Islam in China
Chinese Muslims have been present in China for the past 1400 years, legend has it that Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas was first to bring Islam to China. With the opening of the Silk Road and continuous trade and many travelers brought not only their commodities for trade but also their religion. According to legend Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas traveled to Guangzhou and Chang’an (present day Xi’an), after is death in Guangzhou a tomb was built in his memory, this tomb is now known as the Tomb of Muslim Sage. Thabit ibn Qays was also believed by Chinese Muslims to have traveled to China and died on his journey home, his tomb is located in Hami of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region. The practice of Islam was officially agreed in 651 AD after Emperor Gaozong of the Dynasty met with Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas and Thabit ibn Qays. The construction of Mosques in cities where Arabian traders lived was common in major cities such as Xi’an, Guangzhou, Quanzhou and Yangzhou.
According to the records of the Book the Old Tang Dynasty, the Tazi sent envoys to Pay tribute to the Tang Dynsty in the second year of the reign of Emperor Yong Hui( 651A .D.).In Chinese history, that year is considered to mark the beginning of Islam’s introduction to china. Chinese records say that during the period 651 to 798, 39 Aradian envoys visited China, and more and more Arabian and Persian traders came to china to do business.The frequent friendly exchanges between the governments and the frequent commercial intercourse, on the one hand, promoted the existing Traditional friendship between China and the Arabic world, and one the other, provided good conditions for Islam to spread within China . The routes to China for the envoys and businessmen from Arabia and Persia were as follows:the land route began in Persia, traversed China’s Xinjing region, and along the ancient silk road, and finally terminated in the inland cities of China, such as Xi’an and Luoyang; the sea route started at the Persian Gulf, passed the Malay Peninula, and finally arrived at the trading ports along the south coast of China. Chinese historical records also have accounts of how Arabian and Perinsula traders carried on business and lived in Chang’an(the capital) and various places along the Chinese coast, By government permission during the Tang and Song dynasties, these traders were allowed to live in such place as Guangzhou , Yangzhou , Quanzhou, Hangzhou , Chang’an, Kaifeng ang Luoyang . They led peaceful lives in these places, following their own beliefs and customs. They lived in China for so long that they did not want to return home. Thus, they built mosques and tombs in these cities, married local residents and raised children; their children, became the early Chinese Muslims. While sticking to their Islamic faith, and trying to avoid conflicts with Chinese traditional culture and other religions in China , they lived in compact communities, They did not preach Islam to the outside community, but on the contrary, tried to adapt to Chinese economic and cultural conditions. As a result, they led peaceful and happy lives. They brought advanced Chinese scientific technologies represented by the Four Great Inventions to Arabia and Western world, becoming scientific and cultural envoys of the Middle Ages.
The Yuan and Ming dynasties were important periods for the spread and development of Islam in China . The powerful Mongols conquered the Islamic countries and nations in central and western Asia , destroying the Abbasid Dynasty of the Arabian Empire in 1258. They inducted Arabian and Persian Prisoners of war into their armies when they attacked and unified China . Among the inductees were carpenters, religious scholars and nobles, numbering tens of thousands. In the historical records, they are described as people who could fight bravely if they had horses to ride, while working as shepherds when there was no fighting. After the Mongolian troops were victorious, they set up the powerful Yuan Dynasty in China . This ushered in a new era, in which politics and economy saw great developments, At that time, transportation between China and the Western world was so convenient that their trade exchanges were very frequent, and diplomatic relations were also friendly. All these things created good conditions for Islam to spread to the east. In the Yuan Dynasty lots of Muslim traders from Central Asia came to China . In the Samarkand Legend of the history of the Ming Dynasty, it says that Muslims were scattered all over China . Today, in Beijing , Xi’an and in the main cities along the southeast coast and along the Grand Canal , some old mosques and tombs of ancient Muslims are still well preserved. Influenced by economy, politics and intermarriage, lots of people of the Mongolian, Han and Uygur nationalities were converted to Islam in the Yuan Dynasty. These people were called Hui. Historical materials prove that in the Yuan Dynasty, Islam had developed on a relatively large scale, and Islam with Chinese characteristic was also formed at that time. Muslim communities centered on mosques, which began to appear in cities and villages.
From the end of the Yuan Dynasty to the early part of the Ming Dynasty, the Hui nationality emerged. From the end of the Ming Dynasty to the early part of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese Islam further developed. Besides the Hui nationality, several other minority groups also accepeted Islam as their religion. As members of Chinese society, Muslims, represented by the Hui nationality played important roles in various aspects of social life. In order to spread and develop Islam and Islamic culture, the early Chinese Muslims attached importance to the development of Islamic education. Islamic Mosque Education, first advocated by Iman Hu Dengzhou of Shanxi province, gradually in fluenced the lives of Muslims in the areas of central and Northwest China.This kind of education helped to promote Islamic culture widely. The translation of Islamic scriptures into Chinese, which appeared at the same time as mosque education initiated and laid a foundation for the development of Chinese Islamic academic culture. Many Muslim scholars of the Ming and Qing dynasties, such as Wang Daiyu(c.1560-1660), Ma Zhu(1640-1711), Liu Zhi(c.1655-1745), Jin Tianzhu(1736-1795), and Ma Fuchu(1794-1847), were renowned as scholars who not only had a good knowledge of the four religions(Islam, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism), but were proficient in two languages—Chinese and Arabic. They used Confucianism to expound the Islamic scriptures, and wrote and translated numerous works. They employed ancient Chinese philosophical concepts to explain the principles of Islamic, promoting Islamic development with Chinese characteristics. Thus, the Chinese Islam philosophical system gradually came into being.
Islam spread to the xinjiang area in the 10th to 11th centuries. The way the local people accepted Islam was different from the way people in other parts of China accepted it. Islam did not spread quickly after Muslim groups were formed, but only after the nobles were converted to Islam and claimed it as the state religion. The nobles preached Islam to their people. So a combination of politics and religion was the feature of the spread of Islam in xinjiang. Muslims from various nationalities in xinjiang and Muslim from the inland areas rose in revolt together against the Qing Dynasty’s exploitation and national discrimination. In their production and daily lives, Muslims in Xinjiang created local culture and arts with strong local characteristic, and greatly enriched Chinese national culture as well as Chinese Islamic culture, Especially in modern times, Xinjiang Muslims have responded to the slogan “education saves the country.” The new mosque education promoted by Muslim of Hui and other nationalities, has contributed a great deal to the development of China ‘s traditional Islamic culture.
There are ten minority groups in China which believe in Islam: The Hui, Uygur, Kazak, kirgiz , Tajik, Tatar, Dongxiang, Sala and Baoan people. Their total population is 20 million. The distribution of the Chinese Muslim population is characterized by being “scattered widely and concentrated in small groups”. There are 30,000 mosques and 42,000 imams(mullahs) in China . Belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam, Chinese Muslim follow Hanafiyyah Sharish(the doctrine and law). In addition, at the end of the Ming Dynasty, Suffis from Central Asia who migrated to northeast China , gradually formed the Menhuan system(also called “Ishan” in the Uygur language of Xinjiang). Each Menhuan revolved about one religious leader. By administering some mosques and building a comprehensive management system, they formed different sections and added new contents to Chinese Islam.Athough they belong to different Menhuan factions, they lead their religious cultural lives on an equal and harmonious atmosphere, and lead the Mulims of various nationalities to take part in the construction of China .