Islam in China

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Islam in China

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Islam in China

Islamic Architecture in China

Chinese Mosques and Muslim Architects

Major figures

Zheng HeHaji NoorMa BufangPu Shougeng Jamal ud-Din

Muslim People in China

HuiSalarUygursKazakhsKirgiz TartarsAryan TajkisUzbeksDongxiang

Muslim Wushu Masters

Wang Zi PingMa MentaYang Wan LuChamirChang Yuchun Hu DahaiMu yingLan YuWu ZhongZhang Shao Fu

Islamic Dyansties in China

Sultanate of Xeng Hong
Yunnan SultanateFive Ma
Sultanate of KweichowXinjiang Sultanate

Islamic Cities/Regions in China


History of Islam in China

Ming DynastyYuan DynastyQing DynastyTang DynastyModern HistoryTimeline of Islam in China

Islam has a very long and rich history in China, and the current demographics of Muslims in China range from 20-200 Million .From as early as the Tang Dynasty in 742 CE (124 AH) there are records of a maritime trade dominated by Arabs and Persians in Guangzhou. This trade port moved to Quanzhou during the time of Tang Dynasty and flourished under the Yuan Dynasty, where trade was given a preferential approach to policies of the former dynasties. It was also during the Tang Dynasty, that Muslims under the Abbasid Caliphate fought Chinese and Turkic troops at the [[Battle of Talas] in 751 CE (133 AH), with a resounding victory for the Arabs.

Interaction wasn’t restricted to the coast, and the largest influence and movement of Muslims came from the northern borders, Mongolia, East Turkistan, and Central Asia, whether by invasions, or the conversion of Steppe people, such as the Turks already heavily populated in China, reversion to Islam. Islam also found its way into through the western provinces of Yunnan via Burma and the Mughal and Delhi Dynasties in India. But the greatest movement of Islam into China came on the back of the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongol conquest of Muslim Central Asia and Persia, brought millions of administrators, generals, scientists into the Mongolian sphere. The Mongolians prefered to use these Muslims to administer China over their Chinese counterparts. But the Islamic influence did not stop with the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty, it also flourished under the Ming Dynasty with many of the founding Generals being Hui. One Hui scholar even contended that Ming Taizu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was a Muslim[1][2]

Islam suffered greatly during the next Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, founded by Manchurians. During this period China rapidly expanded (1/3 of its land mass) bringing into its sphere East Turkistan ,renaming it Xinjiang, and Mongolia, This coupled with a policy of Han settlements in traditionally minority Han areas such as Yunnan created great tension. Many Muslims rebelled, and various Islamic States where created such as the Dali Sultanate and the Xinjiang Sultanate. This rebellion carried on through the nationalist period with the Five Ma and the second Xinjiang Islamic State.

As a result of this huge interaction Islam has played a significant role in China and is reprsented by various ethnic groups such as the Hui and the Salar. Contributions in Science and warfare are numerous throughout the history as is Poetry and the proliferation of Islamic Scholars and philosophers.


Muslim Demographics

The official number of Muslims in China is 16 million as of 1980. However the 1949 census place the figure at 45-50 million, and the 1938 CE (1356 AH) China Year book put it at 50 million. Given that the population of China has doubled since the 1950's if we are to accept the 1938 and 1949 figures, either the current Muslim population in China is 100 million or the Muslim populatin shrunk by a third whilst the rest of China doubled[3]. Some estimates place the number at 200 million [4].While other estimates place the number at 400 million [5]

In addition figures have been derived based on the China Islamic Association's record of Mosques in 1955 CE (1374 AH). In 1955 CE (1374 AH) there were approximately 40,000 registered Mosques ,(this figure excludes Musalah). Given that it takes a congregation of around 500 to create a mosque, the number of 40,000* 500 = 20 million. This is considered a underestimate as in Beijing alone there were an estimated 80,000 Muslims spread over 42 mosques. ie 2,000 Muslims per Mosque. Given the tripling of the Population of China, and the one child policy the figure of 40 million is a very conservative figure based on the above evidence [6]

History of Islam in China

Islam during the Tang Dynasty

Islam during the Tang Dynasty witnessed great strides, with new Mosques opening, and Muslim armies recruited to defend the government of China.

One of the earliest mosques in China the The Great Mosque in Xian was built in 742 (according to an engraving on a stone tablet inside)

During the Tang Dynasty, Sa`d led a delegation of the Prophet Muhammad’s Companions to China. Landing in the coastal city of Guangzhou in the southwest of China, they founded the first mosque in the country, Huaisheng Mosque, located on Guangta Street. Roughly translated, huaisheng means “remember the sage,” indicating that it is a memorial mosque for the Prophet Muhammad.

In addition to the first mosques, the Tang Dynasty saw the creation of the first Muslim embassy, with the exchange of an emmissary from Tang emperor Kao Tsung , with a general from the Caliph Osman. There was also requests for help from the muslim soldiers. Abu Jaffar sent thousands of Muslim soldiers on two seperate occasions, to the chinese capital in Xian, in order to reverse a rebellion by the Turkic An Lushan who was commanded the fronteir army in northern Hebei since 744. The Muslim Soldiers settled in Yunnan and spread Islam. In the region the Hui Chi tribe accepted Islam, and the name was the beginings of the reference to the huihui or the Hui as they are know today.

The Tang Dynasty also produced outstanding persian poets:Li Shang, Li Xun and Li Shunxian

Song Dynasty

Many Muslims went to China to trade, and these Muslims began to have a great economic impact and influence on the country. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Muslims in China dominated foreign trade and the import/export industry to the south and west.[7]

In 1070, the Song emperor, Shen-tsung (Shenzong) invited 5,300 Arab men from Bukhara, to settle in China. The emperor used these men in his campaign against the Liao empire in the northeast. Later on these men were settled between the Sung capital of Kaifeng and Yenching (modern day Beijing). The object was to create a buffer zone between the Chinese and the Liao. In 1080, 10,000 Arab men an women migrated to China on horseback and settled in all of the provinces of the north and north-east.[8]

The Arabs from Bukhara were under the leadership of Prince Amir Sayyid "So-fei-er" (his Chinese name). The prince was later given an honorary title. He is reputed of bieng the "father" of the Muslim community in China. Prior to him Islam was named by the Tang and Song Chinese as Ta-shi fa ("law of Islam"). He renamed it to Hui Hui Jiao ("the Religion of Double return").[9]

Yuan Dyasty

xian mosque
huaisheng mosque
Tomb of Hussayn b Muhammad, Quanzhou 1171

The Yuan dynasty saw the flourishing of the muslim community. The Monghul emperors brought 100's of thousands of muslims with them from Persia to help adminster the country. Many of the muslim worked in the elite circles arriving as provincial governers. They where refered to as Semu. Over ten thousand Muslim names can be indentified in Yuan historical records. The standard word used to denote Muslims in Chinese language documents of the late Yuan period is "HuiHui". The muslims were overseen by a 'HuiHui' named Amir al-Din who designed Qionghua island which sits in the lake of Beihai Park in central Beijing [10]. Beihai Park itself was designed by another muslim Ikhtiyar.

It was during the Yuan Dynasty that the port of Quanzhou flourished. Led by the Muslim tycoon Pu Shougeng they submitted to the Mongol advance. This was in stark contrast to the port of Guangzhou that was sacked. Quanzhou was made famous on account of the accounts of the famous travelers Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo who visited the port. Today a large number of stone inscriptions can be seen at Quanzhou, such as 300 stone inscriptions on tombs, graves and mosques. The earliest date records the death of a Hussayn b Muhammad of Khalat, Armenia in the year 1171 CE (566 AH).

Marco Polo also met Nasaruddin who was the son of the conqueror and governer of Yunnan Sayid Ajjal of Bokhara, as appointed by the Monghuls.

Ming Dynasty

The Ming dynasty had strong Islamic Influences. Several of the founding Generals were Hui Muslims, and one Hui scholar even contended that Ming Taizu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhag was a Muslim[11][12].

The Ming dynasty saw the rapid decline in the muslim population in the sea ports. This was due to the closing of all seaport trade with the outside world. However it also saw the appointment of Muslim military generals such as Mu Ying and Chang Yuchun who campaigned in Yunnan and central Shangdong. These two areas became leading centers of islamic learning in China.

The emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was the founder of the Ming Dynasty. Six of his most trusted commander where Muslims Chang Yuchun, Hu Dahai, Mu ying, Lan Yu, Feng Sheng and Ding dexing All of the Commanders were Wushu masters.

The Ming dynasty also gave rise to the famous admiral Zheng He.

Qing Dynasty

The Qing Dynasty rapidly expanded, annexing Mongolia and East Turkistan which represents nearly a 1/3 of modern Chinas territory, compared to its historical borders of the Great Wall. This annexation along with the relocation of Han Chinese into areas such as Yunnan resulted in many uprisings such as the Panthay Rebellion which resulted in the creation of Islamic States within China. Such as the Dali Sultanate and the Xinjiang Sultanate

Uprisings and the Islamic Sultanates in China

Muslim Ethnic Groups in China

10 distinct ethinc groups . the Hui, Salar, Tajkis and the Uygurs and there various subdivisions : Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kirgiz, Tartars and Dongxiang After the Hui, the remainder of the Muslim population belong to Turkic language groups and are racially Turks


The term Hui was defined under the Communists in 1930 to inidcate ethinic chinese Muslims. Their catogorisation as Hui people was a response to Japenese overtures to the Muslim and Mongolian people in China to illicit an alliance or at the very least neutrality . The Communists released a document callled "Manifesto of the Chinese Central Soviet to the Hui people". The document granted them political autonomy and religious freedom and the right to bear arms [13] . Later in 1941 the Communist Party clarified the term Hui as follows . The Hui or Huihui constitue an ethnic group associated with, but not defined by, the islamic religion and they are decended primarily from Muslims who migrated to China during the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), as distinct from the Uyghur and other Turkic speaking ethnic groups in Xinjiang[14].

Sinicised Muslim Names

  • Mo, Mai, Mu for Muhammed
  • Ha for Hasan
  • Hu for Hussein
  • Sai for Said

Islamic Rites ,Heritage and Culture

The Mongol conquest of the greater part of Eurasia in the 13th century brought the extensive cultural traditions of China and Persia 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 motives from central Asian Islamic architecture and calligraphy, the marked halal impact on northern Chinese cuisine and the varied influences of Islamic medical science on Chinese medicine.

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. [15]

Chinese Muslim Wushu

During the Qing Dynasty a policy of rapid expansion and Han relocations to Muslim Areas spured on the Muslims legacy of Martial Arts in China. Many of the famed wushu styles were invented or developed by Hui, and they rose to the heights of their field,creating legends such as Wang zi ping or Wu Zhong.


Some examples of the religious concessions granted to Muslims are:

  • In areas where Muslims are a majority, the breeding of pigs is not allowed, in deference to Muslim sensitivities
  • 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 Muslims have done so in recent years.[16]

Chinese Flag

chinese flag

The red banner of the People's Republic bears a large yellow star for the Han majority, and four smaller yellow stars for the Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans and Hui respectively.

Officially, the large star represents the common program of the Party and the four smaller stars represent the four economic classes of the new state (workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie, and patriotic capitalists). One interpretation is that the stars represent the five peoples of China, reflecting the extent to which five is an organizing principle in Chinese thought: the five rulers, five colors, five virtues, five classics, etc. The interpretation of the five stars as the five peoples may come from the Nationalist flag which used five colored stripes to represent China’s five peoples. In this flag, the red stripe represents China proper and the Han people [17]

Chinese Muslims and the Hajj

Some Chinese Muslims may have made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca on the Arabian peninsula between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, yet there is no written record of this prior to 1861.

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.

A record 9,600 Chinese Muslim pilgrims from all over the country attended the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2006[18]

Halal Food in China

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 typicially 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. [19]


Main article: Sini (script)

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.

Islamic education in China

Over the last twenty years a wide range of Islamic educational opportunities have been developed to meet the needs of China’s Muslim population. In addition to mosque schools, government Islamic colleges, and independent Islamic colleges, a growing number of students have gone overseas to continue their studies at international Islamic universities in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and Malaysia. [20]

Islamic Architecture in China

The Great Mosque of Tongxin, Ningxia

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 and dome shaped roofs. In nortwest China where the Chinese Hui have built their mosques, there is a combination of east and west. The mosques have flared Buddhist style roofs set in walled courtyards entered through archwyas with minature domes and minarets (see Beytullah Mosque [21] The first mosque was the Great Mosque of Xian, or the Xian Mosque, which was created in the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century.

Mosques in China

Main article: Chinese Mosques

Muslim Contribution to China

Muslims contributed greately to astronomy, medicine, architecture and militarily to China.

  • The first hospital (hu yah wo yuan - medical house) was set up in 1277 CE (675 AH)
  • The chinese material medica 52 (re published in 1968-75) was revised under the Song Dynasty in 1056 CE (447 AH) and 1107 CE (500 AH) to include material taken from Ibn Sina's book 200 Medicines


  • Jamal al-Din a persian astronomer presented to Kublai Khan seven Persian astronomical instruments in 1267 CE (665 AH), and a new chronology entitled wannianli (the ten thousand year chronology)

Emperor Taizu of the Ming Dynasty , in the first year of his reign 1368 CE (769 AH), conscripted Han and non-Han astrology specialists from the astronomical institutions in Beijing of the former Mongolian Yuan to Nanjing to become officials of the newly established national observatory.

That year the Ming government summoned for the first time the astronomical officials to come south from the upper capital of Yuan. There were fourteen of them. In order to enhance accuracy in methods of observation and computation, Emperor Taizu reinforced the adoption of parallel calendar systems, the Han and the Muslim. In the following years, the Ming Court appointed several astrologers from Arabia to hold high positions in the Imperial Observatory. They wrote many books on Islamic astrology and also manufactured astronomical equipment based on the Islamic system.

The translation of two important works into Chinese was completed in 1383 CE (784 AH):

  • Zij (1366)
  • al-Madkhal fi Sina'at Ahkam al-Nujum [Introduction to Astrology] (1004?)

In 1384 CE (785 AH), an astrolabe was made for observing stars based on the instructions for making multi-purposed Islamic equipment. In 1385 CE (786 AH) the apparatus was installed on a hill in northern Nanjing. [22]

Famous Chinese Muslims

Chinese Islamic Institutions

See Also

Youtube Videos


  1. Hajji Yusuf Chang, "The Ming Empire" p1-5
  2. Muslim Chinese, Ethnic Nationalism in the Peoples Republic, Dru Gladney, p234
  3. "There are in China 48,104,241 Mohammedan followers and 42,371 mosques, largely in Sinkiang, Chinghai, Manchuria, Kansu, Yunnan, Shensi, Hopei, and Honan. "Ferm, Vergilius (ed.). An Encyclopedia of Religion; Westport, CT: Greenwood Press (1976), pg. 145. [1st pub. in 1945 by Philosophical Library. 1976 reprint is unrevised.]
  5. Beijing, Muharram 14/Apr 19 (IINA), 2000
  7. BBC Religion and Ethics ISLAM Origins
  8. Israeli (2002), pg. 283-4
  9. Israeli (2002), pg. 284
  10. Yang Huaizhong, "Yeheidie'erding" (Amir al-Din) in Bai Shouyi, Zhongguo Huihui minzu shi, op. cit., pp.813-818.
  11. Hajji Yusuf Chang, "The Ming Empire" p1-5
  12. Muslim Chinese, Ethnic Nationalism in the Peoples Republic, Dru Gladney, p234
  13. "Zhonghua Suwei'ai Zhongyang Zhengfu dui Huizu renmin de xuanyan" (Manifesto of the Chinese Central Soviet to the Hui people [Huizu renmin]), 1936/8/1.
  14. Bai Shouyi, Zhongguo Huihui minzu shi (A history of the Huihui nationality in China), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2003, pp.36-44
  15. CHINA HERITAGE NEWSLETTER China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461 No. 5, March 2006
  16. bbc religion and ethics ISLAM China Islamic Association [1]
  17. (Smith 1980, p. 55; Barraclough 1978, p. 191)
  18. Ministry of Hajj official site
  20. Harvard Asia Quarterly
  21. Saudi Aramco World, July/August 1985 , page 3035

Further Reading

Chinese heritage quarterley

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