The Review of Religions; by Fazal Ahmad: China is a huge nation of over one billion people in a country that spans most of Asia, over 3000 miles from West to East; in fact it is probably better to think of China as a continent in its own right. Being a Communist country, religion was actively discouraged for decades, and even now, is tolerated within limits. Islam, like Christianity, is a minority religion in the country. The main faiths are Confucianism, Daoism (or Taoism) and Buddhism. So how did Islam come to reach China and what are the conditions of the Muslims there now?
Chinese spirituality before Islam
The Chinese psyche is inclined towards commemoration of their ancestors and spirits. The traditional faiths of the Chinese included Buddhism, which had come via India, but also Chinese faiths such as Confucianism and Daoism. Chinese culture spans back many millennia and it can be daunting to make any sense out of their myths and legends, such as their fascination with dragons, but if you pierce through the mist of time, you will find that there are historical events and spiritual insights shrouded within these tales.
The Chinese started to absorb ‘formal religion’ at a time when prophets were active throughout the world. At a time when Socrates(as) was active in Athens, Krishna(as) in India, Zoroaster(as) in Persia, in China, Kung Fu-Tsu(as) (Confucius(as), 551-479 BCE) began to preach on the means of social harmony.
History of Islam in China
|Islam in China|
The history of Islam in China began when four Sahabas– Sa`d ibn abi Waqqas (b. 594 – d. 674 AD),Ja’far ibn Abi Talib and Jahsh preached in 616/17 and onwards in China after coming from Chittagong-Kamrup-Manipur route after sailing from Abyssinia in 615/16. Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas again headed for China for the third time in 650–51 after Caliph Uthman asked him to lead an embassy to China, which the Chinese emperor received warmly.
Origin of Islamic China
China-Arab Trade relations
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.
According to China Muslims’ traditional legendary accounts, Islam was first brought to China by Sa’d ibn abi Waqqas, who came to China for the third time at the head of 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. Hui legends seem to confuse the 651 visit with the initiation of Islam as early as 616/17 by earlier visits of Sahabas.
While modern historians tend to argue that there is no evidence for Waqqās himself ever coming to China, they do believe that Muslim diplomats and merchants arrived to Tang China within a few decades from the beginning of Middle Ages (Hijra). The Tang Dynasty’s cosmopolitan culture, with its intensive contacts with Central Asia and its significant communities of (originally non-Muslim) Central and Western Asian merchants resident in Chinese cities, which helped the introduction of Islam.