China's Islamic Connection

Muslims take great pride in citing a hadith that says "seek knowledge even it it is in China." It points to the importance of seeking knowledge, even if it meant traveling as far away as China.

China, which has been close to Muslim hearts for over 1400 years, is home to millions of Muslims.

Islam's contact with 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 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.

The Muslim mission built China's first mosque, the magnificent Canton city mosque known to this day as the 'Memorial Mosque.' Over the years Muslim trading activity through traders and merchant naval movements led many to settle in China. One of the first Muslim settlements in China was established in port city of Cheng Aan during the era of the Tang dynasty.

The Muslim presence was resented by the disbelievers. However, their scorn was replaced by respect when their provocation met with their resounding defeat at the hand of a small Muslim force in 133 A.H. (751 C.E.) This victory eventually led to control over the entire Central Asia, and in 138 A.H. (756 C.E.), Caliph Mansur posted a unit of 4,000 troops to consolidate the Muslim influence.

These victories opened the doors of China for the Muslims to spread and propagate the faith. Over the years, many Muslims settled in China and they married Chinese women. They established mosques, schools and madrasas. Students from as far as Russia and India would attend these madrasas. 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 early Muslims in China faced oppression, and the tyrannical Manchu dynasty (1644-191l) was the harshest era. During this period, five wars were waged against the Muslims: Lanchu (1820-28), Che Kanio (1830), Sinkiang (l847), Yunan (1857) and Shansi (1861).

The Manchus slaughtered Muslims and razed mosques. Led by determined leaders like Yaqoob Beg (l820-77), Muslims liberated the whole of Turkestan and set up an Islamic state that lasted from 1867 to 1877. The new Turkic-Chinese Muslim power in Central Asia, comprising of the provinces of Yunan, Szechawan, Shensi and Kansum, was seen with anxiety by the Russians and the British who had colonial designs of their own.

The Muslims, inspired by examples of leaders like Ma Mua-Ming-Hsin, scored many victories. In Yunan, the Muslims, under Tu Wenhsin, routed the emperor's troops. He assumed the name of Sultan Sulayman and rallied the Muslims of Tibet to rise up against the Chinese.

After the Communist takeover in 1949, Mao Zedung set about dividing the Muslims into nationalities so they would identify with their 'ethnic' origin and not their 'Muslim' identity.

According to population statistics of 1936, the then Kuomingtang Republic of China had an estimated 48,104,240 Muslims. After the introduction of Mao's policies, this number was reduced to ten million. No official Chinese explanation has ever been given for this apparent disappearance of around 38 million Muslims. The mass extermination and destruction of the Muslims of China pales before the much publicized plight of a handful of Tibetan monks or the democrats of Tiannaman Square.

Aside from the physical annihilation, Muslims have been subjected to a constant attack on their Islamic identity especially during the so-called Cultural Revolution (1966-76). For instance, posters which appeared in Peking (later to be called Beijing) in 1966, openly called for the abolition of Islamic practices. Muslims were also barred from learning their written language which incorporated the Arabic script and was influenced by Arabic, Turkish and Farsi. This change was critical as it distanced Muslims from the Arabic language, the language of the Qur'an and their Islamic aspirations. During this era many Mosques were closed down and waqf properties were confiscated.

Another Article: Islam in China

Allah: Allah is the proper name in Arabic for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew). The word Allah does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abbreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.'
s or pbuh: Peace Be Upon Him. This expression is used for all Prophets of Allah.
ra: Radiallahu Anhu (May Allah be pleased with him).

Copyright 1997 Islamic Horizons, an ISNA Publication.
Copyright 1997 Web version prepared by Dr. A. Zahoor.
This article was excerpted from "Muslim Uyghuristan:
Will the Chinese Communists Learn?" by A.A. Bafaquih.


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