Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Muslims in China: A brief history

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The Emperor asked them as to the meaning of the term Hui (Those who shall Return the Chinese name for Muslims) to which one of them answered: It refers to the temporary stay of man upon earth, which he leaves to Return at death; it refers to the soul's Return to the Beyond, to the Return of the erring conscience to the Right Way, to the Return to the Real and True from the elusive and false.

Tang Dynasty Tradition

The Advent of Islam in South China:

The advent of Islam in South China makes a fascinating study. The earliest Muslims came to these parts by sea. Arab traders were known to have sailed to China even during the period beyond historical records. Records exist from 5th century A.D. (Tang Dynasty 618-907) which shows the route from Siraf in the Persian Gulf to Muscat in the Gulf of Oman, thence to the South Indian (Malabar) coast. From there the route continued to Ceylon (Sarandip), to Nicobar group of islands, to straits of Malacca, then round the South coast of the Malay Peninsula to the Gulf of Siam and thence to Canton and Hangchow in China.

According to Muslim traditions, when the early Muslims were being persecuted in Mecca some of them were allowed to migrate to Habash (Abyssinia) but most of them later came back, including the famous companions and muazzin Bilal. However, the Books of Individual Records noticed that four companions did not return, one of them being Abi Waqqas, a maternal uncle of the Holy Prophet. It is narrated that Abi Waqqas had gained favour with the Najashi King of Habash who had allowed him to sail to China.

This tallies with the account of Liu Chih (who wrote a 12-volume Life of the Prophet in Chinese in 1721 A.D.) according to which Abi Waqqas, the Holy Prophets maternal uncle, arrived in China with three other Sahaba. Broomhall gives the date of this arrival in China of the Sahaba. Broomhall gives the date of this arrival in China of the Sahaba as 611 A.D. The Chinese historian gives the date as 587 A.D. Both the dates are incorrect, since the first revelation to the Prophet came in 611 A.D. and the first batch of Muslim emigrants went to Abyssinia in 615 A.D. Abi Waqqas could not have reached Canton before 616 A.D.) Abi Waqqas then went back to Arabia to being the Holy Quran and came to China the second time after 21 years.

An inscription at Canton dated 1861 A.D. Also states that Abi Waqqas landed in Canton in 587 A.D. and built the mosque of Holy Remembrance. It is believed that the earliest mosque built in China is the present mosque of Holy Remembrance at Canton. The mosque was built along-side the Smooth Minaret (Kwang Ta) which was built earlier by the Arabs as a lighthouse. The mosque and the minaret exist even today in Canton, and the tomb of Abi Waqqas as well as a small mosque, also located in the Muslim graveyard of Canton. According to Great Ming Geography, two of his companions lie buried in nearby Fukian. It is almost certain that these were the first Muslim preachers who came to South China by sea and propagated Islam in the coastal cities of Kwangchow, Chuanchow, Hangchow and Yangchow. There is, however, a difference of opinion about the exact dates because of the difficulties in calculations in the Western Gregorian Calender and the Chinese and Muslim Lunar Calenders.

The introduction so Islam in Western China makes a still more colourful and fascinating study. According to Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) records, two embassies, one from Yezdegrid, the grandson of Khosroes and the other from the Roman Empire, came to the court of Tai Tsung, the second tang Emperor (627-650) in 638 and 643 respectively and both reported their defeats at the hands of the Arabs. Yezdegird, the last of Sassanian Kings of Iran, had sought refuge with the Turkish tribes of Ferghana an had also sought friendship with Emperor Tai Tsung whose capital was at Chang An (modern Sian). The Chinese of the time were at the height of their power, and had their frontiers with the Persian Empire. In 650, Tai Tsung died and his son, Emperor Kao Tsung, received an appeal for aid from Firuz, the son of Yezdegird.

Kao Tsung sent an emissary to Caliph Osman at Madina to plead for Firuz and the Caliph in return sent one of his generals to Sian in 651 and thus the first Muslim Embassy was established in Western China. During the reign of the Omayyad Caliph, Walid I, Central Asia, India, North Africa and Spain were being conquered. At the time when Mohammad Bin Qasim had landed in Sind, Qutaiba Bin Muslim was making advances in Central Asia. Emperor Hsuan Tsung and the envoy refused to kow tow to the Emperor saying he could only bow to the Almighty Allah. However, Qutaiba agreed to release the Chinese prisoners on the condition that they taught Muslims how to make paper an art the Chinese had masteres. Thus the art of paper-making was acquired by the Arabs and taken to Baghdad. From there this art spread to Egypt, Spain and later to Europe.

It was because of the death of Caliph Walid I (719 A.D.) the assassination of Qutaiba and the overthrow of the Omayyads by the Abbasids that the Arab advancement in Central Asia was halted. This period corresponds in time with the Battle of Tours in France (732 A.D.) when Muslim advances in Europe were also halted.

In 755 A.D., five years after the rise of the Abbasids, during the reign of Abu Jaffar, the 3rd Abbasid Caliph, a rebellion broke out in China the leader of which was a Turk named An Lu-shan. Emperor Hasuan Tsung was driven from his capital and he abdicated in favour of his son Su Tsung (756-763 A.D.) who appealed to the Arabs for help. Abu Jaffar sent 4,000 Muslim soldiers who recovered Sian and Honanfu for the Emperor in 757 A.D. These soldiers never went back, but instead married in China and formed the nucleus of the naturalised Chinese Muslims in Western China whose descendents live there even today. The story was repeated by Tai Tsung (763-780 A.D.), son of Su Tsung, who also sought help from Abu Jaffar when 300,000 Tibetans invaded his kingdom. Abu Jaffar sent a large contingent so much so that the Chinese government was obliged to double the tax on tea to raise funds to pay them. These Muslims also settled down in Western China and some in Yunnan, in South China, where they came to be known as Panthays.

As a result of contact with Muslim armies, many people accepted Islam, among them a tribe ralled Hui Chi, after whom the Muslims of China were known until the time of the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty, when the name was changed to Hui-Hui, by which name they are still known. But there is another name, which is generally used by Muslims, that is, Ching Zhen, In Chinese, Islam is called Ching Zhen Jiao, meaning Pure Religion, as Ching and Zhen mean clean and real respectively.

Muslims Under Sung, Yuan and Ming Dynasties:

During the Sung Dynasty (960-1280), the Court Records mention twenty embassies from Arabia. Muslims received good treatment from the kings of this dynasty and many of them were given titles and appointed to high posts.The news of this treatment spread to the Muslim countries and many Muslims came from Turkestan to find employment in the Chinese army. During the Mongol period (Yuan Dynasty, 1260-1368 A.D.) the Muslims thrived and established themselves as an important section of Chinese society.

The records of Yuan Dynasty include many biographies of distinguished Muslims who were employed by the Mongols. Sayid Ajjal (Sai Tien-Chih) of Bokhara became the conqueror and governor of Yunnan. His son, Nasaruddin is mentioned by Marco Polo. He distinguished himself in the wars against Cochin China and Burma. Alauddin (A-lao-wa-ting) and Ismail (I-ssu-ma-yin) were sent from Persia to China as expert makers. Their machines were used in the catapult siege of Siang Yang fu in 1271 A.D. Jamal-ud-Din, a Persian astronomer presented to Kublai Khan seven Persian astronomical instruments (1267 A.D.) and a new chronology entitled Wannianli (The Ten Thousand Year Chronology).

Under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) also, the Muslims enjoyed privileges, and, both in the army and the civil services, occupied high positions. Numerous embassies came to China from Arabia and Muslim arts and crafts influenced China. A number of Muslim artistic motifs can be seen in the famous Ming porcelain and the beautiful blue of this porcelain is due to the introduction of Persian cobalt. A good deal of porcelain belonging to this period bears Arabic words and inscriptions and verses from the Holy Quran. Moreover, many shapes of Tang, Sung and Ming china are based on those common in Islamic countries.

During the Ming period, Admiral Zheng Ho and his lieutenant Ma Huan (Muhammad Hasan) became famous as navigators and explorers. Zheng Ho was the name bestowed on Sai Ho Ch'ih (i.e. Sayyid Haji) by Yung Lo, the third Emperor of the Ming. He is also known by the title San Pao Kung (Our Master of the Three Jewels) given to him by the grateful Chinese settlers of South East Asia, who worship him to this day as one of their saints. Zheng Ho was born in 1371 A.D. in the fourth year of the reign of the first Ming Emperor Hung Wu. Having los this father at the early age of twelve he joined military service and took a prominent part in the subjugation of his ancestral Yunnan province fro the newly risen Ming power.

He achieved spectacular successes in the pacification of the frontier provinces of China while he was still in his teens. His distinguished services to the state brought him royal favour, which he utilised for the welfare of his fellow Muslims, A living monument of his solicitude for the Chinese Muslims is the stone tablet of the Sian mosque (Siam or Xian), which commemorates some of the generous concessions that he obtained for them from the grateful Emperor. In 1403 Emperor Yung Lo ascended the throne and planned to extend the Chinese political influence and trade overseas. For this ambitious venture he selected Zheng Ho to lead Chinese armadas in the China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The story of his seven maritime expeditions has few parallels in the history of navigation. Having churned the waves of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean almost a century before Vasco da Gama reached India, Zheng Ho made his last voyage to the Eternal Home in 1435 at the age of 65.

The Panthays of Yunnan:

Islam was introduced in Yunnan (literally South of Clouds) province by the soldiers of Kublai khan in the beginning of Yuan Dynasty (1260-1368 A.D.). Marco Polo writes of the presence of Saracens in Yunnan. Rashid-ud-Din, who died in 1316 A.D. wrote: All inhabitants of Yachi (modern Talifu) are Mohammedans. Kublai Khan united this province in 1257 A.D. and appointed one of his ministers Sai Tien-Chih (Syed Ajjal) as governor. Syed Ajjal was from Bokhara and traced his lineage to the Holy Prophet in the 27th generation. His son Nasaruddin and grandson Saddi were also governors of Yunnan.

It was during the Manchu rule that the Panthays of Yunnan (so named after the Burmese name for Muslims) had their difficulties and clashes with the Central government in which millions are said to have perished. An Imam of Talifu, Ma Teh-hsing and his lieutenant Ma Hsien (Mohammad Hassan) declared their independence in 1855 and so did Tu Wen-siu (Sultan Suleiman) who made Talifu his capital at a time when the Central government was engaged in the Taiping uprising and the Second Opium War which led to the occupation of Peking by Western powers.

Sultan Sulaiman adopted the title of Generalissimo (Yuan Shuai) and established regular caravan trade with Burma. Ma Hsien, meanwhile, accepted service with the Imperial Army in the rank of Brigadier General (Chen Tai). While serious differences arose between Ma Hsien and Sultan Sulaiman, the Taiping uprising was put down with the help of General (Chinese) Gordon in 1864 and the Central government then concentrated forces against Sultan Sulaiman. It is said that when he was finally convinced of his impending defeat at the hands of Imperial Army at Talifu, Sultan Sulaiman first poisoned his three wives and five daughters and then himself committed suicide on 15 January 1873 after having ruled the area for 16 years. Since then the population of Panthays in Yunnan has been on the decrease.

The Tungans of Western China:

Tungan or Dungan is the word for converts in turkish and the term was generally used for muslims in the areas now comprising Kansu, Ningsha and Xinjiang. These were the people converted to Islam through contacts with Arabs since the days of Tang Dynasty. Vigurs (or Vighurs), a Turkish race originally Buddhists, they had followed the example of their beloved prince Sartook Bookra Khan (Satoq Bughra Khan) and had become Muslims en masse. The Tungans also had a difficult time under the Manchus specially in 1785, from 1862 to 1876 and in 1895 because they resented wearing of Manchu style queues and also the restrictions imposed on building mosques and performing pilgrimage etc. (due to economic reasons & colonialism)

The Story of Yaqub Beg:

Yaqub Khan came to Chinese Turkistan from Khokand in 1864 as a subordinate officer with approximately 60 men. Being a man of action and ability, he set up an independent kingdom in Yangi Hissar, Kashgar and Yarkand which lasted for 12 years. The Amir of Bokhara conferred on him the title of Atalik Ghazi. He added Kucha, Aksu, Urumchi and Turfan to his territories and in 1872 his independence was recognised by the Russians and subsequently by Britain and Turkey.

The Sultan of Turkey conferred on him the title of Amir-ul-Momineen. In the meantime the Ching Emperor having successfully dealt with the Taiping uprising, deputed an experienced general, Tso Chung-tang, to establish Chinese suzeranity in the area. General Tso raised an Agricultural Army which produced its own food as it went along thus overcoming the logistic problem of crossing the Gobi desert. The campaign was slow and it cost the Chinese government 30 million pound sterling but it succeeded. Urumchi fell in 1876. Yaqub Beg suddenly died on 1st May 1877. Although the Ching Emperor tolerated a Muslim local chieftain at Turfan, his position was maintained for political purposes without any real power.

Recent History

Coming nearer our times, Dr. Sun Yatsens revolution which delivered the Chinese people from the Manchus and overthrew the Ching Dynasty in 1911 was welcomed by the Chinese Muslims also. Dr. Sun Yatsen proclaimed the doctrine of harmony and equality of five races. These five races (or nationalities as these are called now) were Han, Manchu, Tibetan, Mongol and Hui (i.e. Muslim) and are represented on the flag of the People's Republic by the 5 stars. During this period Muslims were appointed to important positions in the Army and they also secured seats in the National Legislative Assembly and held high posts in the Nationalist government.

When Chairman Mao led the Workers and Peasants Red Army in the famous Long March of 6,000 miles (1934-35), many Muslims joined the Red Army. It is said that a mosque was built for them at Yenan, Chairman Mao headquarters after the Long March. later, during the war against the japanese and during the struggle against Chiang Kai Shek, most Chinese Muslims joined the struggle alongwith the majority of the Han Chinese. Xinjiang was secured without a fight due to the efforts of Burhan Shahidi and Aziz Saifuddin. Burhan Shahidi is now the President of the Islamic Association of China and Saifuddin an Alternate Member of the Politburo.

Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai took special care to look after the Muslims in China so much so that the People's Liberation Army was especially instructed to follow at 10-point code in Muslim areas which include the protection of Mosques, a ban on eating or mentioning of pork and a ban on fraternisation with Muslim women. During the Agrarian Reforms of 1950, when all lands belonging to temples and monasteries were nationalised, the waqf (endowment) property attached to the mosques was exempted from confiscation. Article three of the agriculture Reform Law (1950) stipulated that lands belonging to the mosques may be kept by them depending on circumstances and with the consent of the Muslim residents in the area where the mosques are located.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), however, the Muslims of China were persecuted along with the Buddhists and Christians, by the ultra-leftists led by Lin Biao and the Gang of Four. The Red Guards made all-out attacks on religious institutions calling them bourgeois and reactionary institutions. They attacked and defaced mosques as well as burned religious books despite government directives that the mosques must be protected. It is a tribute to the wisdom of Chinese leaders like Zhou Enlai who opposed the policies of the Gang of Four and the Red Guards and eventually brought the situation under control.

After the down-fall of the Gang of Four the People's Government under the directions of the present leaders has implemented a policy of national equality and regional autonomy. They have followed a liberal policy towards religious minorities aimed at allowing freedom of religious belief and freedom to speak and write minority languages and respect for the customs and habits of the minorities. Old mosques are being renovated and reopened. The famous Peking Niu Chief mosque (built in 996 A.D.) for instance, has been completely renovated and draws large crowds of Muslims not only on festivals but on Fridays and weekdays. One can see that the environment for Muslims in China is growing more and more congenial.

Central Asia, Journal of Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar.


Warque Daddy said...

"It was during the Manchu rule that the Panthays of Yunnan (so named after the Burmese name for Muslims) had their difficulties and clashes with the Central government in which millions are said to have perished."

Dalam artikel "The History of Dato' Panglima Bukit Gantang", di katakan kerajaan Manchu merupakan kerajaan Islam(?) yang telah membantu dalam perjuangan Dato' Panglima Bukit Gantang menentang serangan Thai.

Warque Daddy said...

"It was during the Manchu rule that the Panthays of Yunnan (so named after the Burmese name for Muslims) had their difficulties and clashes with the Central government in which millions are said to have perished."

Dalam artikel "The History of Dato' Panglima Bukit Gantang", di katakan kerajaan Manchu merupakan kerajaan Islam(?) yang telah membantu dalam perjuangan Dato' Panglima Bukit Gantang menentang serangan Thai.