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The Islam in China

The Brief of Islam in China

Islam is one of the world's three most important religions, was transmitted from Arabia to China in the mid-7th century A. D. Over many centuries, diplomats and traders built a bridge of economic and cultural exchanges connecting the two major areas, China and Arabia. There are perhaps as many as 15 million Muslims in China today, of whom over seven million are Hui. Politically, Islam is important both because China seeks good relations with Muslim countries and because the non-Hui Muslims live in strategically sensitive border areas.

The Origin of Islam in China

Islam was officially introduced into China in 651 by envoys to the Tang Dynasty emperor, sent by the third successor to Mohammed, Khalifa Uthman ibn affan (577-656). However, Islam actually entered China earlier through contacts with Arabian merchants and four disciples of Mohammed who were sent to China between the years 618 and 626. During the western military expeditions of Genghis khan, in the early 13th century, many Muslims recruited from Central and West Asia came to China. Later, they were garrisoned with the Mongolian army as farmer soldiers in inland areas. Wherever these mercenaries settled, they brought Islam with them. By the Yuan dynasty (1206-1368), Islam was thriving in China. The rulers of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties saw advantages in allowing Islam to grow on its own in China and did nothing to discourage it. When the fleet of the famous Ming navigator, Zhenghe (1371-1435), reached the Arabian Peninsula, Muslim members among his crew made a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Modern Islam in China

The China Islamic Association was formed in 1952 but was forced to go underground in 1958. It was the reform years from 1978 that brought religion back to the surface. Five religions were officially recognised in China: Buddhism, Catholicism, Taoism, Protestantism and Islam. China has over 45,000 Mosques, most with a hybrid style of Arabic and Chinese. A typical example is the Niujie Mosque in the Hui district of Beijing which looks like a Chinese Temple from the outside, and on the inside has decorated pillars, walls and ceilings with red and other traditional colours, and gold Qur’anic lettering. The mosque dates from the 10th century and indeed the graves of two Arab missionaries are within the compound.

The Spread of Islam in China

According to Chinese historical records, Islam was transmitted to China's interior during the Tang and Song Dynasties (618-1279). There were two silk trade roads (a sea road and a land road) connecting China, Central Asia and the Middle East in those days. The two trade roads made tremendous contributions to the development of world culture by shortening the distance between the eastern culture and the western culture. Along these roads, the ancient Chinese culture was introduced to the Western world. At the same time, the philosophical concepts of Islam and western civilization were transmitted to China. Thus, traditional Chinese culture, which occupies a very important position in world cultural history, was enriched with new contents.