Islam in China

20 Kasım 2015

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  • Name of Book: Islam in China
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  • Writers: Mi Shoujiang & You Jia 
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  • Translation: Min Chang 
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  • Publisher: China International Press 
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  • Date of Publication: 2004 
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  • Number of Pages: 205 
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  • ISBN: 7-5085-0533-6

As early as in the middle of the 7th century, Islam was introduced into China. Having spread and developed for 1300 years, going through the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties and the Republic Period, Islam has developed millions of followers in China. Today 10 of 56 ethnic groups in China (namely the Huis, the Uighurs, the Kazaks, the Dongxiangs, the Khallkhas, the Salas, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks, the Bao’ans and the Tatars) take Islam as their national faith.

In a field where there are few studies and publications dealing with Islam’s story in China, the book Islam in China provides vast information about presence of Islam in China. The book in five chapters depicts those issues: introduction and contribution of Islam in China; emergence of independent sects; nationalization of Islam in China; development of Mosque Education; combination of Islam with traditional Chinese culture; increase of Islamic publications; problems the Muslims faced in different times; and Chinese Muslims’ contacts with international Islamic organizations.

In the first chapter “Spread and Development of Islam in China”, the authors share information on the advent, extensive spread and dispersion of Islam in China. As the authors underlined in the book, it remains an open question when Islam was first introduced into China. A popular theory advanced by well-known contemporary historian Chen Yuan indicates that the introduction of Islam in China emerged when Yonghui of Emperor Gaozong of Tang, the third Caliph of Arabia Othman (on the throne in 644-656 A.D.) dispatched diplomatic envoys to Chang’an, capital city of Tang, to pay an official call to Emperor Gaozong, introducing to him the caliphate, their customs and Islam. The authors indicate that the Tang (618-907 A.D.) and Song Dynasties (960-1279 A.D.) were the first periods of Islam in China. Later, the authors argue that as the Muslims in the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368 A.D.) had made great contribution to the establishment of the Dynasty, they were given high social status; and also in this period of time, because the Yuan rulers held an attitude of tolerance and protection towards all religions, the Muslim population increased at a sharp rate, and Islam spread and developed rapidly. Lastly, during the first two hundred years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), the coverage of Islam further expanded in China. During this period of time, innumerable mosques were built or rebuilt in many parts of China.

In the second chapter “Nationalization of Islam in China”, the authors focus on the first steps of the nationalization process of Islam with the Chinese customs and traditions. The first argument of this chapter is that the Emperors of Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 A.D.) made life very hard for the Chinese Muslims. They prohibited the Halal slaughter of animals; and banned the construction of new Mosques and the pilgrimage for Hajj. The second argument is that before the transition period between the Qing and Ming Dynasties, most of the Muslims in China belonged to the Sunni sect; but in the transition period, as Sufism was in traduced into China, many independent sects and Menhuans (a term used by Chinese-speaking Muslims for a Chinese-style Sufi order) emerged one after another, among which three sects (Qadim, Ikhwan and Xidaotang) and four Menhuans (Kubrawiyyah, Qadiriyyah, Khufiyyah and Jahriyyah) were of greatest influence. The third argument is that from the time Islam was introduced into China to the middle of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese Muslims’ religious education had always been conducted in individual families by way of oral instruction by the elder generation; but as time went on, Muslims in China adopted the Chinese language, leading to the loss of their ability to read scriptures in Arabic and Persian. As a result, family education didn’t work efficiently any longer. In this situation, the Chinese Muslims began to explore ways to revitalize Islam, calling for developing Islamic education. At that point, the authors state that this made it possible for the development of Mosque Education, whose purpose was to find out and carry forward the righteousness of Islam; and foster qualified Islamic personnel with orthodox thoughts of Sunni. Hence, Islamic education was taught in an organized and systematic method instead of individual families. Also, during the transitional period following Mosque Education, the movement of translating and writing scriptures in Chinese rose vigorously as well.

In 1911, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown in the Revolution of 1911, and China stepped into a new era: the Republic Period. In this short period of time, lasting only 40 years, gigantic changes took place in China on aspects of social politics, economy and culture. In the third chapter “Islam in the Republic of China Period”, the authors focus on two issues. They firstly argue that with the Chinese Muslims’ motivation and efforts, new Islamic schools, which offered courses on religion and natural sciences, emerged; and the activities of cultural, academic, religious, educational, youth and charitable organizations increased. As the new education movement kept developing, the publication of Islamic books and newspapers stepped into a new era as well. Among the publishing institutions the following ones were of considerable influence: Chengda Normal School, Beiping (now Beijing), Islamic Publishing House, Jincheng Baozhen House, China Islamic Scripture Bureau, Shanghai Muslim Scripture Society, and Shanghai Islamic Culture Supply Society. They secondly argue that despite the Chinese Muslims efforts in the war between China and Japan, insults and discrimination towards them either orally or in publications took place. “The Story Why the Muslims in Southeast Asian Do not Eat Pork” in 1931, “Why Muslims Do not Eat Pork” in 1932, “Bizarre Customs” in 1936, and “Pig” in 1947 were some of the publications of insults against Islam and the Muslims.

In the fourth chapter “Islam in the Initial Period of New China”, the authors examine the stressful situation of the Chinese Muslims, starting from the end of the 1940s. They argue that in the Qing Dynasty and the period when warlords took over the throne, Muslims (in the Northwest in particular) were subjected to brutal persecutions and killings, and lived in precarious circumstances. However, after New Chine was founded in 1949, the Chinese Muslims of all ethnicities acquired equal political rights and religious freedom, which were written into the constitution. At that point, the authors underline that the people’s governments in all areas attached great importance to protecting religious sites, such as mosques and mausoleums and respecting Muslims’ faith and their habits and customs when they undertook to stabilize the social order and restore the economy. Also, the authors state that Muslims in the countryside were not satisfied only with their rebirth in political life. Inspired by land reform in Han areas, they also wanted to carry out land reform, to realize real self-liberation and develop the countryside economy. Hence, at the end of the 1950s under the leadership of the central authorities, a couple of democratic developments were carried out concerning certain aspects of religious systems of Chinese Islam.

The last chapter “Chinese Islam in New Times” is devoted to the near past of Islam in China. The first argument of this chapter is that since the 1980s, there has been the implementation of policy on Islam and restoring Islamic organizations. As in their record, the number of Islamic associations at city and country levels reached more than 400; and the number of Imams and Mullahs reached more than 45000 in about 20 years. The second argument is that there have been regulations to strengthen democratic administrations of mosques; developments on Islamic education and studies; and various advanced classes for training Imams in all over the country. The third argument is that as the reform and opening up to the outside world progressed further, the Chinese Muslims have made great contributions to the development of the state economy; but despite those contributions, the Chinese Muslims faced a number of problems. Because of this, the China Islamic Guidance Committee was established in 2001 to offer explanations on religious and social problems facing Muslims in contemporary times, opposing religious extremism, maintaining the purity of the Islamic faith, and motivating Islam to adapt itself to socialist society. The last argument of this chapter is that as the relations with Arab and Islamic countries further developed, the Chinese Muslims have built up friendly contacts and cooperation with some international Islamic organizations in various countries and regions.

Despite its rich historical details, the book suffers from a lack of coherent focus. Because the book has no clear hypothesis and tries to touch on many issues at the same time, it becomes a general overview of events and issues. Secondly, throughout the book the authors use many data, but there is no complete reference, so the book becomes poor on correcting arguments academically. Finally, some issues of the book are not really fulfilled. For example, readers cannot see what the actual problems the Chinese Muslims faced in different times are; or how the Chinese Muslims have built up friendly contacts and cooperation with international Islamic organizations. Despite those negative critics, the book is a good introduction for those who don’t know much about the background to Islam’s emergence in China.