was established in China Qi Jingyi (祁静一), also known as Hilal al-Din (1656–1719), student of the famous Central Asian Sufi teachers, Khoja Afaq and Kjoja Abd Alla. He was known among the Hui Sufis as Qi Daozu (Grand Master Qi). The shrine complex around "great tomb" (da gongbei) in Linxia remains the center of the Qadiriyya in China.
- The Khufiyya: a Naqshbandi order.
- The Jahriyya: another Naqshbandi menhuan, founded by Ma Mingxin.
Dungan and Panthay Revolts
During the time, the Muslims revolted against the Qing Dynasty, most notably in the Dungan revolt (1862–1877) and the Panthay rebellion 1856-1873) in Yunnan. The Manchu government ordered the execution of all rebels, killing a million people in the Panthay rebellion, several million in the Dungan revolt.
However, Muslims in other parts of China proper like in the east and southern provinces who did not revolt, were not affected at all by the rebellion, and experienced no genocide, nor did they seek to revolt. It was reported that Muslim villages in Henan province, which was next to Shaanxi, were totally unnaffected and relations between Han and Hui continued normally.
Elisabeth Allès wrote that the relationship between Hui Muslim and Han peoples continued normally in the Henan area, with no ramifications or consequences from th Muslim rebellions of other areas. Allès wrote "The major Muslim revolts in the middle of the nineteenth century which involved the Hui in Shaanxi, Gansu and Yunnan, as well as the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, do not seem to have had any direct effect on this region of the central plain."
Many Muslims like Ma Zhan'ao, Ma Anliang, Dong Fuxiang, Ma Qianling, and Ma Julung defected to the Qing dynasty side, and helped the Qing general Zuo Zongtang exterminate the Muslim rebels. These Muslim generals belonged to the Khafiya sect, and they helped Qing massacre Jahariyya rebels. General Zuo moved the Han around Hezhou out of the area and relocated them as a reward for the Muslims there helping Qing kill other Muslim rebels.
In 1895, another Dungan Revolt (1895) broke out, and loyalist Muslims like Dong Fuxiang, Ma Anliang, Ma Guoliang, Ma Fulu, and Ma Fuxiang suppressed and massacred the rebel Muslims led by Ma Dahan, Ma Yonglin, and Ma Wanfu.
A Muslim army called the Kansu Braves led by General Dong Fuxiang fought for the Qing dynasty against the foreigners during the Boxer Rebellion. They included well known Generals like Ma Anliang, Ma Fulu, and Ma Fuxiang.
Republic of China
The Manchu dynasty fell in 1911, and the Republic of China was established by Sun Yat Sen, who immediately proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Hui (Muslim), Meng (Mongol), and the Tsang (Tibetan) peoples. This led to some improvement in relations between these different peoples. The end of the Qing dynasty also marked an increase in Sino-foreign interaction. This led to increased contact between Muslim minorities in China and the Islamic states of the Middle East. A missionary, Claude Pickens, found 834 well-known Hui who had made hajj between 1923 and 1934. By 1939, at least 33 Hui Muslims had studied at Cairo's Al-Azhar University. In 1912, the Chinese Muslim Federation was formed in the capital Nanjing. Similar organization formed in Beijing (1912), Shanghai (1925) and Jinan (1934). Academic activities within the Muslim community also flourished. Before the Sino-Japanese War of 1937, there existed more than a hundred known Muslim periodicals. Thirty journals were published between 1911 and 1937. Although Linxia remained the center for religious activities, many Muslim cultural activities had shifted to Beijing.
In the first decade of the 20th century, it has been estimated that there were 20 million Muslims in China proper (that is, China excluding the regions of Mongolia and Xinjiang). Of these, almost half resided in Gansu, over a third in Shaanxi (as defined at that time) and the rest in Yunnan. In 1911, the provinces of Qinhai, Gansu and Ningxia fell to Muslim warlords of the family known as the Ma clique, including Ma Bufang and Ma Chung-ying.
Early communist era
The People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. Through many of the early years there were tremendous upheavals which culminated in the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution urban youths were encouraged to move to the countryside to "tame the wilderness" and many chose Xinjiang, inadvertently diverting Muslim influence. During that time, the government also constantly accused Muslims and other religious groups of holding "superstitious beliefs" and promoting "anti-socialist trends". Mosques were often defaced, destroyed or closed and copies of the Quran were destroyed along with temples, churches, monasteries, and cemeteries by the Red Guards.
Since the advent of Deng Xiaopeng in 1979, the Chinese government liberalised its policies toward Islam and Muslims. New legislation gave all minorities the freedom to use their own spoken and written languages; develop their own culture and education; and practice their religion. More Chinese Muslims than ever before are allowed to go on the Hajj.
Under China's current leadership, Islam is undergoing a modest revival and there are now many mosques in China. There has been an upsurge in Islamic expression and many nation-wide Islamic associations have been organised to co-ordinate inter-ethnic activities among Muslims.
In most of China, Muslims have considerable religious freedom, however, in areas like Xinjiang, where there has been unrest among Uighur Muslims, activities are restricted. China is fighting an increasingly protracted struggle against members of its Uighur minority, who are a Turkic people with their own language and distinct Islamic culture. Uighar separatists are intent on re-establishing the state of East Turkistan, which existed for a few years in the 1920s.Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, China feared potential separatist goals of Muslim majority in Xinjiang. An April, 1996 agreement between Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikstan and Kyrgyztan, however, assures China of avoiding a military conflict. Other Muslim states have also asserted that they have no intentions of becoming involved in China's internal affairs. China fears the influence of radical Islamic thinking filtering in from central Asia, and the role of exiles in neighbouring states and in Turkey, with which Xinjiang's majority Uighur population shares linguistic ties.
With economic reform after 1978, health care in China became largely private fee-for-service due to the introduction of capitalist reforms which abolished the free socialist health care. This was widely criticised by Muslims in the North West, who were often unable to obtain medical support in their remote communities.
In 2007, which according to the Chinese zodiac was the Year of the Pig, CCTV, People's Republic of China's state run television station ordered major advertising agencies not to use pig images, cartoons or slogans "to avoid conflicts with ethnic minorities" in reference to China's Muslims.
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