Islam in China

Islam has been practised in Chinese society for at least 1,400 years.[2] Currently, Muslims are a significant minority group in China, thought to represent 1 to 3% of the total population.[3] Though Hui Muslims are in the majority overall,[4] the greatest concentration of Muslims is in Xinjiang, with a significant Uyghur population. Lesser but significant populations reside in the regions of Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai.[5] Of China's 55 officially recognized minority peoples, ten groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim.[5]

Islam in China, with 0.2 (Yang Zongde 2010)
Mapping of Islam by province of China according to a survey reported in 2010; there are an estimated 23 million Muslims or 1.7% of the total population.[1]
The Sufi mausoleum (gongbei) of Ma Laichi in Linxia City, China.


Chinese-style minaret of the Great Mosque
The Great Mosque of Xi'an, one of China's oldest mosques

Chinese Muslims have been in China for the last 1,400 years of continuous interaction with Chinese society.[2] "Islam expanded gradually across the maritime and inland silk routes from the 7th to the 10th centuries through war, trade, and diplomatic exchanges."[6]

Introduction of Islam 616-18 AD

Huaisheng Mosque Dec 2007
The Huaisheng Mosque's construction is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad's second cousin, Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas.

According to Chinese Muslims' traditional legendary accounts, Islam was first introduced to China in 616-18 AD by Sahaba (companions) of Prophet Muhammad : Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, Sayid, Wahab ibn Abu Kabcha and another Sahaba.[7] Wahab ibn abu Kabcha (Wahb abi Kabcha) may have been be a son of al-Harth ibn Abdul Uzza (also known as Abu Kabsha).[8] It is noted in other accounts that Wahab Abu Kabcha reached Canton by sea in 629 CE.[9]

Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas, along with three Sahabas, namely Suhayla Abuarja, Uwais al-Qarani, and Hassan ibn Thabit, returned to China from Arabia in 637 by the Yunan-Manipur-Chittagong route, then reached Arabia by sea.[10] Some sources date the introduction of Islam in China to 650 AD, the third sojourn of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas,[11] when he was sent as an official envoy to Emperor Gaozong during Caliph Uthman's reign.[12]

Tang dynasty

Mosque, Canton
Guang Ta minaret, Huaisheng Mosque, Guangzhou, China. According to tradition, the mosque was founded in 627. The minaret was built in the 10th century. Photograph by Felice Beato, April 1860.

Earlier visits of Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas were noted in Arab accounts since it was a period of nascent Islam mixed with events of many hectic preaching and warfare. They (Sahabas) were more concerned with writings of verses of the Koran as revealed to Muhammad, and his sayings and ways of life. According to China Muslims' traditional legendary accounts, Islam was first brought to China by an embassy led by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas that was sent by Uthman, the third Caliph, (that was in 651, less than twenty years after the death of Muhammad) which are confusions with Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas's earlier visits. The embassy was led by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, the second cousin of Muhammad. 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 Muhammad.[11][13]

While modern secular historians tend to say that there is no evidence for Waqqās himself ever coming to China,[13] they do believe that Muslim diplomats and merchants came to Tang China within a few decades from the beginning of the Muslim Era.[13] 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.[13] The first major Muslim settlements in China consisted of Arab and Persian merchants.[14] During the Tang and especially the Song eras, comparatively well-established, even if somewhat segregated, mercantile Muslim communities existed in the port cities of Guangzhou, Quanzhou, and Hangzhou on China's southeastern seaboard, as well as in the interior centers such as Chang'an, Kaifeng, and Yangzhou.[15] After critical analysis, it is evident that Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas and the three other Sahabas who were preaching from 616-18 were noticed by Emperor Wu-De by 618 AD. Guangzhou is home to four mosques, including the famous Huaisheng Mosque believed to have been built by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, the second cousin of Muhammad . The city also has a grave believed to be that of ibn Abi Waqqas (father of Sa'd ibn abi Waqqas).[16]

Islam was brought to China during the Tang dynasty by Arab traders, who were primarily concerned with trading and commerce. It was because of this low profile that the 845 anti-Buddhist edict during the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution said absolutely nothing about Islam.[17] It seems that trade occupied the attention of the early Muslim settlers, coming and going between China and the West by the oversea or the overland routes.[18][19]

Song dynasty

Puhaddin Mausoleum complex in Yangzhou

By the time of the Song Dynasty, Muslims had come to play a major role in the import/export industry.[11][15] The office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period.[20] In 1070, the Song emperor Shenzong invited 5,300 Muslim men from Bukhara, to settle in China in order to create a buffer zone between the Chinese and the Liao empire in the northeast. Later on these men were settled between the Sung capital of Kaifeng and Yenching (modern day Beijing).[21] They were led by Prince Amir Sayyid "So-fei-er" (his Chinese name) who was called 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").[22] He renamed it to Huihui Jiao ("the Religion of the Huihui").[23]

Tombs of Imam Asim and Mazaar of Zafar Sadiq

Lingshan Islamic Cemetery - two worthies - DSCF8405
The tombs of Sa-Ke-Zu and Wu-Ko-Shun at Mount Lingshan, Quanzhou

"On the foothills of Mount Lingshan are the tombs of two of the four companions that Prophet Muhammad sent eastwards to preach Islam. Known as the "Holy Tombs," they house the companions Sa-Ke-Zu and Wu-Ko-Shun—their Chinese names, of course. The other two companions went to Guangzhou and Yangzhou."[24] The Imam Asim, also spelt Hashim, is said to have been one of the first Islamic missionaries in the region of China. He was a man of c.1000 CE in Hotan. The shrine site includes the reputed tomb of the Imam, a mosque, and several related tombs.[25] There is also a mazaar of Imam Zafar Sadiq.[26]

Yuan dynasty

During the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), large numbers of Muslims settled in China. The Mongols, a minority in China, gave foreign immigrants, such as Muslims, Christians, and Jews from West Asia an elevated status over the native Han Chinese as part of their governing strategy, thus giving Muslims a heavy influence. Mongols recruited and forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants from Western and Central Asia to help them administer their rapidly expanding empire.[5] The Mongols used Persian, Arab and Buddhist Uyghur administrators, generically known as semu [色目]("various eye color")[27] to act as officers of taxation and finance. Muslims headed many corporations in China in the early Yuan period.[28] Muslim scholars were brought to work on calendar making and astronomy. The architect Yeheidie'erding (Amir al-Din) learned from Han architecture and helped to design the construction of the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, Dadu, otherwise known as Khanbaliq or Khanbaligh, the predecessor of present-day Beijing.[29] The term Hui originated from the Mandarin "Huihui," a term first used in the Yuan Dynasty to describe Central Asian, Persian and Arab residents in China.[13]

At the same time the Mongols imported Central Asians to work as administrators in China, the Mongols also sent Han Chinese and Khitans from China to work as administrators over the Muslim population in Bukhara of Central Asia, using foreigners to curtail the power of the local peoples of both lands.[30]

The Yuan dynasty "Han people" classification included Koreans, Bohais, Jurchens and Khitans, and they are included in statistics of intermarriage between Semu and "Han people".[31] Semu and Han intermarried with Mongols.[32] The Haluhu (哈剌鲁) Semu married Koreans, Uighurs Tangwu, Mongols and Han during Yuan rule.[33] Tibetan, Qincha, Uighur, Hui Hui, and Han intermarried with Korean women during the Yuan dynasty.[34]

Korean women married Indian, Uyghur, and Turkic Semu men.[35] This intermarriage of Korean women and Semu men was extensive in China during the Yuan dynasty.[36]

A rich merchant from the Ma'bar Sultanate, Abu Ali (P'aehali) 孛哈里 (or 布哈爾 Buhaer), was associated closely with the Ma'bar royal family. After falling out with them, he moved to Yuan dynasty China and received a Korean woman as his wife and a job from the Mongol Emperor, the woman was formerly 桑哥 Sangha's wife and her father was 蔡仁揆 채송년 Ch'ae In'gyu during the reign of 忠烈 Chungnyeol of Goryeo, recorded in the Dongguk Tonggam, Goryeosa and 留夢炎 Liu Mengyan's 中俺集 Zhong'anji.[37][38]

Genghis Khan and his successors forbade Islamic practices like halal butchering, as well as other restrictions. Muslims had to slaughter sheep in secret.[39] Genghis Khan outright called Muslims and Jews "slaves", and demanded that they follow the Mongol method of eating rather than the halal method. Circumcision was also forbidden. Jews were affected by these laws and forbidden by the Mongols to eat Kosher.[40] Towards the end of the Yuan Dynasty, corruption and persecution became so severe that Muslim generals joined the Han Chinese in rebelling against the Mongols. The founder of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, led Muslim generals like Lan Yu against the Mongols, whom they defeated in combat. Some Muslim communities had a name in Chinese which meant "baracks" or "thanks," which many Hui Muslims claim comes from the gratitude which Chinese people have towards them for their role in defeating the Mongols.[41]

Among all the [subject] alien peoples only the Hui-hui say "we do not eat Mongol food". [Cinggis Qa’an replied:] "By the aid of heaven we have pacified you; you are our slaves. Yet you do not eat our food or drink. How can this be right?" He thereupon made them eat. "If you slaughter sheep, you will be considered guilty of a crime." He issued a regulation to that effect ... [In 1279/1280 under Qubilai] all the Muslims say: "if someone else slaughters [the animal] we do not eat". Because the poor people are upset by this, from now on, Musuluman [Muslim] Huihui and Zhuhu [Jewish] Huihui, no matter who kills [the animal] will eat [it] and must cease slaughtering sheep themselves, and cease the rite of circumcision.[42]

The Muslims in the semu class also revolted against the Yuan dynasty in the Ispah Rebellion, but the rebellion was crushed and the Muslims were massacred by the Yuan loyalist commander Chen Youding.

Ming dynasty


Hu Dahai was a Chinese Muslim general of the Hongwu Emperor.

Admiral Zhenghe

Chinese Muslim explorer and admiral, Zheng He.

During the following Ming dynasty, Muslims continued to be influential around government circles. Six of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang's most trusted generals are said to have been Muslim, including Lan Yu who, in 1388, led a strong imperial Ming army out of the Great Wall and won a decisive victory over the Mongols in Mongolia, effectively ending the Mongol dream to re-conquer China. During the war fighting the Mongols, among the Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang's armies was the Hui Muslim Feng Sheng.[43] Zhu Yuanzhang also wrote a praise of Islam, The Hundred-word Eulogy. It was recorded that "His Majesty ordered to have mosques built in Xijing and Nanjing [the capital cities], and in southern Yunnan, Fujian and Guangdong. His Majesty also personally wrote baizizan [a eulogy] in praise of the Prophet's virtues."[44] Additionally, the Yongle Emperor hired Zheng He, perhaps the most famous Chinese of Muslim birth although at least in later life not a Muslim himself, to lead seven expeditions to the Indian Ocean from 1405 and 1433. However, during the Ming Dynasty, new immigration to China from Muslim countries was restricted in an increasingly isolationist nation. The Muslims in China who were descended from earlier immigration began to assimilate by speaking Chinese and by adopting Chinese names and culture. Mosque architecture began to follow traditional Chinese architecture. This era, sometimes considered the Golden Age of Islam in China,[45] also saw Nanjing become an important center of Islamic study.[46] Korean (Koryŏ) women's beauty was highly commended and viewed by the Ming Zhengde Emperor's Muslim advisor.[47]

Around 1376 the 30-year-old Chinese merchant Lin Nu visited Ormuz in Persia, converted to Islam, and married a Semu girl (“娶色目女”) (either a Persian or an Arab girl) and brought her back to Quanzhou in Fujian.[48]

Chen Zhang's painting of a giraffe and its attendant
Giraffe brought to China, by Zheng He's Treasure Fleet.
Zheng He's 7th voyage

Muslims in Ming dynasty Beijing were given relative freedom by the Chinese, with no restrictions placed on their religious practices or freedom of worship, and being normal citizens in Beijing. In contrast to the freedom granted to Muslims, followers of Tibetan Buddhism and Catholicism suffered from restrictions and censure in Beijing.[49]

The Ming policy towards the Islamic religion was tolerant, while their racial policy towards ethnic minorities was of integration through forced marriage. Muslims were allowed to practice Islam, but if they were members of other ethnic groups they were required by law to intermarry, so Hui had to marry Han since they were different ethnic groups, with the Han often converting to Islam.

Integration was mandated through intermarriage by Ming law, ethnic minorities had to marry people of other ethnic groups. The Chinese during the Ming dynasty also tried to force foreigners like the Hui into marrying Chinese women.[50] Marriage between upper class Han Chinese and Hui Muslims was low, since upper class Han Chinese men would both refuse to marry Muslim women, and forbid their daughters from marrying Muslim men, since they did not want to convert due to their upper class status. Only low and mean status Han Chinese men would convert if they wanted to marry a Hui woman. Ming law allowed Han Chinese men and women to not have to marry Hui, and only marry each other, while Hui men and women were required to marry a spouse not of their race.[51][52][53]

The Hongwu Emperor decreed the building of multiple mosques throughout China in many locations. A Nanjing mosque was built by the Xuande Emperor.[54]

An anti pig slaughter edict led to speculation that the Zhengde Emperor adopted Islam due to his use of Muslim eunuchs who commissioned the production of porcelain with Persian and Arabic inscriptions in white and blue color.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63] Muslim eunuchs contributed money in 1496 to repairing Niujie Mosque. Central Asian women were provided to the Zhengde Emperor by a Muslim guard and Sayyid Hussein from Hami.[64] The guard was Yu Yung and the women were Uighur.[65] It is unknown who really was behind the anti-pig slaughter edict.[66] The speculation of him becoming a Muslim is remembered alongside his excessive and debauched behavior along with his concubines of foreign origin.[67][68] Muslim Central Asian girls were favored by Zhengde like how Korean girls were favored by Xuande.[69] A Uighur concubine was kept by Zhengde.[70] Foreign origin Uighur and Mongol women were favored by the Zhengde emperor.[71] Tatar (Mongol) and Central Asian women were bedded by Zhengde.[72] Zhengde received Central Asian Muslim Semu women from his Muslim guard Yu Yong, and Ni'ergan was the name of one of his Muslim concubines.[73][74]

When the Qing dynasty invaded the Ming dynasty in 1644, Muslim Ming loyalists led by Muslim leaders Milayin, Ding Guodong, and Ma Shouying led a revolt in 1646 against the Qing during the Milayin rebellion in order to drive the Qing out and restore the Ming Prince of Yanchang Zhu Shichuan to the throne as the emperor. The Muslim Ming loyalists were crushed by the Qing with 100,000 of them, including Milayin and Ding Guodong killed.

Qing dynasty

Huijiangzhi (Gazetteer of the Muslim Regions), 1772.
Depiction of a Central Asian Muslim from Altishahr, during the Qing dynasty.
Boilly - MusulmansChinois
Chinese Muslims during the 1800s by Julien-Léopold Boilly

The Qing dynasty (1644–1911) witnessed multiple revolts. The Qing rulers belonged to the Manchu, a minority in China.

When the Qing dynasty replaced the Ming dynasty starting in 1644, Muslim Ming loyalists in Gansu led by Muslim leaders Milayin[75] and Ding Guodong led a revolt in 1646 against the Qing during the Milayin rebellion in order to drive the Qing out and restore the Ming Prince of Yanchang Zhu Shichuan to the throne as the emperor.[76] The Muslim Ming loyalists were supported by Hami's Sultan Sa'id Baba and his son Prince Turumtay.[77][78][79] The Muslim Ming loyalists were joined by Tibetans and Han Chinese in the revolt.[80] After fierce fighting, and negotiations, a peace agreement was agreed on in 1649, and Milayan and Ding nominally pledged alleigance to the Qing and were given ranks as members of the Qing military.[81] When other Ming loyalists in southern China made a resurgence and the Qing were forced to withdraw their forces from Gansu to fight them, Milayan and Ding once again took up arms and rebelled against the Qing.[82] The Muslim Ming loyalists were then crushed by the Qing with 100,000 of them, including Milayin, Ding Guodong, and Turumtay killed in battle.

The Confucian Hui Muslim scholar Ma Zhu (1640-1710) served with the southern Ming loyalists against the Qing.[83] Zhu Yu'ai, the Ming Prince Gui was accompanied by Hui refugees when he fled from Huguang to the Burmese border in Yunnan and as a mark of their defiance against the Qing and loyalty to the Ming, they changed their surname to Ming.[84]

In Guangzhou, the national monuments known as "The Muslim's Loyal Trio" are the tombs of Ming loyalist Muslims who were martyred while fighting in battle against the Qing in the Manchu conquest of China in Guangzhou.[85] The Ming Muslim loyalists were called "jiaomen sanzhong "Three defenders of the faith".[84]

In the Jahriyya revolt sectarian violence between two suborders of the Naqshbandi Sufis, the Jahriyya Sufi Muslims and their rivals, the Khafiyya Sufi Muslims, led to a Jahriyya Sufi Muslim rebellion which the Qing dynasty in China crushed with the help of the Khafiyya Sufi Muslims.[86]

The Muslim revolt in the northwest occurred due to violent and bloody infighting between Muslim groups, the Gedimu, Khafiya, and Jahriyya. The rebellion in Yunnan occurred because of repression by Qing officials, resulting in five bloody Hui rebellions, most notably the Panthay Rebellion, which occurred in Yunnan province from 1855 to 1873, and the Dungan revolt, which occurred mostly in Xinjiang, Shensi and Gansu, from 1862 to 1877. The Manchu government ordered the execution of all rebels, killing a million people in the Panthay rebellion,[87] several million in the Dungan revolt.[87] The Hui Muslim population of Beijing was unaffected by the Muslim rebels during the Dungan revolt.[88]

Elisabeth Allès wrote that the relationship between Hui Muslim and Han peoples continued normally in the Henan area, with no ramifications or consequences from the Muslim rebellions of other areas. Allès wrote "The major Muslim revolts in the middle of the nineteenth century which involved the Hui in Shaanxi, Gansu and Yunnan, as well as the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, do not seem to have had any direct effect on this region of the central plain."[89]

However, many Muslims like Ma Zhan'ao, Ma Anliang, Dong Fuxiang, Ma Qianling, and Ma Julung defected to the Qing dynasty side, and helped the Qing general Zuo Zongtang exterminate the Muslim rebels. These Muslim generals belonged to the Khafiya sect, and they helped Qing massacre Jahariyya rebels. General Zuo moved the Han around Hezhou out of the area and relocated them as a reward for the Muslims there helping Qing kill other Muslim rebels.

In 1895, another Dungan Revolt broke out, and loyalist Muslims like Dong Fuxiang, Ma Anliang, Ma Guoliang, Ma Fulu, and Ma Fuxiang suppressed and massacred the rebel Muslims led by Ma Dahan, Ma Yonglin, and Ma Wanfu. A Muslim army called the Kansu Braves led by General Dong Fuxiang fought for the Qing dynasty against the foreigners during the Boxer Rebellion. They included well known generals like Ma Anliang, Ma Fulu, and Ma Fuxiang.

In Yunnan, the Qing armies exterminated only the Muslims who had rebelled and spared Muslims who took no part in the uprising.[90]

Uyghurs in Turfan and Hami and their leaders like Emin Khoja allied with the Qing against Uyghurs in Altishahr. During the Qing dynasty, China enfeoffed (granted freehold property in exchange for pledged service) the rulers of Turpan, in eastern present-day Xinjiang, and Hami (Kumul) as autonomous princes, while the rest of the Uyghurs in Altishahr (the Tarim Basin) were ruled by Begs.[91]:31 Uyghurs from Turpan and Hami were appointed by China as officials to rule over Uyghurs in the Tarim Basin.

Republic of China

Anti-Japanese Muslim guerillas in Northwest China, c. 1939
1939, Northwest China, Chinese Muslim fighters gather to fight against the Japanese[92][93]
Horrible death, Nanking Massacre
Dead bodies of the Chinese Hui Muslim Ha family who were slaughtered and raped by the Japanese in Nanjing.

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat-sen, who established the Republic of China, immediately proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Man (Manchu), Meng (Mongol), Hui (Muslim),[n 1] Tsang (Tibetan), and Miao peoples.

During the rule of the Kuomintang party, the Kuomintang appointed the Muslim warlords of the family known as the Ma clique as the Military Governors of the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia. Bai Chongxi was a Muslim General and Defence Minister of China during this time.

During the Second Sino-Japanese war, the Japanese destroyed 220 mosques and killed countless Hui by April 1941.[94] The Hui Muslim county of Dachang was subjected to slaughter by the Japanese.[43] During the Rape of Nanking the Mosques in Nanjing were flowing with dead bodies after the Japanese slaughters. Japanese smeared Hui Mosques with pork fat, forcing Hui girls to serve as sex slaves and destroyed the cemeteries of the Hui.[95] Many Hui, Turkic Salar, Dongxiang, and Bonan Muslims fought in the war against Japan.

In 1937, during the Battle of Beiping–Tianjin the Chinese government was notified by Muslim General Ma Bufang of the Ma clique that he was prepared to bring the fight to the Japanese in a telegram message.[96] Immediately after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Ma Bufang arranged for a cavalry division under the Muslim General Ma Biao to be sent east to battle the Japanese.[97] Ethnic Turkic Salar Muslims made up the majority of the first cavalry division which was sent by Ma Bufang.[98]

In the Kuomintang Islamic insurgency, Muslim Kuomintang National Revolutionary Army forces in Northwest China, in Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang, as well as Yunnan, continued an unsuccessful insurgency against the communists from 1950 to 1958, after the general civil war was over.

People's Republic of China

Hui family eid
An ethnic Hui family celebrating Eid ul-Fitr in Ningxia.

During the Cultural Revolution, mosques along with other religious buildings were often defaced, destroyed or closed and copies of the Quran were destroyed along with temples, churches, Buddhist and Daoist monasteries, and cemeteries by the Red Guards.[99] In 1975, in what would be known as the Shadian incident, there was a uprising among Hui in what was the only large scale ethnic rebellion during the Cultural Revolution.[100] In crushing the rebellion, the PLA massacred 1,600 Hui[100] with MIG fighter jets used to fire rockets onto the village. Following the fall of the Gang of Four, apologies and reparations were made.[101] During that time, the government also constantly accused Muslims and other religious groups of holding "superstitious beliefs" and promoting "anti-socialist trends".[102] The government began to relax its policies towards Muslims in 1978.[103]

Restrictions on religious freedoms imposed by the government can vary from region to region. In 1989, China banned a book titled "Xing Fengsu" ("Sexual Customs") which insulted Islam and placed its authors under arrest after protests in Lanzhou and Beijing by Chinese Hui Muslims, during which the Chinese police provided protection to the Hui Muslim protestors, and the Chinese government organized public burnings of the book.[104] In 2007, anticipating the coming "Year of the Pig" in the Chinese calendar, depictions of pigs were banned from CCTV "to avoid conflicts with muslim minorities".[105] This is believed to refer to China's population of 20 million Muslims (to whom pigs are considered "unclean"). Hui Muslims enjoy such freedoms, practising their religion, building Mosques at which their children attend, while Uyghurs in Xinjiang experienced strict controls.[106]

Since the 1980s, Islamic private schools (Sino-Arabic schools (中阿學校)) have been supported and permitted by the Chinese government among Muslim areas, only specifically excluding Xinjiang from allowing these schools because of separatist sentiment there.[107][108][109][110] After secondary education is completed, Hui students are permitted to embark on religious studies under an Imam.[111][112][113]

Hui Muslims who are employed by the state are allowed to fast during Ramadan unlike Uyghurs in the same positions, the number of Hui going on Hajj is expanding, and Hui women are allowed to wear veils, while Uyghur women are discouraged from wearing them. Uyghurs find it difficult to get passports to go on Hajj.[114]

By 2013, repression of Uyghurs extended to disappearing dissidents and imposing life imprisonment sentences on academics for promoting Uyghur social interactions.[115]

In March 2014, the Chinese media estimated that there were around 300 Chinese Muslims active in ISIS territories.[116][117] Moving forward, the Chinese government stated in May 2015 that it would not tolerate any form of terrorism and would work to “combat terrorist forces, including ETIM, [to] safeguard global peace, security and stability."[118]

In the five years to 2017, a 306 per cent increase in criminal arrests was seen in Xinjiang and the arrests there accounted for 21 per cent of the national total, despite the region contributing just 1.5 per cent of the population. The increase was seen as driven by the government's "Strike Hard" campaign. In 2017, driven by a 92 per cent in security spending there that year, an estimated 227,882 criminal arrests were made in Xinjiang.[119]

By August 2018, the growing of long beards, and the wearing veils or Islamic robes, were banned. All vehicle owners were required to install GPS tracking devices.[120]

In August 2018, the authorities were vigorously pursuing the suppression of mosques, including their widespread destruction,[121] over Muslim protests.[122]

Also at that time, the growing of long beards, and the wearing veils or Islamic robes, were banned. All vehicle owners were required to install GPS tracking devices.[120]

The Associated Press also reported in late November that Uighur families were required to allow local government officials to live in their homes as "relatives" in a "Pair Up and Become Family" campaign. While the official was living in a home, the residents were closely watched and not allowed to pray or wear religious clothing. Authorities said that the program was voluntary but Muslims who were interviewed by AP expressed concern that refusal to cooperate would lead to serious repercussions.[123]

Re-education camps

In May 2018, the western news media reported that hundreds of thousands of Muslims were being detained in massive extra-judicial internment camps in western Xinjiang.[124] These were called s "re-education" camps and later, "vocational training centres" by the government, intended for the "rehabilitation and redemption" to combat terrorism and religious extremism.[125][119][126]

By that time, conditions in Xinjiang had deteriorated so far that they were described by informed political scientists as "Orwellian"[120] and observers drew comparisons with Nazi concentration camps.[127]

In response to the UN panel's finding of indefinite detention without due process, the Chinese government delegation officially conceded that it was engaging in widespread "resettlement and re-education" and State media described the controls in Xinjiang as "intense".[128]

On 31 August 2018, the United Nations committee called on the Chinese government to "end the practice of detention without lawful charge, trial and conviction", to release the detained persons, to provide specifics as to the number of interred individuals and the reasons for their detention, and to investigate the allegations of "racial, ethnic and ethno-religious profiling". A BBC report quoted an unnamed Chinese official as saying that "Uighurs enjoyed full rights" but also admitting that "those deceived by religious extremism... shall be assisted by resettlement and re-education".[129]

Sectarian tensions

Hui-Uyghur antagonism

Tensions between Hui Muslims and Uyghurs arise because Hui troops and officials often dominated the Uyghurs and crush Uyghur revolts.[130] Xinjiang's Hui population increased by over 520 percent between 1940 and 1982, an average annual growth of 4.4 percent, while the Uyghur population only grew at 1.7 percent. This dramatic increase in Hui population led inevitably to significant tensions between the Hui and Uyghur populations. Many Hui Muslim civilians were killed by Uyghur rebellion troops in 1933 known as the Kizil massacre.[131] During the 2009 rioting in Xinjiang that killed around 200 people, “Kill the Han, kill the Hui.” is a common cry spread across social media among Uyghur extremists.[132] Some Uyghurs in Kashgar remember that the Hui army at the Battle of Kashgar (1934) massacred 2,000 to 8,000 Uyghurs, which causes tension as more Hui moved into Kashgar from other parts of China.[133] Some Hui criticize Uyghur separatism and generally do not want to get involved in conflict in other countries.[134] Hui and Uyghur live separately, attending different mosques.[135]

The Uyghur militant organization East Turkestan Islamic Movement's magazine Islamic Turkistan has accused the Chinese "Muslim Brotherhood" (the Yihewani) of being responsible for the moderation of Hui Muslims and the lack of Hui joining jihadist groups in addition to blaming other things for the lack of Hui Jihadists, such as the fact that for more than 300 years Hui and Uyghurs have been enemies of each other, no separatist Islamist organizations among the Hui, the fact that the Hui view China as their home, and the fact that the "infidel Chinese" language is the language of the Hui.[136][137]

Hui Muslim drug dealers are accused by Uyghur Muslims of pushing heroin on Uyghurs.[138] Heroin has been vended by Hui dealers.[139] There is a typecast image in the public eye of heroin being the province of Hui dealers.[140] Hui have been involved in the Golden Triangle drug area.[141]

An investigation by the Turkish Anadolu Agency which sent Turkish reporters into Xinjiang published its report and said that there was exaggeration on alleged restrictions and oppression, finding out that children and bearded men were able to go to Mosques but giving religious education to children is not allowed, while government employees experience issues with fasting but Uyghurs working in the private sector are allowed to fast, private citizens can fast and prayer is allowed.[142]

Hui sects

There have been many occurrences of violent sectarian fighting between different Hui sects. Sectarian fighting between Hui sects led to the Jahriyya rebellion in the 1780s and the 1895 revolt. After a hiatus after the People's Republic of China came to power, sectarian in fighting resumed in the 1990s in Ningxia between different sects. Several sects refuse to intermarry with each other. One Sufi sect circulated an anti-Salafi pamphlet in Arabic.

Tibetan muslims

In Tibet, the majority of Muslims are Hui people. Hatred between Tibetans and Muslims stems from events during the Muslim warlord Ma Bufang's rule in Qinghai such as Ngolok rebellions (1917–49) and the Sino-Tibetan War, but in 1949 the Communists put an end to the violence between Tibetans and Muslims, however, new Tibetan-Muslim violence broke out after China engaged in liberalization. Riots broke out between Muslims and Tibetans over incidents such as bones in soups and prices of balloons, and Tibetans accused Muslims of being cannibals who cooked humans in their soup and of contaminating food with urine. Tibetans attacked Muslim restaurants. Fires set by Tibetans which burned the apartments and shops of Muslims resulted in Muslim families being killed and wounded in the 2008 mid-March riots. Due to Tibetan violence against Muslims, the traditional Islamic white caps have not been worn by many Muslims. Scarfs were removed and replaced with hairnets by Muslim women in order to hide. Muslims prayed in secret at home when in August 2008 the Tibetans burned the Mosque. Incidents such as these which make Tibetans look bad on the international stage are covered up by the Tibetan exile community. The repression of Tibetan separatism by the Chinese government is supported by Hui Muslims.[143] In addition, Chinese-speaking Hui have problems with Tibetan Hui (the Tibetan speaking Kache minority of Muslims).[144]

The main Mosque in Lhasa was burned down by Tibetans and Chinese Hui Muslims were violently assaulted by Tibetan rioters in the 2008 Tibetan unrest.[145] Tibetan exiles and foreign scholars alike ignore this and do not talk about sectarian violence between Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims.[146] The majority of Tibetans viewed the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 positively and it had the effect of galvanizing anti-Muslim attitudes among Tibetans and resulted in an anti-Muslim boycott against Muslim owned businesses.[146]:17 Tibetan Buddhists propagate a false libel that Muslims cremate their Imams and use the ashes to convert Tibetans to Islam by making Tibetans inhale the ashes, even though the Tibetans seem to be aware that Muslims practice burial and not cremation since they frequently clash against proposed Muslim cemeteries in their area.[146]:19

Since the Chinese government supports and backs up the Hui Muslims, the Tibetans deliberately attack the Hui Muslims as a way to demonstrate anti-government sentiment and because they have a background of sectarian violence against each other since Ma Bufang's rule due to their separate religions and ethnicity and Tibetans resent Hui economic domination.[147]


Ethnic groups

Primary School in Jishishan County 1
Muslim, Bonan children.

Muslims live in every region in China.[5] The highest concentrations are found in the northwest provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, and Ningxia, with significant populations also found throughout Yunnan province in southwest China and Henan province in central China.[5] Of China's 55 officially recognized minority peoples, ten groups are predominantly Muslim. The largest groups in descending order are Hui (9.8 million in year 2000 census, or 48% of the officially tabulated number of Muslims), Uyghur (8.4 million, 41%), Kazakh (1.25 million, 6.1%), Dongxiang (514,000, 2.5%), Kyrgyz (144,000), Uzbeks (125,000), Salar (105,000), Tajik (41,000), Bonan (17,000), and Tatar (5,000).[5] However, individual members of traditionally Muslim groups may profess other religions or none at all. Additionally, Tibetan Muslims are officially classified along with the Tibetan people. Muslims live predominantly in the areas that border Central Asia, Tibet and Mongolia, i.e. Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu and Qinghai, which is known as the "Quran Belt".[148]

Kashgar Uyghur People
Uyghur Muslims in a livestock market in Kashgar.


The East Asian O3-M122 Y chromosome Haplogroup is found in large quantities in other Muslims close to the Hui like Dongxiang, Bo'an and Salar. The majority of Tibeto-Burmans, Han Chinese, and Ningxia and Liaoning Hui share paternal Y chromosomes of East Asian origin which are unrelated to Middle Easterners and Europeans. In contrast to distant Middle Eastern and Europeans whom the Muslims of China are not related to, East Asians, Han Chinese, and most of the Hui and Dongxiang of Linxia share more genes with each other. This indicates that native East Asian populations converted to Islam and were culturally assimilated to these ethnicities and that Chinese Muslim populations are mostly not descendants of foreigners as claimed by some accounts while only a small minority of them are.[149]

Number of Muslims in China

Allah Names in Chinese Arabic Script
99 names of Allah, in Chinese Sini.

China is home to a large population of adherents of Islam. According to the CIA World Factbook, about 1–2% of the total population in China are Muslims.[150] The 2000 census counts imply that there may be up to 20 million Muslims in China.According to the textbook, “Religions in the Modern World”, it states that the “numbers of followers of any one tradition are difficult to estimate, and must in China as everywhere else rely on statistics compiled by the largest institutions, either those of the state – which tend to underestimate – or those of the religious institutions themselves – which tend to overestimate. If we include all the population of those designated ‘national’ minorities with an Islamic heritage in the territory of China, then we can conclude that there are some 20 million Muslims in the People’s Republic of China.[151][152] A 2009 study done by the Pew Research Center, based on China's census, concluded there are 21,667,000 Muslims in China, accounting for 1.6% of the total population.[11][153] According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 21 million Muslims in the country. According to SARA there are approximately 36,000 Islamic places of worship, more than 45,000 imams, and 10 Islamic schools in the country.[154] Within the next two decades from 2011, Pew projects a slowing down of the Muslim population growth in China compared to previous years, with Muslim women in China having a 1.7 fertility rate.[155] Many Hui Muslims voluntarily limit themselves to one child in China since their Imams preach to them about the benefits of population control, while the number of children Hui in different areas are allowed to have varies between one and three children.[156] Chinese family planning policy allows minorities including Muslims to have up to two children in urban areas, and three to four children in rural areas.

An early historical estimate of the Muslim population of the then Qing Empire belongs to the Christian missionary Marshall Broomhall. In his book, published in 1910, he produced estimates for each province, based on the reports of missionaries working there, who had counted mosques, talked to mullahs, etc. Broomhall admits the inadequacy of the data for Xinjiang, estimating the Muslim population of Xinjiang (i.e., virtually the entire population of the province at the time) in the range from 1,000,000 (based on the total population number of 1,200,000 in the contemporary Statesman's Yearbook) to 2,400,000 (2 million "Turki", 200,000 "Hasak", and 200,000 "Tungan", as per George Hunter). He uses the estimates of 2,000,000 to 3,500,000 for Gansu (which then also included today's Ningxia and parts of Qinghai), 500,000 to 1,000,000 for Zhili (i.e., Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei), 300,000 to 1,000,000 for Yunnan, and smaller numbers for other provinces, down to 1,000 in Fujian. For Mongolia (then, part of the Qing Empire) he takes an arbitrary range of 50,000 to 100,000.[157] Summing up, he arrives to the grand total of 4,727,000 to 9,821,000 Muslims throughout the Qing Empire of its last years, i.e. just over 1-2% of the entire country's estimated population of 426,045,305.[158][159][160] The 1920 edition of New International Yearbook: A Compendium of the World's Progress gave the number "between 5,000,000 and 10,000,000" as the total number of Muslims in the Republic of China.[161]

Religious practices

Islamic education in China

Muslim schoolboys with books and bone slates
Chinese Muslim students

In the two decades up to 2006, a wide range of Islamic educational opportunities were developed to meet the needs of China's Muslim population. In addition to mosque schools, government Islamic colleges, and independent Islamic colleges, more students went overseas to continue their studies at international Islamic universities in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and Malaysia.[5] Qīngzhēn (清真) is the Chinese term for certain Islamic institutions. Its literal meaning is "pure truth."

Muslim groups

The vast majority of China's Muslims are Sunni Muslims. A notable feature of some Muslim communities in China is the presence of female imams.[162][163] Islamic scholar Ma Tong recorded that the 6,781,500 Hui in China predominately followed the Orthodox form of Islam (58.2% were Gedimu a non-Sufi mainstream tradition that opposed unorthodoxy and religious innovation) mainly adhering to the Hanafi Madh'hab. However a large minority of Hui are members of Sufi groups. According to Tong, 21% Yihewani, 10.9% Jahriyya, 7.2% Khuffiya, 1.4% Qadariyya, and 0.7% Kubrawiyya.[164] Shia Chinese Muslims are mostly Ismailis including Tajiks of the Tashkurgan and Sarikul areas of Xinjiang.

Chinese Muslims and the Hajj

It is known that Admiral Zheng He (1371–1435) and his Muslim crews had made the journey to Mecca and performed the Hajj during one of the former's voyages to the western ocean between 1401-1433.[165] Other Chinese Muslims may have made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the following centuries; however, there is little information on this. General Ma Lin made a Hajj to Mecca.[166] General Ma Fuxiang along with Ma Linyi sponsored Imam Wang Jingzhai when he went on hajj to Mecca in 1921.[167] Yihewani Imam Hu Songshan went on Hajj in 1925.[168] Briefly during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese Muslims were not allowed to attend the Hajj, and only did so through Pakistan, but this policy was reversed in 1979. Chinese Muslims now attend the Hajj in large numbers, typically in organized groups, with a record 10,700 Chinese Muslim pilgrims from all over the country making the Hajj in 2007.[169]

Representative bodies

Islamic Association of China

Islamic Association of China 20150613
Headquarters of the Islamic Association of China in Beijing

Established by the government, the Islamic Association of China claims to represent Chinese Muslims nationwide. At its inaugural meeting on May 11, 1953, in Beijing, representatives from 10 nationalities of the People's Republic of China were in attendance. The association was to be run by 16 Islamic religious leaders charged with making "a correct and authoritative interpretation" of Islamic creed and canon. Its brief is to compile and spread inspirational speeches and help imams "improve" themselves, and vet sermons made by clerics around the country.

Some examples of the religious concessions granted to Muslims are:

  • Muslim communities are allowed separate cemeteries
  • Muslim couples may have their marriage consecrated by an Imam
  • Muslim workers are permitted holidays during major religious festivals
  • Chinese Muslims are also allowed to make the Hajj to Mecca, and more than 45,000 Chinese Muslims have done so in recent years.[170]

Culture and heritage

Niujie Mosques02
The Niujie Mosque in Beijing

Although contacts and previous conquests have occurred before, the Mongol conquest of the greater part of Eurasia in the 13th century permanently brought the extensive cultural traditions of China, central Asia and western Asia into a single empire, albeit one of separate khanates, for the first time in history. The intimate interaction that resulted is evident in the legacy of both traditions. In China, Islam influenced technology, sciences, philosophy and the arts. In terms of material culture, one finds decorative motifs from central Asian Islamic architecture and calligraphy and the marked halal impact on northern Chinese cuisine.

Taking the Mongol Eurasian empire as a point of departure, the ethnogenesis of the Hui, or Sinophone Muslims, can also be charted through the emergence of distinctly Chinese Muslim traditions in architecture, food, epigraphy and Islamic written culture. This multifaceted cultural heritage continues to the present day.[171]


Muslims have often filled remarkable military positions, and many Muslims have joined the Chinese army.[172] Muslims served extensively in the Chinese military, as both officials and soldiers. It was said that the Muslim Dongxiang and Salar were given to "eating rations", a reference to military service.[173]

Islamic architecture in China

In Chinese, a mosque is called qīngzhēn sì (清真寺) or "pure truth temple." The Great Mosque of Xi'an (first established during the Tang era) and the Great Southern Mosque in Jinan, whose current buildings date from the Ming Dynasty, do not replicate many of the features often associated with traditional mosques. Instead, they follow traditional Chinese architecture. Mosques in western China incorporate more of the elements seen in mosques in other parts of the world. Western Chinese mosques were more likely to incorporate minarets and domes while eastern Chinese mosques were more likely to look like pagodas.[174]

An important feature in Chinese architecture is its emphasis on symmetry, which connotes a sense of grandeur; this applies to everything from palaces to mosques. One notable exception is in the design of gardens, which tends to be as asymmetrical as possible. Like Chinese scroll paintings, the principle underlying the garden's composition is to create enduring flow; to let the patron wander and enjoy the garden without prescription, as in nature herself.

On the foothills of Mount Lingshan are the tombs of two of the four companions that Muhammad sent eastwards to preach Islam. Known as the "Holy Tombs," they house the companions Sa-Ke-Zu and Wu-Ko-Shun—their Chinese names, of course. The other two companions went to Guangzhou and Yangzhou.[24]

Chinese buildings may be built with bricks, but wooden structures are the most common; these are more capable of withstanding earthquakes, but are vulnerable to fire. The roof of a typical Chinese building is curved; there are strict classifications of gable types, comparable with the classical orders of European columns.

As in all regions the Chinese Islamic architecture reflects the local architecture in its style. China is renowned for its beautiful mosques, which resemble temples. However, in western China the mosques resemble those of the middle east, with tall, slender minarets, curvy arches and dome shaped roofs. In northwest China where the Chinese Hui have built their mosques, there is a combination of east and west. The mosques have flared Chinese-style roofs set in walled courtyards entered through archways with miniature domes and minarets.[174] The first mosque was the Great Mosque of Xian, or the Xian Mosque, which was created in the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century.[175]

Halal food in China

Huxi Mosque - Butcher Shop
A halal butcher shop at Huxi Mosque in Shanghai.

Halal food has a long history in China. The arrival of Arabian and Persian merchants during the Tang and Song dynasties saw the introduction of the Muslim diet. Chinese Muslim cuisine adheres strictly to the Islamic dietary rules with mutton and lamb being the predominant ingredient. The advantage of Muslim cuisine in China is that it has inherited the diverse cooking methods of Chinese cuisine for example, braising, roasting, steaming, stewing and many more. Due to China's multicultural background Muslim cuisine retains its own style and characteristics according to regions.[176]

Due to the large Muslim population in western China, many Chinese restaurants cater to Muslims or cater to the general public but are run by Muslims. In most major cities in China, there are small Islamic restaurants or food stalls typically run by migrants from Western China (e.g., Uyghurs), which offer inexpensive noodle soup. Lamb and mutton dishes are more commonly available than in other Chinese restaurants, due to the greater prevalence of these meats in the cuisine of western Chinese regions. Commercially prepared food can be certified Halal by approved agencies.[177] In Chinese, halal is called qīngzhēncài (清真菜) or "pure truth food." Beef and lamb slaughtered according to Islamic rituals is also commonly available in public markets, especially in North China. Such meat is sold by Muslim butchers, who operate independent stalls next to non-Muslim butchers.

In October 2018, the government launched an official anti-halal policy, urging officials to suppress the "pan-halal tendency", seen as an encroachment by religion into secular life and a source of religious extremism.[178]



Šahādaḧ Calligraphy at Great Mosque of Xi'an
Sini-style Arabic calligraphy of the first Shahada (La 'ilāha 'illā Allāh) at the Great Mosque of Xi'an.

Sini is a Chinese Islamic calligraphic form for the Arabic script. It can refer to any type of Chinese Islamic calligraphy, but is commonly used to refer to one with thick and tapered effects, much like Chinese calligraphy. It is used extensively in mosques in eastern China, and to a lesser extent in Gansu, Ningxia, and Shaanxi. A famous Sini calligrapher is Hajji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang.


A Chinese-Arabic-Xiaoerjing dictionary from the early days of the People's Republic of China.

Xiao'erjing (also Xiao'erjin or Xiaojing) is the practice of writing Sinitic languages such as Mandarin (especially the Lanyin, Zhongyuan, and Northeastern dialects) or the Dungan language in the Arabic script. It is used on occasion by many ethnic minorities who adhere to the Islamic faith in China (mostly the Hui, but also the Dongxiang, and the Salar), and formerly by their Dungan descendants in Central Asia.

Martial arts

There is a long history of Muslim development and participation at the highest level of Chinese wushu. The Hui started and adapted many of the styles of wushu such as bajiquan, piguazhang, and liuhequan. There were specific areas that were known to be centers of Muslim wushu, such as Cang County in Hebei Province. These traditional Hui martial arts were very distinct from the Turkic styles practiced in Xinjiang.[179]


The Han Kitab was a collection of Chinese Islamic texts written by Chinese Muslim which synthesized Islam and Confucianism. It was written in the early 18th century during the Qing dynasty. Han is Chinese for Chinese, and kitab (ketabu in Chinese) is Arabic for book.[180] Liu Zhi wrote his Han Kitab in Nanjing in the early 18th century. The works of Wu Sunqie, Zhang Zhong, and Wang Daiyu were also included in the Han Kitab.[181]

The Han Kitab was widely read and approved of by later Chinese Muslims such as Ma Qixi, Ma Fuxiang, and Hu Songshan. They believed that Islam could be understood through Confucianism.


A lot of Chinese students including male and females join International Islamic University, Islamabad to gain Islamic knowledge. For some Muslim groups in China, such as Hui and Salars minorities, coeducation is frowned upon; for some groups such as Uyghurs, it is not.[182]

Women Imams

With the exception of China, the world has very few Mosques directed by women.[183] China is alone with having the position of Imam held by women.[184]

Famous Muslims in China



Scholars and writers


Martial arts


See also


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