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The Huaisheng Mosque is one of the oldest Mosques in the world, built by Muhammad's uncle, Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas

Islam in China

Islam in China.jpg

History of Islam in China

Tang DynastySong Dynasty
Yuan DynastyMing Dynasty
Qing DynastyDungan revolt
Panthay rebellion1911-Present

Major figures

Lan YuYeheidie'erding
Hui LiangyuMa Bufang
Zheng HeLiu Zhi
Haji NoorYusuf Ma Dexin
Ma HualongRebiya Kadeer


CuisineMartial arts
Chinese mosquesSini
Islamic Association of China


Hong KongKashgarLinxia



The History of Islam in China begins just a few decades after the rise of Islam. Trade existed between pre-Islamic Arabia and China's South Coast, and flourished when Arab maritime traders converted to Islam. It reached its peak under the Mongol Yuan Dynasty.

China's long and interactive relationship with the various Steppe tribes and empires, through trade, war, subordination or domination paved the way for a large sustained Islamic community within China. Islamic influence came from the various steppe peoples who assimilated in Chinese culture. Muslims served as administrators, generals, and other leaders who were transferred to China from Persia and Central Asia to administer the empire under the Mongols.

Muslims in China have managed to practice their faith in China, sometimes against great odds, since the seventh century. Islam is one of the religions that is still officially recognized in China.[1]



According to China Muslims' traditional legendary accounts, Islam was first brought to China by an embassy sent by Uthman, the third Caliph, in 651, less than twenty years after the death of prophet Muhammad. The embassy was led by Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās, the maternal uncle of the prophet himself. Emperor Gaozong, the Tang emperor who received the envoy then ordered the construction of the Memorial mosque in Canton, the first mosque in the country, in memory of the prophet.[2][3]

While modern historians say that there is no evidence for Waqqās himself ever coming to China,[3] they do believe that Muslim diplomats and merchants arrived to Tang China within a few decades from the beginning of Muslim Era.[3] The Tang Dynasty's cosmopolitan culture, with its intensive contacts with Central Asia and its significant communities of (originally non-Muslim) Central and Wester Asian merchants resident in Chinese cities, which helped the introduction of Islam.[3]

Tang dynasty

The Great Mosque of Xi'an, one of China's oldest mosques

Arab people are first noted in Chinese written records, under the name Ta shi in the annals of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Ta shi or Da shi is the Chinese rendering of Tazi--the name the Persian people used for the Arabs). Records dating from 713 speak of the arrival of a Da shi ambassador. The first major Muslim settlements in China consisted of Arab and Persian merchants.[4]

Despite conflict between the Tang and the Abbasids during the Battle of Talas in 751, relations between the two states improved soon after. In 756, a contingent probably consisting of Persians and Iraqis was sent to Kansu to help the emperor Su-Tsung in his struggle against the rebellion of An Lushan. Less than 50 years later, an alliance was concluded between the Tang and the Abbasids against Tibetan attacks in Central Asia. A mission from the Caliph Harun al-Rashid (766-809) arrived at Chang'an.[5]

It is recorded that in 758, a large Muslim settlement in Guangzhou erupted in unrest and the people fled. The community had constructed a large mosque (Huaisheng Mosque), destroyed by fire in 1314, and constructed in 1349-51; only ruins of a tower remain from the first building.

During the Tang Dynasty, a steady stream of Arab (Ta'shi) and Persian (Po'si) traders arrived in China through the silk road and the overseas route through the port of Quanzhou. Not all of the immigrants were Muslims, but many of those who stayed formed the basis of the Chinese Muslim population and the Hui ethnic group. The Persian immigrants introduced polo, their cuisine, their musical instruments, and their knowledge of medicine to China.

See also: Great Mosque of Xian

Song dynasty

Many Muslims went to China to trade, and these Muslims began to have a great economic impact and influence on the country. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Muslims in China dominated foreign trade and the import/export industry to the south and west.[6]

In 1070, the Song emperor, Shen-tsung (Shenzong) invited 5,300 Muslim men from Bukhara, to settle in China. The emperor used these men in his campaign against the Liao empire in the northeast. Later on these men were settled between the Sung capital of Kaifeng and Yenching (modern day Beijing). The object was to create a buffer zone between the Chinese and the Liao. In 1080, 10,000 Arab men and women migrated to China on horseback and settled in all of the provinces of the north and north-east.[7] The Chinese materia medica 52 (re-published in 1968-75) was revised under the Song Dynasty in 1056 and 1107 to include material, particularly 200 medicines, taken from Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine.[8 ]

The Arabs from Bukhara were under the leadership of Prince Amir Sayyid "So-fei-er" (his Chinese name). The prince was later given an honorary title. He is reputed of being the "father" of the Muslim community in China. Prior to him Islam was named by the Tang and Song Chinese as Dashi fa ("law of the Arabs") (Tashi or Dashi is the Chinese rendering of Tazi--the name the Persian people used for the Arabs). .[9] He renamed it to Huihui Jiao ("the Religion of the Huihui").[10]

Yuan dynasty

The Yuan Dynasty of China, continued to maintain excellent relationship with other nomadic tribes of Mongolia. The Mongol rulers of Yuan Dynasty elevated the status of Muslims versus the Han Chinese, and placed many foreign and non-Han Chinese Muslims in high-ranking posts instead of native Confucian scholars, using many Muslims in the administration of China. The territory of the Yuan was administered in 12 districts during the reign of Kublai Khan with a governor and vice-governor each. According to Iranian historian Rashidu'd-Din Fadlu'llah, of these 12 governors, 8 were Muslims; in the remaining districts, Muslims were vice-governors.[11]

The state encouraged Muslim immigration, as Arab, Persian and Turkic immigration into China accelerated during Yuan period. In the fourteenth century, the total population of Muslims was 4,000,000.[12] The Chinese materia medica 52 (re-published in 1968-75) was revised under the Song Dynasty in 1056 and 1107 to include material, particularly 200 medicines, taken from Ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine.[8 ] It was during this time that Jamal ad-Din, a Persian astronomer, presented Kublai Khan with seven Persian astronomical instruments.[13] Also, The Muslim architect Yeheidie'erding (Amir al-Din) learned from Han architecture and helped to designed and construct the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, Dadu, otherwise known as Khanbaliq or Khanbaligh.[14] Dadu would last until 1368 when Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty and future Hongwu Emperor, made his imperial ambitions known by sending an army toward the Yuan capital.[15] The last Yuan emperor fled north to Shangdu and Zhu declared the founding of the Ming Dynasty after razing the Yuan palaces in Dadu to the ground,[16] and the city was renamed Beiping by the Ming in the same year.

In the mid 14th century, Ispah Rebellion led by Chinese Persian Muslims broke out in South Fujian. After the rebellion was suppressed the local Han Chinese in Quanzhou turned against Semu people and great misery was brought upon Muslim population. Quanzhou itself ceased to be a leading international seaport.

Ming dynasty

Muslims continued to flourish in China during the Ming Dynasty. During Ming rule, the capital, Nanjing, was a center of Islamic learning.[17] The Ming dynasty saw the rapid decline in the Muslim population in the sea ports. This was due to the closing of all seaport trade with the outside world. However it also saw the appointment of Muslim military generals such as Mu Ying who campaigned in Yunnan and central Shandong. These two areas became leading centers of Islamic learning in China. The emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was the founder of the Ming Dynasty. Many of his most trusted commanders where Muslims, including Hu Dahai, Mu Ying, Lan Yu, Feng Sheng and Ding Dexing. The Ming Dynasty also gave rise to the famous admiral Zheng He.



Immigration slowed down drastically however, and the Muslims in China became increasingly isolated from the rest of the Islamic world, gradually becoming more sinicized, adopting the Chinese language and Chinese dress. During this period, Muslims also began to adopt Chinese surnames. Many Muslims married Han Chinese women and simply took the name of the wife. Other Muslims, who could not find a Chinese surname similar to their own, adopted the Chinese character most similar to their own - Mo (馬) for Muhammad, Mai for Mustafa, Mu for Masoud, Ha for Hasan, Hu for Hussain and Sa'I for Said and so on. As a result the Muslims became "outwardly indistinguishable" from the Chinese.[18]

In addition to names, Muslim customs of dress and food also underwent a synthesis with Chinese culture.The Islamic modes of dress and dietary rules were maintained within a Chinese cultural framework. In time, the immigrant Muslims began to speak local dialects and to read in Chinese.

Qing dynasty

The rise of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) made relations between the Muslims and Chinese more difficult. Muslims suffered a decline in status, and numerous Hui rebellions, such as the Panthay Rebellion (1855-1873), Dungan revolt (1862-1878),sprung up during the Qing Dynasty in reaction to repressionist policies. The dynasty prohibited ritual slaughtering of animals, followed by forbidding the construction of new mosques and the pilgrimage to Mecca.[19] The Qing rulers were Manchu, not Han, and were themselves a minority in China. They employed the tactics of divide and conquer to keep the Muslims, Hans, Tibetans and Mongolians in conflict with each other.

However, even in the Qing Dynasty, Muslims had many mosques in the large cities, with particularly important ones in Beijing, Xi'an, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and other places (in addition to those in the western Muslim regions). The architecture typically employed traditional Chinese styles, with Arabic-language inscriptions being the chief distinguishing feature. Many Muslims held government positions, including positions of importance, particularly in the army. As travel became easier, there were many exchanges between China and the outside world. Around this time, Chinese Muslims also became the first Muslims in New Zealand (See Islam in New Zealand). Sufism spread throughout the Northwestern China in the early decades of the Qing Dynasty (mid-17th century through early 18th century).[20] The most important Sufi orders (menhuan) included:

Gunners of the Dungan revolt


During the time, the Muslims, along with the Miao people, revolted against the Qing Dynasty, most notably in the Dungan revolt (1862-1877) and the Panthay rebellion 1856-1873) in Yunnan. The Manchu government committed genocide to suppress these little known revolts,[21][22][23] killing a million people in the Panthay rebellion,[24][5] several million in the Dungan revolt. [5] A "washing off the Muslims"(洗回 (xi Hui)) policy had been long advocated by officials in the Manchu government.[25]

Republic of China

The Manchu dynasty fell in 1911, and the Republic of China was established by Sun Yat Sen, who immediately proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Hui (Muslim), Meng (Mongol), and the Tsang (Tibetan) peoples. This led to some improvement in relations between these different peoples. The end of the Qing dynasty also marked an increase in Sino-foreign interaction. This led to increased contact between Muslim minorities in China and the Islamic states of the Middle East. A missionary, Claude Pickens, found 834 well-known Hui who had made hajj between 1923 and 1934. By 1939, at least 33 Hui Muslims had studied at Cairo's Al-Azhar University. In 1912, the Chinese Muslim Federation was formed in the capital Nanjing. Similar organization formed in Beijing (1912), Shanghai (1925) and Jinan (1934).[26]Academic activities within the Muslim community also flourished. Before the Sino-Japanese War of 1937, there existed more than a hundred known Muslim periodicals. Thirty journals were published between 1911 and 1937. Although Linxia remained the center for religious activities, many Muslim cultural activities had shifted to Beijing.[27]

In the first decade of the 20th century, it has been estimated that there were 48 million and 50 million Muslims in China proper (that is, China excluding the regions of Mongolia and Xinjiang).[28] Of these, almost half resided in Gansu, over a third in Shaanxi (as defined at that time) and the rest in Yunnan. In 1911, the provinces of Qinhai, Gansu and Ningxia fell to Muslim warlords of the family known as the Ma clique, including Ma Bufang and Ma Chung-ying.

Early communist era

The People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. Through many of the early years there were tremendous upheavals which culminated in the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution the Government attempted to dilute the Muslim population of Xinjiang by settling masses of Han Chinese there, and replacing Muslim leaders. The government constantly accused Muslims and other religious groups of holding "superstitious beliefs" and promoting "anti-socialist trends".[29] Mosques were often defaced, destroyed or closed and copies of the Quran were destroyed along with temples, churches, monasteries, and cemeteries by the Red Guards.[30]

Since the advent of Deng Xiaopeng in 1979, the Chinese government liberalised its policies toward Islam and Muslims. New legislation gave all minorities the freedom to use their own spoken and written languages; develop their own culture and education; and practice their religion.[31] More Chinese Muslims than ever before are allowed to go on the Hajj.[32]

China today

Under China's current leadership, Islam is undergoing a modest revival and there are now many mosques in China. There has been an upsurge in Islamic expression and many nation-wide Islamic associations have been organised to co-ordinate inter-ethnic activities among Muslims.

In most of China, Muslims have considerable religious freedom, however, in areas like Xinjiang, where there has been unrest among Uighur Muslims, activities are restricted. China is fighting an increasingly protracted struggle against members of its Uighur minority, who are a Turkic people with their own language and distinct Islamic culture. Uighar separatists are intent on re-establishing the state of East Turkistan, which existed for a few years in the 1920s.Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, China feared potential separatist goals of Muslim majority in Xinjiang. An April, 1996 agreement between Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikstan and Kyrgyztan, however, assures China of avoiding a military conflict. Other Muslim states have also asserted that they have no intentions of becoming involved in China's internal affairs.[33]China fears the influence of radical Islamic thinking filtering in from central Asia, and the role of exiles in neighbouring states and in Turkey, with which Xinjiang's majority Uighur population shares linguistic ties.[34] After, September 11, many "ethnic" Muslims were forcibly evicted from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.[35]

With economic reform after 1978, health care in China became largely private fee-for-service. This was widely criticised by Muslims in the North West, who were often unable to obtain medical support in their remote communities.

Muslim nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey support Muslims in China. Turhan Tayan, the defense minister of Turkey, recently told China

"...many people living [in Xinjiang] are our relatives and that we will always be interested in those people's welfare. Our government is and will continue to be sensitive over the plight of our Turkic and Muslim brothers throughout the world."

China, however, continues to stress national unity.[36] In 2007, which according to the Chinese zodiac was the Year of the pig, CCTV, People's Republic of China's state run television station ordered major advertising agencies not to use pig images, cartoons or slogans "to avoid conflicts with ethnic minorities" in reference to China's Muslims.[37]

See also


  1. ^ Islam in China (650-present). BBC
  2. ^ Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named bbc; see Help:Cite error.
  3. ^ a b c d Lipman 1997, p. 25
  4. ^ Israeli (2002), pg. 291
  5. ^ a b c Gernet, Jacques. A History of Chinese Civilization. 2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-521-49712-4
  6. ^ BBC Religion and Ethics ISLAM Origins
  7. ^ Israeli (2002), pg. 283-4
  8. ^ a b sulaiman ma - Islam in China
  9. ^ Israeli, Raphael (2002). Islam in China. United States of America: Lexington Books. ISBN 073910375X.
  10. ^ Israeli (2002), pg. 284
  11. ^ Islam the Straight Path: Islam ... - Google Book Search at
  12. ^ Israeli (2002), p. 285
  13. ^ Zhu (1946)
  14. ^ The Hui ethnic minority
  15. ^ Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-521-66991-X
  16. ^ Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-521-66991-X
  17. ^ Looking East: The challenges and opportunities of Chinese Islam
  18. ^ Israeli(2002), pg. 292
  19. ^ Keim(1954), pg.605
  20. ^ Gladney (1999)
  21. ^ Levene, Mark. Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State. I.B.Tauris, 2005. ISBN 1845110579, page 288
  22. ^ Giersch, Charles Patterson. Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China's Yunnan Frontier. Harvard University Press, 2006. ISBN 1845110579, page 219
  23. ^ Dillon, Michael. China’s Muslim Hui Community. Curzon, 1999. ISBN 0700710264, page xix
  24. ^ Damsan Harper, Steve Fallon, Katja Gaskell, Julie Grundvig, Carolyn Heller, Thomas Huhti, Bradley Maynew, Christopher Pitts. Lonely Planet China. 9. 2005. ISBN 1740596870
  25. ^ Jonathan N. Lipman, "Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China (Studies on Ethnic Groups in China)", University of Washington Press (February 1998), ISBN 0295976446.
  26. ^ Gladney (1999), pg. 457
  27. ^ Gladney (1999), pg. 458
  28. ^ Muslim Population at
  29. ^ Israeli (2002), pg. 253
  30. ^ Goldman,Merle (1986). Religion in Post-Mao China, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 483.1:145-56
  31. ^ bbc religion and ethics ISLAM Integration [1]
  32. ^ New Encyclopedia of Islam, pg. 622-25
  33. ^ Gladney (1999), pg. 471
  34. ^ bbc religion and ethics ISLAM China today BBC - Religion & Ethics - Islam in China (650-present): China today at
  35. ^ Wintle (2003), pg. 300
  36. ^ Gladney (1999), pg. 473
  37. ^ Chinese Muslims in the year of the pig


  • Islam in China (650-present). BBC
  • Esposito, John L.; Gladney, Dru C. (1999). The Oxford History of Islam. New York: Oxford University press.  
  • Gladney, Dru C. (1999). Leif Manger (editor). ed (PDF). Muslim Diversity: Local Islam in Global Contexts. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. Surrey: Curzon Press. pp. 102–149. ISBN 0-7007-1104-X. The Salafiyya Movement in Northwest China: Islamic Fundamentalism among the Muslim Chinese?.  
  • Israeli, Raphael (2002). Islam in China. United States of America: Lexington Books. ISBN 073910375X.  
  • Keim, Jean (1954). Les Musulmans Chinois. France Asie.  
  • Wintle, Justin (May 2003). History of Islam. London: Rough Guides Ltd. pp. 136–7. ISBN 184353018X.  
  • Zhu, Siben; Walter Fuchs (1946). The "Mongol Atlas" of China. Taipei: Fu Jen Catholic University.  


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