Islam (called , Yisilanjiao) was first brought to China in 651, eighteen years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, by an envoy led by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, the maternal uncle of Muhammad himself. The Tang Emperor Yung Wei showed esteem for Islam and established the Canton Mosque which also known as the Memorial Mosque, in memory of the Prophet.
Islam, one of the world's three most important religions, was transmitted from Arabia to China in the mid-7th century A. D. .Over many centuries, diplomats and traders built a bridge of economic and cultural exchanges connecting the two major areas, China and Arabia. It was they who brought this religion of global importance to China, and at the same time transmitted ancient Chinese culture all over the world.
According to Chinese historical records, Islam was transmitted to China's interior during the Tang and Song Dynasties (618-1279). There were two silk trade roads (a sea road and a land road) connecting China, Central Asia and the Middle East in those days. The two trade roads made tremendous contributions to the development of world culture by shortening the distance between the eastern culture and the western culture. Along these roads, the ancient Chinese culture was introduced to the Western world. At the same time, the philosophical concepts of Islam and western civilization were transmitted to China. Thus, traditional Chinese culture, which occupies a very important position in world cultural history, was enriched with new contents.
History of Islam in China
Muslims take great pride in citing a hadith that says "Seek knowledge even unto China." It points to the importance of seeking knowledge, even if it meant traveling as far away as China, especially as at t the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), China was considered the most developed civilization of the period. Islam in China began during the caliphate of 'Uthman ibn Affan (Allayhi Rahma, ra), the third caliph. After triumphing over the Byzantine, Romans and the Persians, 'Uthman ibn Affan, dispatched a deputation to China in 29 AH (650 C.E., Eighteen years after the Prophet's (pbuh) death), under the leadership by Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqaas (Allayhi Rahma), Prophet Muhammad's (Salla Allahu wa Allahai wa Sallam, pbuh) maternal uncle, inviting the Chinese emperor to embrace Islam.
Even before this, the Arab traders during the time of the Prophet (pbuh), had already brought Islam to China, although this was not an organized effort, but merely as an offshoot of their journey along the Silk Route (land and sea route).
Even though there are only sparse records of the event in Arab history, a brief one in Chinese history, The Ancient Record of the Tang Dynasty describes the landmark visit. To Chinese Muslims, this event is considered to be the birth of Islam in China. To show his admiration for Islam, the emperor Yung Wei ordered the establishment of China's first mosque. The magnificent Canton city mosque known to this day as the 'Memorial Mosque.' still stands today, after fourteen centuries.
One of the first Muslim settlements in China was established in this port city. The Umayyads and Abbasids sent six delegations to China, all of which were warmly received by the Chinese.
The Muslims who immigrated to China eventually began to have a great economic impact and influence on the country. They virtually dominated the import/export business by the time of the Sung Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE). Indeed, the office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period. Under the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) generally considered to be the golden age of Islam in China, Muslims gradually became fully integrated into Han society.
An interesting example of this synthesis by Chinese Muslims was the process by which their names changed. Many Muslims who married Han women simply took on the name of the wife. Others took the Chinese surnames of Mo, Mai, and Mu - names adopted by Muslims who had the names Muhammad, Mustafa, and Masoud. Still others who could find no Chinese surname similar to their own adopted the Chinese character that most closely resembled their name - Ha for Hasan, Hu for Hussein, or Sai for Said, and so on.
In addition to names, Muslim customs of dress and food also underwent a synthesis with Chinese culture. The Islamic mode of dress and dietary restrictions were consistently maintained, however, and not compromised. In time, the Muslims began to speak Han dialects and to read in Chinese. Well into the Ming era, the Muslims could not be distinguished from other Chinese other than by their unique religious customs.. In spite of the economic successes the Muslims enjoyed during these and earlier times, they were recognized as being fair, law-abiding, and self-disciplined. For this reason, once again, there was little friction between Muslim and non-Muslim Chinese.
Over the years, many Muslims established mosques, schools and madrasas attended by students from as far as Russia and India. It is reported that in the 1790's, there was as many as 30,000 Islamic students, and the city of Bukhara, - the birthplace of Imam Bukhari, one of the foremost compilers of hadith - which was then part of China, came to be known as the "Pillar of Islam."
The rise of the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 CE), though, changed this. The Ch'ing were Manchu (not Han) and were a minority in China. They employed tactics of divide-and- conquer to keep the Muslims, Han, Tibetans, and Mongolians in struggles against one another. In particular, they were responsible for inciting anti-Muslim sentiment throughout China, and used Han soldiers to suppress the Muslim regions of the country. When the Manchu Dynasty fell in 1911, the Republic of China was established by Sun Yat Sen, who immediately proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Hui (Muslim), Man (Manchu), Meng (Mongol), and the Tsang (Tibetan) peoples. His policies led to some improvement in relations among these groups.
Since the People?s Republic of China was founded in 1949, tremendous upheavals occurred throughout China culminating in the Cultural Revolution. Muslims along with all the Chinese population suffered. After the third congress of the 11th Central committee, the government greatly liberalized its policies toward Islam and Muslims.. Since religious freedom was declared in 1978, the Chinese Muslims have not wasted time in expressing their convictions.
Under China's current leadership, in fact, Islam appears to be undergoing a modest revival. Religious leaders report more worshipers now than before the Cultural Revolution, and a reawakening of interest in religion among the young.
According to a publication on mosques in China(1998 edition), there are now 32,749 mosques in the entire People's Republic of China, with 23,000 in the province of Xinjiang. There has been an increased upsurge in Islamic expression in China, and many nationwide Islamic associations have been organized to coordinate inter-ethnic activities among Muslims. Islamic literature can be found quite easily and there are currently some eight different translations of the Qur'an in the Chinese language as well as translations in Uygur and the other Turkic languages.
Muslims have also gained a measure of toleration from other religious practices. In areas where Muslims are a majority, the breeding of pigs by non-Muslims is forbidden in deference to Islamic beliefs. Muslim communities are allowed separate cemeteries; Muslim couples may have their marriage consecrated by an imam; and Muslim workers are permitted holidays during major religious festivals. The Muslims of China have also been given almost unrestricted allowance to make the Hajj to Mecca. China's Muslims have also been active in the country's internal politics. As always, the Muslims have refused to be silenced. Islam is very much alive for China's Muslims who have managed to practice their faith, sometimes against great odds, since the seventh century.
Islam spread to the Xinjiang area in the l0th 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 Muslims 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 characteristics, and greatly enriched Chinese national culture as well as Chinese Islamic culture. Especially in modem times, Xinjiang Muslims have responded to the slogan "education saves the country. "The new mosque education promoted by Muslims of Hui and other nationalities, has contributed a great deal to the development of China's traditional Islamic culture.
Following the founding of People's Republic of China,under the leadership of the Connmmist Party of China and the Central People's Government the policy of religious freedom was fully implemented and carried out. The religious life of Chinese Muslims was also h1ly guaranteed. There are ten minority groups in China which believe in Islam:The Hui, Uygur, Kazak Uzbek, Kirgiz, Tajik, Tatar, Dongxiang, Sala and Baoan peoples. 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 Muslims follow Hanafiyyah in Shariah(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. Although they belong to different Menhuan factions, they lead their religious cultural lives on an equal and harmonious atmosphere, and lead the Muslims of various nationalities to take part in the construction of socialist civilization. )
Islam was introduced into China during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) and the Islamic mosques built at that time inherited the Arabian style, featured vaulting roofs and tall thin minarets. Later influenced by Han culture, the mosque architects absorbed traditional Chinese architecture essence and had the palace structures and timberwork added to mosque buildings. Although not as notable as Buddhist and Taoist temples, Islam mosques in China, the mixture result of Chinese and Arabian architecture styles are witnessing the cultural exchange between these two countries. Famous mosques include Niujie Mosque in Beijing, Great Mosque in Xian, Southern Mosque in Urumqi, Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar and Dongguan Mosque in Xining.