The history of Islam in China mostly dates back to the period of Mohammad (Pbuh). During this era, China was regarded as the most developed nation worldwide. It is believed that the existence of Islam in China can even be traced earlier than this, during the period of Uthman ibn Affan which is taken as the third Calihp.
The introduction of Islam in China occurred after the Islam triumphed over Byzantine, Persian and Romans. Then Uthman ibn Affan commissioned a delegation to China in 29 AH (650 C.E) which was eighteen years later after the death of Phuh. Some people link the initiation of Islam in China to the Arab merchants. The Arabs traders, who had visited China on their Silk Route, had taken this opportunity to spread Islam to the Chinese who they interacted with as they traded.
The rate of spread of Islam in China by then was very minimal, since the spread of Islam did not have any organized effort. Despite lack of considerable documentation about the history of Arab history, the brief Chinese history depicted above and the evidence contained in the Ancient Record of Tang Dynasty described this event as the birth of Islam in China.
In appreciation of the Islamic religion in China, the Chinese emperor referred as Yung Wei ordered the building the of first China’s mosque formerly known as Magnificent Canton mosque, which is currently named the Memorial Mosque. This mosque still stands even to date after having existed for fourteen centuries (Ban par.2-5).
The presence of this mosque facilitated the establishment of the first Muslim settlement in this port city. The settlement was greatly boosted when Umayyads and Abbasids sent six delegations to China that was greatly appreciated by the Chinese. Since the Muslims and in particular the Arabs were very civilized both technologically and economically through trade, those Muslims who migrated to China greatly boosted the economic growth of China.
They were renowned to dominate the imports/exports trades during the period of the Sung Dynasty which occurred between 960 to 1279 CE. This was also boosted intensively by the presence of a Muslim as the director General of shipping. It was under the Ming Dynasty which existed in 1368 to 1644 CE that Muslims became fully integrated in China.
This period is often referred as the golden age of Islam in China as Chinese Muslims flourished greatly during this period. This period was also marked by large number of intermarriages between Muslims who had migrated to China and the Han Society. An interesting phenomenon of these intermarriages was noted by the manner in which the Muslim names changed. Many Muslims who married Han women opted to take on the names of their wives, while others opted to adapt the surnames of Mai, Mu and Mo.
Those who adapted these names were mostly those Muslims who had names such as Mustafa, Muhammad and Masoud. Those Muslims that could not identify Chinese names that matched their surnames opted to take the Chinese character that mostly resembled their names. For instance Ha for Hassan, Sai for Said, Hu, for Hussain among others.
Apart from the great transformation of the Chinese Muslim names, the Muslim custom of dressing and foods ware also greatly affected. The Muslims dietary and mode of dressing was strictly observed and not compromised. As time elapsed, the Muslims who had migrated to China started speaking the Hans vernacular and were also conversant in reading the Chinese language.
This completely transformed the Muslims to look like the other Chinese. The only difference that existed between the Muslims and other Chinese was the unique way that the Chinese Muslims dressed. The challenging aspect that was prevalent among the Muslims is that despite their great economical progression, they maintained a humble lifestyle. Muslims were regarded as being fair, self disciplined and law-abiding. This ensured a smooth coexistence of Muslims and non- Muslims Chinese.
As time passed and more Muslims migrated to China, Muslims built more Schools, mosques and madrasas that were very popular such that they attracted students as far as in India and Russia. It is noted that in 1790’s the city of Bukhara had as many as 30,000 Islam students. The city was often referred as the birthplace of Imam Bukhari who was a renowned compiler of hadith. The place later came to be referred as the Pillar of Islam (Rahman 5).
The great propagation of Muslim in China changed with the rise of the Ch’ing Dynasty that lasted from1644 to 1911. The Ch’ing king was a Manchu, but not Han. Since Manchu were the smallest faction of the Chinese, they employed the strategy of divide and rule to split the Tibetans, Hans, Muslims and Mongolians. In fact they were responsible for inciting the anti-Muslim sentiment in the entire China.
They employed the Han soldiers to repress those areas in China that were dominated by Muslims. Islamic religion had continued to spread widely during the reign of Yuan and Ming dynasty. During these eras, Muslims who migrated to China were known to be offered senior positions in the Chinese administration, before the coming of Manchu dynasty which greatly suppressed Islam.
The fall of Manchu Dynasty in 1911 resulted to the establishment of the republic of China that was being headed by Sun Yat Sen who declared that the state belonged equally to Muslims (Hui), Han Manchu, Meng and the Tibetan people. He enacted very strategic policies that greatly promoted favorable relations among these groups.
Since the establishment of the republic of China in 1949, there have existed many upheavals that had culminated in cultural revolutions. This has resulted to great suffering of the Muslims together with other Chinese population. The Chinese government liberalized its policies toward Islam and Muslim during the 11th central committee. In addition, the declaration of freedom of worship in China in 1978 has greatly assisted the Muslims in China in expressing their convictions fearlessly.
Before then, very few pilgrims were allowed to visit Mecca, but with introduction of this policy in china, the Chinese government started to relax its strict Muslim policies that regulated closely Muslim conducts. Nowadays there are many Muslims that visit Mecca yearly. The current China’s leadership seems to be experiencing a modest revival.
This is because religious leaders are reporting more Muslim worshipers than before the occurrence of the Cultural Revolution. Similarly, there has been noted great increase of interest in religion among the young generation (Gernet 7).
There has been a great spread of Islam in China lately. In 1998, it was noted that there was over 23,000 mosques in China and more than 3,749 of these mosque be located in the province of Xinjiang.
This illustrates how the Islam religion has greatly propagated in China. China has been noted to have an amplified upsurge in Islamic religion. This has resulted to formation of many nationwide Islamic associations which are used to coordinate the inter-ethnics activities amongst the Chinese Muslims.
This has enhanced the accessibility of the Islamic literature and also promoted the translation of Qur’an into eight different Chinese languages to facilitate the spread of Islam in China. In addition, these associations have also enabled translation of Qur’an into Uygur and other Turkic languages which has also boosted the spreading of the Islam religion (Gernet 11).
The Chinese community has shown a considerable tolerance of the Islamic religion. This is evident by how non Muslim Chinese had embraced the restrictions of breeding of pigs in areas that are highly Muslims dominated. The breeding pigs are generally forbidden since it contradicts the Islamic faith.
In addition, the Muslims in China have been given separate cemeteries. Muslims couples who are getting married are often privileged to have their marriages consecrated by an Imam. Moreover, Muslim workers in China are given free holidays during major Muslim religious festivals such as during Eidul-Adha, Eidul-Fitri and Mawlid festivals. Similarly, the Chinese Muslims have been awarded an almost unrestricted allowance to visit Mecca.
The number of Muslims who attend pilgrimage annually in Mecca has tremendously increased nowadays. In the year 2010, more than 13,100 pilgrims from China visited Mecca. During this season they dominantly leased flights that departed from China’s major cities such as Beijing, Lanzhou, Urumqi Kunming and Yinchuan (Ban par.15).
Through the past 1,400 years ,the Chinese Muslims mainly from the 10 ethnic minority factions such as Kazakh, Tajik, Uzbek, Hui, Uyghur, Bonan, Dongxiang, Salar, Kyrgyz and Tatar maintained their Islamic faith and culture which has promoted the formation of Asia’s largest Muslim population. The Muslims in China account for less than 2% of the total population of China, which represents 21 million Muslims. Most Muslims live in the north-west part of China’s provinces such as Gansu, Ningxia and Xinjiang.
Currently many Muslims have moved to other parts of China such as Shanghai, Yunnan, Beijing, Henan and Guangdong. It has been noted that despite the diverse ancestral and cultural orientations of the 10 ethnic groups, they all observe similar cultures involving the diet, dress codes and teaching. Women wear head scarves while men are known to wear white caps.
Although, Muslims accounts for only 2% of the total Chinese population, the Chinese Muslim population had continued to grow tremendously. The growth have been facilitated by the movement of the north-west Muslims to the south and east regions. There settlements in these regions have necessitated the building of mosque in these areas which has greatly boosted the growth of Muslims in China (Ban par.6).
Although the China’s Muslims are known to be very law abiding citizens, they have are also renowned to be very vibrant in Chinese politics. The Muslims in China have always expressed firmly all issues that affected them directly without shying away. They continued holding and practicing their faith even in very trying moments.
Their steadfast element greatly helped them in their fight for removal of those policies that in the past had greatly discriminated Muslims by restricting them participate adequately in Muslim activities such as visits to Mecca. This has resulted to the Chinese government implementing appropriate policies that have really enhanced the proliferation of Islamic religion in China to become the second largest religion in China.
Ban, Chow.”Muslims in China keep their faith.” The star Online. January 13, 2011. Web. 16 AUG., 2011
Gernet, Jacques. A History of Chinese Civilization. London: Cambridge University Press. 1996 print.
Rahman, Yusuf .History of Islam in China and Distribution of Islamic Faith in China. New York: Prentice Hall. 2007 print