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Home Chinese Culture   China Religions Islam in China


Religions in China 

 Islam in China

Islam in China
“We should seek knowledge, may it be as far away as China.” These words spoken by the Prophet Muhammad not only show the friendly sentiments he cherished towards the Chinese people, but also the sentiments of the Arab people at that time towards China. To them, China was a distant country with a high level of civilization.

When Islam began to expand outside of the Arab countries, China was one of the first countries it reached. According to historical records, China established relations with the Arabic regions in 139 B.C. when Emperor Wudi of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.24) dispatched his emissary Zhang Qian to the Western Regions (Central Asia). The introduction of Islam to China saw frequent contacts between China and the Arab countries. From the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), there was a constant stream of Muslim merchants from Arab lands and Persia came to China by the sea and the Silk Road. They brought perfume, medicines, and pearls, and returned home with Chinese silk, porcelain, and tea. They introduced Chinese inventions such as the compass, paper, and gunpowder to Europe, while at the same time, introducing Arab medicine, mathematics, and astronomy to China, thus promoting economic and cultural exchanges between East and West.

Many of the Muslim merchants married Chinese women and settled in China, becoming the ancestors of today’s Chinese Muslims. With the conquest of Central and Western Asia by the Mongols in the 13th century, a large number of Arabs, Persians, and Turks, were conscripted and forced to come to China by the Mongol Army. These groups eventually settled in China. Their common religious belief united them into a new Muslim nationality- the Chinese Hui. Later, ethnic groups in northwestern China, including the Uygar, Kazak, Ozbek, Tajik, Tatar, Kirgiz, Salar, Dongxiang, and Bonan, converted to Islam.

The total population of ten Muslim minorities in China stands at 20 million. The majority of this population resides in the Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions, but Muslims generally live throughout the Interior of China. They build mosques and live around them to form their own neighborhoods in urban areas and their own villages in the countryside.

For thousands of years, China’s diligent, brave, and intelligent Muslims have contributed to the nation’s construction and participated in fights against foreign invasions. There were countless famous Chinese Muslims including Sayid Shams al-din (1211-1270), a politician who rendered meritorious services in the development of the country’s southwestern border areas; Chang Yuchun (1330-1369) and Hu Dahai (?-1366), strategists who accomplished illustrious military exploits in the establishment of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644); Zhang He (1371-1435), a world-renowned navigator known for leading seven voyages between 1405 and 1433, reaching 35 countries in Asia and Africa in a massive fleet of ships far larger than Western fleets of the time; Hai Rui (1515-1587), a Muslim Ming Dynasty official, upheld justice and enforce the law strictly during his tenure of office. He set an example as a clean and honest official and his name is still on the lips of the Chinese people today.
There have been many people of great talent among the Chinese Muslims. Among them are the Uygur poet Yusof Hase Hajib (1018-?), who wrote “Knowledge-the Source of Happiness”; Jamal al-din, an astronomer who invented seven kinds of astronomical instruments; Zhams (1277-1351), a scholar well versed in literature, history, philosophy, astronomy, and geography; the poet Sudo al-lah (1272-1348); and Ikhtiar al-din, an architect who designed the palatial complex of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) in the city of Dadu (Great Capital), present day Beijing.

Since the 16th century, many religious writers have emerged among the Chinese Muslims and left a large number of books. These include the Four Most Distinguished Scholars: Wang Daiyu, Ma Zhu, Liu Zhi, and Ma Fuchu. Scholars of the modern times such as Wang Jingzhai, Ma Liangjun, Pang Shilian, Ma Jian, and Chen Kelei, have also contributed to the dissemination of Islamic culture.

Life for the Muslims in China has improved by a big margin since 1949, the year the People’s Republic of China was founded. Their religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution and other laws. In 1953, the Chinese Islamic Association, a national organization for China’s Muslims was established.

After China adopted the policies of reform and opening, the Chinese government affirmed anew that the freedom of religious belief is one of the country’s long-term, fundamental policies. Religious life for China’s Muslims was thus restored to normal. Today there are 34,928 mosques, 45,051 Muslims teachers and administrators, and 23,480 disciples studying in the Islamic theological institutes in various regions. Especially worth mentioning is that in the past, few Chinese Muslims could afford the pilgrimage to Mecca because of economic restrictions. Now, with the improvement of living standards, more and more Muslims can make the pilgrimage, and the government makes use of every possible means to help them. At present, more than 5,000 Chinese pilgrims visit Mecca every year, an unprecedented number.

The China Islamic Association publishes a journal, “Muslims in China”, and runs nine Islamic theological institutes. The association takes an active part in helping the Chinese government implement an all-around policy of freedom of religion, popularizing Islamic culture, conducting Islamic academic studies, and carrying out academic exchanges to promote friendship among Muslims in various countries.



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