Islam in China
by Abdur Rauf
History of Islam in China
During the days of the third caliph of Islam, Uthman Ghani (rta), a Muslim deputation led by Sa`ad Ibn Abi Waqqas visited China in 651 A.D (29 A.H.) to invite the Chinese emperor to embrace Islam. They built a magnificent mosque in Canton city. This mosque is known as "The Memorial Mosque".
Islam and Muslims in China
After the early beginnings, relations between the Muslims and the Chinese progressed fairly well. The first Muslim settlement in China was established in Cheng Aan port during the Tang dynasty. Thousands of Muslims have been turning to China in different times. Sometimes these neo settlers had petty skirmishes with the local Chinese. The first regular war was waged at the Chinese border in 133 A.H. The Muslims were led by Ziyad. They were far less in numbers. But they gave a crushing defeat to the Chinese. After this victory, the Muslims came to command complete control over the entire Central Asia.
These early successes opened the doors of China for the Muslim missionaries. In 138 A.H. General Lieu Chen revolted against Emperor Sehwan Tsung. On a request for help from the emperor the Abbasid caliph, Al-Mansur deputed a unit of 4,000 armed Turk Muslim troops to China. With their help the emperor overpowered the rebellion. After crushing the rebellion, the Turk soldiers settled in China. They married Chinese women. The Muslim influx to China continued thereafter through sea and land routes.
The early Muslims settling in China bore all sorts of circumstances. The long rule of the Manchu dynasty (1644-1911 AD) was the hardest for the Muslims. During this period the following five wars were waged against the Muslims: (1) the Lanchu War, (2) the Che Kanio War, (3) the Sinkiang War, (4) the Uunanan War, and (5) the Shansi War. In these destructive wars, the Muslims suffered inestimable losses. Countless Muslims were martyred. Half of Kansu’s population, totalling 15 millions, was Muslim. Only 5 million could escape alive. Chinese Muslims sustained similar setbacks in several other small and big wars. During the past three centuries, the Muslim population has decreased at 30%.
However, despite the great Muslim massacres during the past, the present Chinese Muslim population still exceeds 60 million. The Chinese Muslims follow the Islamic theory and practice. They practice all the five fundamentals of Islam. They differentiate between the forbidden (Haram) and the permissible (Halal). They are leading a decent and a civilized life in China.
Pro-Muslim Shift in Chinese Policy
The great Chinese statesman, Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) achieved his political objective through ‘The Long March’. When he settled down at his headquarters at Niyan, the Chinese Muslims supported him. The Muslims also joined his Red Army. However, at no stage of their cooperation with the great Chinese leader did the Muslims forsake their Islamic identity even for a while. In 1954, the Muslims were given guarantees about their prayers, traditional rites, civilization and culture. As compared to other minorities they were extended more liberal facilities, especially in the matters of cementing ties with the Muslim world. Friendly relations with the Muslim countries is a great economic need for modern China. Muslims have accordingly loomed large in China’s foreign policy ever since 1985. The under-developed areas predominated by the Muslims are now extended preferential treatment.
During China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76) locks were forcibly put on a number of Chinese mosques. All such mosques have now been restored to the Muslims. Chinese Muslims have been accorded complete religious freedom. The Chinese Radio even broadcasts Qur’anic lectures. The Muslims feel satisfied with such welcome official measures. The pleasant pro-Muslim shift in the Chinese policy is currently making an exceedingly favourable impact on the dissemination of Islam in China. China has exceptionally cordial relation with its neighbouring Muslim state, Pakistan. Throughout this period only on unpleasant incident of a petty clash between Chinese and Muslims was reported in 1990 at the Pakistan – China border at Khunjrab.
Report on Chinese Muslim population
Beijing, Muharram 14/Apr 19 (IINA), 2000 - The number of Muslims in China is estimated at 200 million at the moment. Muslim traders introduced Islam to China way back in 681 AD, and there are ancient mosques in China that are over a thousand years old.
The Deputy President of the Chinese Muslim Society told ALDAWA that there are 3,500 mosques in China at the moment, with the number of Imams standing at 4,000. He said that Muslims in China are now living in state of relief and openness, particularly for the last twenty years, adding that before that they were being persecuted and oppressed. He said now new mosques are being built, and the number of Muslims is on the increase in the country as a whole, with many Muslims attending mosques and prayers regularly.
The Deputy President of the Chinese Muslim Society went on to say that there nine Islamic universities in China at the moment, and attached to every mosque is a Quran schools. This means that there are 3,500 Quran schools, in which the Quran, Hadith and the Islamic doctrine are being taught, with attendance being on the increase. Furthermore, he said, there are Chinese Muslim students pursuing further Islamic Studies at universities in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, at the same time learning the Arabic language.
The majority of Chinese Muslims are involved in commerce and industry, and cooperation between China and Islamic countries has its salutary and positive effect on the Muslim community in China, said the Deputy President.
He appealed for an increase in the number of scholarships that are extended to Chinese students, and also support for Islamic schools and universities, in addition to the sending of Daawa activists and supporting the Islamic publications that are published in China.
He pointed out that the Chinese government does give support to the Islamic schools, and also repairs mosques.