Islam in China (650 – 1980 CE)

Yusuf Abdul Rahman

[The Ancient Record of the Tang Dynasty describes a landmark visit to China by Saad ibn Abi Waqqas (ra), one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (s) in 650 C.E. This event is considered to be the birth of Islam in China. The Chinese emperor Yung-Wei respected the teachings of Islam and considered it to be compatible with the teachings of Confucius. To show his admiration for Islam, the emperor approved the establishment of China’s first mosque at Ch’ang-an. That mosque still stands today after fourteen centuries.Muslims virtually dominated the import/export business in China during Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279 CE). The office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 CE), a period considered to be the golden age of Islam in China, Muslims fully integrated into Han society by adopting their name and some customs while retaining their Islamic mode of dress and dietary restrictions.

Anti-Muslim sentiments took root in China during the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 CE), which was established by Manchus who were a minority in China. Muslims in China number more than 35 million, according to unofficial counts. They represent ten distinct ethnic groups. The largest are the Chinese Hui, who comprise over half of China’s Muslim population. The largest of Turkic groups are the Uygurs who are most populous in the province of Xinjiang, where they were once an overwhelming majority.]

Although it may come as some surprise, Islam has survived in China for over 1300 [1400] years. It has done so despite such upheavals as the Cultural Revolution as well as regimes hostile to it.

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 a landmark visit to China by an emissary from Arabia in the seventh century. Saad ibn Abi Waqqas (ra), one of the companions of Prophet [Muhammad (s)], led the delegation [in 650 C.E.], which brought gifts as well as the belief system of Islam to China. According to the traditions of Chinese Muslims, this event is considered to be the birth of Islam in China.

Although the emperor of the time, Yung-Wei, found Islam to be a bit too restrictive for his taste, he respected its teachings and considered it to be compatible with the teachings of Confucius. For this reason, he gave Saad complete freedom to propagate the faith among his people. To show his admiration for Islam, the emperor ordered the establishment of China’s first mosque at Ch’ang-an. The mosque still stands today, after thirteen [fourteen] centuries.

As time passed, relations between the Chinese and the Muslim heartland continued to improve. Many Muslim businessmen, visitors, and traders began to come to China for commercial and religious reasons. [Arabs had already established trade in the area before Prophet Muhammad (s).] 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.

In spite of the economic successes the Muslims enjoyed during these and later times, they were recognized as being fair, law-abiding, and self-disciplined. Thus, there is no record of appreciable anti-Muslim sentiment on the part of the Han (Chinese) people.

By the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 CE) Islam had been nourishing in China for 700 years. Up to this time, the Muslims had maintained a separate, alien status which had its own customs, language, and traditions and was never totally integrated with the Han people. Under the Ming Dynasty, 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. For this reason, once again, there was little friction between Muslim and non-Muslim Chinese.

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.

After Mao Zedong‘s revolution in 1948 and the beginning of communist rule in China, the Muslims, as well as other ethnic minorities found themselves once again oppressed. They actively struggled against communists before and after the revolution. In fact, in 1953, the Muslims revolted twice in an effort to establish an independent Islamic state [in regions where Muslims were an overwhelming majority]. These revolts were brutally suppressed by Chinese military force followed by the liberal use of anti-Muslim propaganda.

Today, the Muslims of China number some 20 million, according to unofficial counts. The government census of 1982, however, put the number much lower, at 15 million. These Muslims represent ten distinct ethnic groups. The largest are the Chinese Hui, who comprise over half of China’s Muslim population and are scattered throughout all of China. There is also a high concentration of Hui in the province of Ningsha in the north.

After the Hui, the remainder of the Muslim population belong to Turkic language groups and are racially Turks (except for the Mongol Salars and Aryan Tajiks). The Turkic group is further divided between the Uygurs, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kirgiz, TatarsDongshiang. Nearly all of the Turkic Muslims are found in the western provinces of Kansu and Xinjiang. The largest of these Muslim groups are the Uygurs. and

The Uygurs are most populous in the province of Xinjiang, where they make up some 60% of the total population. This relatively small percentage is due to the massive influx of non-Muslim Chinese into the province in recent times, a situation that has brought problems of assimilation and raised concerns about the de-Islamization of one of China’s predominantly Muslim regions. [Muslims in Central Asia, under the USSR, were subjected to a similar population management, Russification of Central Asia].

Muslims, and the Uygur in particular, suffered tremendously under the regime of Mao Zedong and his “Cultural Revolution.” During the communist reign of terror, there was a violent campaign to eradicate all traces of Islam and of the ethnic identity of all non-Chinese. The Uygur language, which had for centuries used Arabic script, was forced to adopt the Latinforced labor in the some 30,000 communes set up in the predominantly Muslim provinces. The imams and akhunds were singled out for humiliating punishments and tortures….[and were forced to] tend to pig farms, which were sometimes kept in government-closed mosques. alphabet. The Uygurs, as with most believing Muslims, were subjected to

Under the pretext of unification of national education, Islamic schools were closed and their students transferred to other schools which taught only Marxism and Maoism. Other outrages included the closing of over 29,000 mosques, the widespread torture of imams, and executions of over 360,000 Muslims.

Since the death of Mao and the end of his hard-line Marxist outlook nearly fifteen years ago, the communist government has greatly liberalized its policies toward Islam and Muslims. And despite the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, Islam has continued to thrive in China.

Today the campaign for assimilation started during the Cultural Revolution has slowed somewhat and the Turkic Muslims have greater freedom to express their cultural identity. The government has, for instance, allowed the reinstatement of the Arabic alphabet for use with the Uygur language. There is, however, continued discrimination against the Turkic Muslims by the immigrant Chinese (favored by the government) who have settled in the far western province of Xinjiang. This immigration has posed a problem as Han Chinese are migrating to Muslim areas at the rate of 200,000 a year. In many places where Muslims once were a majority, they are now a minority.

Since religious freedom was declared in 1978, the Chinese Muslims have not wasted time in expressing their convictions. There are now some 28,000 mosques in the entire People’s Republic of China, with 12,000 in the province of Xinjiang. In addition, there is a large number of imams available to lead the Muslim community (in Xinjiang alone there are over 2,800).

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. The Muslims of China have also been given almost unrestricted allowance to make the Hajj to Mecca [Reflections from the Hajj]. In 1986 there were some 2,300 Chinese Muslims at Hajj. (Compared to the 30 Soviet Muslims allowed to make the same pilgrimage, this number seems quite generous, considering that the Soviet Muslim population outnumbers China’s by nearly four times).

China’s Muslims have also been active in the country’s internal politics. As always, the Muslims have refused to be silenced. Several large demonstrations have been staged by Muslims to protest intrusions on Muslim life. Last year, for instance, Muslims staged a massive protest rally in Beijing to demand the removal of anti-Islamic literature from China’s bookstores. The Turkic [group] Muslims have also held demonstrations for a greater voice in the running of their own affairs and against the continued large-scale immigration of non-Muslims into their provinces. In the news this spring are more reports of demonstrations and struggles by Chinese Muslims to regain their rights. Insha’Allah they will be successful.


Islam in Taiwan

The troops that Koxinga led to Taiwan in the mid-17th century included a number of Muslims. Some of them made Taiwan their permanent home, leaving historical traces which are still visible in Lukang 鹿港 and Tamsui, among other places. By the time of Taiwan’s retrocession to China in 1945, however, most of the descendants of these early Muslim soldiers no longer embraced Islam; at best, only a few Islamic burial traditions were still observed.

Approximately 20,000 Muslims accompanied the central government to Taiwan in 1949; most were soldiers, civil servants, or food service workers. Two Muslim organizations reestablished themselves in Taiwan: the Chinese Muslim Association and the Chinese Muslim Youth League.

Differences in everyday habits and customs–such as food and drink or religious ceremonies and activities–led to diminished contact between Muslims and Han Chinese in Taiwan during the 1950s. Believers in Islam depended to a large extent on a liaison network that regularly met in a house on Lishui Street 麗水街 in Taipei. By the 1960s, realizing that return to the mainland would not be likely in the immediate future, Muslims in Taiwan began to engage in permanent occupations. Although there was still a considerable degree of interdependence in the ummah (Islamic community), Muslims began, primarily out of professional need, to have increasingly frequent contact with Han Chinese.

Limited by a non-Muslim environment, Muslims in Taiwan today struggle to observe orthodox Islamic practices. Only a few Muslim women have adopted the traditional veil; and a handful of halal butchers and restaurants prepare meat according to the strict Islamic food observances. The busy urban lifestyle in the cities poses many constraints. For example, it is very difficult to attend Juma congregation, which falls on Fridays. In addition, all prayers are conducted in Arabic, which means that every adherent must learn the language despite cultural and linguistic constraints.Despite the Chinese Muslim Association’s efforts to send Muslim students overseas to receive formal Islamic education, and despite the ummah‘s retention of weekend classes, much work still needs to be done for the scattered Muslim population to preserve their faith and identity in a non-Muslim environment. Thus, the Association has developed a plan for “educating secular educators,” and the Taipei City Bureau of Education has approved the Association’s proposal to hold Islamic courses for primary and secondary school teachers during summer vacations. Providing authentic Islamic information to public school teachers is intended to eliminate stereotyping and misunderstanding.

A small population and limited funds have prevented Muslims in Taiwan from establishing a madrasah (Islamic school). However, Dr. Abdullah Ibn Saleh Al-Obaid, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL), gave his full support to the establishment of a madrasa, during his Taiwan visit from May 30 to June 3, 2000.

Like all members of the international Muslim ummah, the Muslims on Taiwan must observe their five basic duties, including the pilgrimage to Mecca. On February 21, 2000, a total of 22 Muslims from Taiwan began their religious journey, and another 32 departed on March 10 at the invitation of King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz. This unprecedented invitation to Taiwan also included 13 other countries: Burma, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

Three Arabian-style mosques, constructed in Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Lungkang 龍崗, have joined Taipei’s two mosques in meeting the needs of Muslim faithful. These three mosques cost a total of US$2.7 million, half of which was funded by overseas donations, predominantly from the Middle East. In addition, a four-story apartment building financed by Muslims in the Tainan and Kaohsiung areas has been built on a piece of donated land in Tainan to serve as a mosque.

The Taipei Grand Mosque, on the verge of being demolished several times because of disputes over land deeds, was recognized as a Taipei City religious heritage site in 1999 after being surveyed by academics and scholars. The mosque will be protected on its present site.

As of 1999, Taiwan was home to a Muslim population of approximately 53,000, including 34 mullahs, six mosques, five libraries, and one publishing house with ten publications. Many Indonesian workers also reside in Taiwan, around 52,000 by June 2000, and participate in the activities of the local ummah.

source: &

History of Islam in Vietnam

The exact dates of Islam’s spread in Indo-China is not known for certain. However, generally speaking, Islam arrived in Indo-China before it reached China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was introduced by merchants from the Muslim world who sailed along the coastal cities.

The following is a map and a quote from “Arab Seafaring” by George F. Hourani:

“After the passage through the Malacca Strait, known to the Arabs by its Malay name of Salaht (“Strait”), a call was made at Tiuman Island. Next cutting across to Indo-China, they stopped at ports in Sanf, the Champa kingdom in the eastern coastal, then at an island off the coast, known as Sanf Fulaw (corrupted in our texts to “Sandar Fulat”). From there vessels might coast round the Gulf of Tongking to Hanoi, known as Luqin, before they made for their final destination, Canton, which was called Khanfu.”

What is known for sure is that by the 11th century, Islam was already in Vietnam due to recent discovery of two gravestones belonging to the Champa Muslims, dated from the early 11th century.

Before we proceed further, we need to understand the historical background of the Champa people. The kingdom of Champa was found in the 2nd century and lasted until the 17th century. Their land stretched along the Central coast of what is now modern Vietnam from Hoành S½n massif (Müi  Ròn) in the north to Phan Thiªt (Müi Kê Gà) in the south. The people is of Malayo-Polynesian stock with indianised culture.

When Islam came, few Champa people adopted it. However, some time between 1607 and 1676, the king of Champa became Muslim thus precipitating most of his people to enter Islam also.

Throughout the century, the Champa provinces were slowly annexed one by one until finally, by the 17th century they were completely absorbed by the ÐÕi Vi®t (vietnamese). During the reign of the Vietnamese king, Minh MÕng, the Champa were severly persecu

ted. As a consequence, the last Champa Muslim king, Pô  Ch½n, decided to gather his people (those on the mainland) and migrated south to Cambodia. Whereas those on the coastline, they migrated to Trengganu (Malaysia). The area where the king and the mainlanders settled is still known to this day as Kompong Cham. They were not concentrated in one area but were scattered along the Mekong river in Vietnam, forming 13 villages along it. Throughout the years, t

heir children were sent to Kelantan (Malaysia) to learn Qur’an and Islamic studies. Once studies were completed, these children then return home to teach others in these 13 villages. Also, another factor which helps them to preserve the

true teaching

of Islam was the interaction between them and the Malaysian Muslim traders who sailed through the Mekong river.

Not all the Champa Muslims migrated with the king. A group stayed behind in Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Phan Rí, and Phan Thiªt provinces (Central Vietnam). With their increasing isolation with other Muslims, they began to mix Islam with Buddhism,

Hindism and Bà La Môn . Hence, their descendents became lost to the true teachings of Islam. In 1959, these descendents came into contact with the Champa Muslims in Châu Яc (one of the 13 villages in South Vietnam) and also with the

Muslims community in Saigon (Ho Chí Minh city). The Muslim community in Saigon, mainly consisted of Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Indonesians and Arabs. (See “Who are the Vietnamese Muslims?”) As a result of this interaction, the descendents who had lost Islam began to return to true Islam. Furthermor

e, with the help of the Muslims community in Saigon, mosques were built in Vån Lâm, An Nh½n, and Phѽc Nh½n (Central Vietnam).

Apart from the Champa Muslims, there are also two groups of Vietnamese Muslims which will be discussed in the article “Who are the Vietnamese Muslims?” After April 30th 1975, while the majority of Vietnamese Muslims remain in Vietnam under the communist regime, a sizable number of them managed to escape to other countries. The majority of them settled in America, France, Malaysia, India, Canada and a handful in Australia.

Who are the Vietnamese Muslims?

There are three types of Vietnamese Muslims in Vietnam:

1. The Champa Muslims

       These are one of the indigenous people of Vietnam and they form the majority of Muslims.

2. The Inter-Racial Muslims

       These are descendents of mixed marriages between local Vietnameses and Muslim traders such
        as the Arabs, Indians, Indonesians, Malaysians and Pakistanis. Throughout the ages, these
        descendents also either married local Vietnameses who converted to Islam or Muslims from other
        countries. They make up the second largest group of Vietnamese Muslims.

3. The Vietnamese Converts

       Throughout the ages, the local Vietnameses interacted with Muslim traders who lived in Vietnam. They
        were drawn to the teaching of Islam and therefore they embraced Islam.
        For example, there is an entire Tân BØu village in Tân An province which converted to Islam

source :

1.D± Häi Minh (1965) "Dân Tµc Chàm Lßþc sØ" Saigon.
2.Hourani, George F.  (1979) "Arab Seafaring"  Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
3.Tarling, Nicholas (1992) "The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia" vol.1 Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.