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Islam in Chinamarker has a rich heritage. China has some of the oldest Muslim history, dating back to as early as 650, when the uncle of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas, was sent as an official envoy to Emperor Gaozong during Caliph Uthman's era. Throughout the history of Islam in China, Chinese Muslims have influenced the course of Chinese history.


According to China Muslims' traditional legendary accounts, Islam was first brought to Chinamarker by an embassy sent by Uthman, the third Caliph, in 651, less than twenty years after the death of prophet Muhammad. The embassy was led by Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās, the maternal uncle of the prophet himself. Emperor Gaozong, the Tang emperor who received the envoy then ordered the construction of the Memorial mosquemarker in Cantonmarker, the first mosque in the country, in memory of the prophet.

While modern historians say that there is no evidence for Waqqās himself ever coming to China, they do believe that Muslim diplomats and merchants arrived to Tang China within a few decades from the beginning of Muslim Era. The Tang Dynasty's cosmopolitan culture, with its intensive contacts with Central Asia and its significant communities of (originally non-Muslim) Central and Wester Asian merchants resident in Chinese cities,which helped the introduction of Islam. The first major Muslim settlements in China consisted of Arab and Persian merchants. During the Tang and especially the Song eras, comparatively well-established, even if somewhat segregated, mercantile Muslim communities existed in the port cities of Guangzhoumarker, Quanzhoumarker, and Hangzhoumarker on China's southeastern seaboard, as well as in the interior centers such as Chang'anmarker, Kaifengmarker, and Yangzhoumarker.

The term Hui originated from the Mandarin word “Huihui,” a term first used in the Yuan Dynastymarker to describe Central Asian, Persian and Arab residents in China.

By the time of the Song Dynasty, Muslims had come to play a major role in the import/export industry. The office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period. In 1070, the Song emperor Shenzong invited 5,300 Muslim men from Bukharamarker, 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 Kaifengmarker and Yenching (modern day Beijing). They were led by Prince Amir Sayyid "So-fei-er" (his Chinese name) who was reputed of being 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") (Tashi or Dashi is the Chinese rendering of Tazi--the name the Persian people used for the Arabs). He renamed it to Huihui Jiao ("the Religion of the Huihui").

It was during the Mongol-founded Yuan Dynastymarker (1271-1368), that large numbers of Muslims settled in China. The Mongols, a minority in China, gave Muslim immigrants an elevated status over the native Han Chinese as part of their governing strategy, thus giving Muslims a heavy influence. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims immigrants were recruited and forcibly relocated from Western and Central Asia by the Mongols to help them administer their rapidly expanding empire. The Mongols used Persian, Arab and Uyghur administrators, generically known as semu ("various officials") to act as officers of taxation and finance. Muslims headed many corporations in China in the early Yuan period. 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.

During the following Ming Dynastymarker, Muslims continued to be influential around government circles. Six of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang's most trusted generals were 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. Additionally, the Yongle Emperor hired Zheng He, perhaps the most famous Chinese Muslim and China's foremost explorer, to lead seven expeditions to the Indian Oceanmarker, 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 dialects 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, also saw Nanjingmarker become an important center of Islamic study.
The rise of the Qing Dynastymarker (1644-1911) made relations between the Muslims and Chinese more difficult. The dynasty prohibited ritual slaughtering of animals, followed by forbidding the construction of new mosques and the pilgrimage to Meccamarker. The Qing rulers belonged to the Manchu, a minority in China, and employed the tactics of divide and conquer to keep the Muslims, Hans, Tibetans and Mongolians in conflict with each other. These repressive policies resulted in five bloody Hui rebellions, most notably the Panthay Rebellion, which occurred in Yunnanmarker province from 1855 to 1873, and the Dungan revolt, which occurred mostly in Xinjiang, Shensimarker and Gansumarker, from 1862 to 1877. The Manchu government then committed genocide to suppress these revolts, killing a million people in the Panthay rebellion, several million in the Dungan revolt andfive million in the suppression of Miao people in Guizhoumarker. A "washing off the Muslims" ( ) policy had been long advocated by officials in the Manchumarker government.

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat Sen, who established the Republic of Chinamarker immediately proclaimed that the country belonged equally to the Han, Man (Manchu), Meng (Mongol), Hui (Muslim), and the Tsang (Tibetan) peoples. In 1911, the provinces of Qinghaimarker, Gansumarker and Ningxia fell to Muslim warlords of the family known as the Ma clique. During the Cultural Revolution, mosques were often defaced, destroyed or closed and copies of the Quran were destroyed along with temples, churches, monasteries, and cemeteries by the Red Guards. The government began to relax its policies towards Muslims in 1978. Today, Islam is experiencing a modest revival and there are now many mosques in China. There has been an upsurge in Islamic expression and many nation-wide Islamic associations have been organized to co-ordinate inter-ethnic activities among Muslims.


Ethnic Groups

Muslims live in every region in Chinamarker. The highest concentrations are found in the northwest provinces of Xinjiang, Gansumarker, and Ningxia, with significant populations also found throughout Yunnanmarker province in southwest Chinamarker and Henanmarker Province in central Chinamarker. Of Chinamarker’s 55 officially recognized minority peoples, ten groups are predominately 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 (161,000), Salar (105,000), Tajik (41,000), Uzbeks, Bonan (17,000), and Tatar (5,000). However, individual members of traditionally Muslim ethnic groups may profess other religions or none at all. Additionally, Tibetan Muslims are officially classified along with the Tibetan people, unlike the Hui who are classified as a separate people, even though they are indistinguishable from the Han. Muslims live predominantly in the areas that border Central Asia, Tibet and Mongolia, i.e Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansumarker and Qinghaimarker, which is known as the "Quran Belt".

Number of Muslims in China

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, while the US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report shows that Muslims constitute about 1.5% of the Chinese population. Recent census counts imply that there may be up to 20 million Muslims in China. However, the last three national censuses (1982, 1990, and 2000) did not include questions about religion. The number of religious believers can be inferred indirectly from census counts of the number of people who identify themselves as belonging to particular ethnic groups, some of whom are known to be predominantly members of certain religious groups. 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.

The BBC in an article gives a range of 20 million to 100 million (1.5% to 7.5% of the total) Muslims in China. A survey taken by East China Normal Universitymarker in Shanghai found that 31.4% of people above the age of 16, or about 300 million people, considered themselves religious. The survey also found that the major religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), and Islam, accounting for 67.4 percent of believers. At the same time, the survey state that about 200 million people, accounting for 66.1 per cent of all believers, are Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of legendary figures such as the Dragon King and God of Fortune, while Christianity accounted for 40 million people, or 12% of all believers.

Religious Practice

The vast majority of Chinamarker's Muslims are Sunni Muslims. A notable feature of some Muslim communities in China is the presence of female imams.

Chinese Muslims and the Hajj

Some Chinese Muslims may have made the Hajj pilgrimage to Meccamarker 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, with a record 10,700 Chinese Muslim pilgrims from all over the country making the Hajj in 2007.

Representative bodies

Islamic Association of China

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.

China Islamic Association

In April 2001, the government set up the China Islamic Association, which was described as aiming to "help the spread of the Qur'an in China and oppose religious extremism". The association is to be run by 16 Islamic religious leaders who are charged with making "a correct and authoritative interpretation" of Islamic creed and canon.

It will compile and spread inspirational speeches and help imams improve themselves, and vet sermons made by clerics around the country. This latter function is probably the key job as far as the central government is concerned. It is worried that some clerics are using their sermons to spread sedition.

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 Chinese Muslims have done so in recent years.

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.

Culture and heritage

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 motives 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.

Islamic Architecture

The tomb of Khoja Afāq near Kashgar

The first Chinesemarker mosque was established in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty in Xi'anmarker. The Great Mosque of Xi'an, whose current buildings date from the Ming Dynastymarker, does not replicate many of the features often associated with traditional mosques. Instead, it follows 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.

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 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.

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 (see Beytullah Mosque).The first mosque was the Great Mosque of Xian, or the Xian Mosque, which was created in the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century.

Halal food in China

A typical Muslim restaurant in Linxia City

Due to the large Muslim population in western Chinamarker, 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.



Sini is a Chinesemarker 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 Gansumarker, Ningxia, and Shaanximarker. A famous Sini calligrapher is Hajji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang.


Xiao'erjing or Xiao'erjin ( , Xiao'erjing: ) or, in its shortened form, 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 Chinamarker (mostly the Hui, but also the Dongxiang, and the Salar), and formerly by their Dungan descendants in Central Asia.

Martial arts

Muslim development and participation at the highest level of Chinese wushu has a long history. Many of its roots lie in the Qing Dynastymarker persecution of Muslims. 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 Provincemarker. These traditional Hui martial arts were very distinct from the Turkic styles practiced in Xinjiang.

Chinese terminology for Islamic institutions

Qīngzhēn (清真) is the Chinese term for certain Islamic institutions. Its literal meaning is "pure truth."

In Chinese, halal is called qīngzhēn cài (清真菜) or "pure truth food." A mosque is called qīngzhēn sì (清真寺) or "pure truth temple."

Famous Muslims in China




Scholars and writers

In politics


See also


  1. BBC Religion and Ethics ISLAM Origins
  2. Lipman, Jonathan Newman. Familiar Strangers, a history of Muslims in Northwest China. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1997. ISBN 0-295-97644-6
  3. Israeli (2002), pg. 291
  4. Lipman (1997), pp. 26-27
  5. Islamic culture in China
  6. Israeli (2002), pg. 283-4
  7. Israeli, Raphael (2002). Islam in China. United States of America: Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0375-X.
  8. Israeli (2002), pg. 284
  9. Islamic Education in China
  10. Lipman (1997), p. 33
  11. Richard Bulliet, Pamela Crossley, Daniel Headrick, Steven Hirsch, Lyman Johnson, and David Northrup. The Earth and Its Peoples. 3. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. ISBN 0-618-42770-8
  12. The Hui ethnic minority
  13. [ [ Welcome to Haider Shamsi Award for Islamic Studies] at Looking East: The challenges and oppurtunities of Chinese Islam]
  14. Keim(1954), pg.605
  15. Levene, Mark. Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State. I.B.Tauris, 2005. ISBN 1-84511-057-9, page 288
  16. Giersch, Charles Patterson. Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China's Yunnan Frontier. Harvard University Press, 2006. ISBN 1-84511-057-9, page 219
  17. Dillon, Michael. China’s Muslim Hui Community. Curzon, 1999. ISBN 0-7007-1026-4, page xix
  18. Damsan Harper, Steve Fallon, Katja Gaskell, Julie Grundvig, Carolyn Heller, Thomas Huhti, Bradley Maynew, Christopher Pitts. Lonely Planet China. 9. 2005. ISBN 1-74059-687-0
  19. Gernet, Jacques. A History of Chinese Civilization. 2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.ISBN 0-521-49712-4
  20. Jonathan N. Lipman, "Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China (Studies on Ethnic Groups in China)", University of Washington Press (February 1998), ISBN 0-295-97644-6.
  21. currently, "Hui" in Chinese means both Islam and ethnic Hui Chinese, but back then, Hui means Islam and all Chinese Muslims, particularly both ethnic Hui and Uyghurs
  22. Goldman,Merle (1986). Religion in Post-Mao China, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 483.1:145-56
  23. Islam in China
  24. Islamic Education in China
  25. Hui People
  26. A. Doak Barnett, China on the Eve of the Communist Takeover, p182
  27. CIA - The World Factbook - China
  28. China (includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)
  29. Counting up the number of people of traditionally Muslim nationalities who were enumerated in the 1990 census gives a total of 17.6 million, 96% of whom belong to just three nationalities: Hui 8.6 million, Uyghurs 7.2 million, and Kazakhs 1.1 million. Other nationalities that are traditionally Muslim include Kyrghyz, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Tatars, Salar, Bonan, and Dongxiang. See Dru C. Gladney, "Islam in China: Accommodation or Separatism?", Paper presented at Symposium on Islam in Southeast Asia and China, Hong Kong, 2002. Available at The 2000 census reported a total of 20.3 million members of Muslim nationalities, of which again 96% belonged to just three groups: Hui 9.8 million, Uyghurs 8.4 million, and Kazakhs 1.25 million.
  30. "Mapping the Global Muslim Population." Pew Research Center. October 2009. See pages 13 and 45.
  31. BBC - Religion & Ethics - Islam in China (650-present): China Islamic Association
  32. Religious Believers thrice the estimate
  33. [ Survey finds 300 million China believers]
  34. Ministry of Hajj official site
  35. bbc religion and ethics ISLAM China Islamic Association[1]
  36. Harvard Asia Quarterly
  37. CHINA HERITAGE NEWSLETTER China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISBN 1833-8461 No. 5, March 2006
  38. The Muslim History of China
  39. Saudi Aramco World, July/August 1985 , page 3035
  40. Halal Food
  41. NTU Bajiquan Kungfu Club
  42. British and Muslim?


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