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Chinese names
Ancestral name (姓): 馬 (Pinyin: )
Given name (名): 德新 (Pinyin: )
Courtesy name (字): 復初 (Pinyin: )

Yusuf Ma Dexin (1794-1874) was a Hui Chinese scholar of Islam from Yunnan, known for his fluency and proficiency in both Arabic and Persian, and for his knowledge of Islam.



Ma performed the Hajj in 1841, leaving China by a circuitous route; as ocean travel out of China had been disrupted by the Opium War, he chose instead to leave with a group of Muslim merchants travelling overland. After passing through Xishuangbannamarker, they went south to Burma, then took a riverboat along the Irrawaddy Rivermarker from Mandalaymarker to Rangoonmarker. From Rangoon, they were able to board a steamship which took them all the way to the Arabian Peninsula. After his time in Meccamarker, he stayed in the Middle East for another eight years; he first went to Cairo, where he studied at Al-Azhar Universitymarker, then travelled throughout the Ottoman Empire, going to Suezmarker, Alexandriamarker, Jerusalemmarker, Istanbulmarker, Cyprusmarker, and Rhodesmarker.

Return to China

As a prominent Muslim in Yunnan, Ma became involved in the Panthay Rebellion in Yunnan shortly after he returned from the Hajj. The Panthay Rebellion, which flared up in 1856 as part of a wider series of uprisings by Muslims and other minorities, was led mainly by Du Wenxiu; though Ma disagreed with Du Wenxiu's revolutionary methods, he also encouraged his followers to aid in the uprising; later, he would try to act as a peacemaker between the central government forces and the rebels. However, despite his efforts to bring about peace, the Qingmarker government still regarded him as a rebel and a traitor; he was executed two years after the suppression of the rebellion.


Ma produced the first Chinese translation of the Qur'an, as well as writing numerous books in Arabic and Persian about Islam. His most famous writings compared Islamic culture and the Confucian philosophy in an effort to find a theoretical and theological basis for their coexistence. At the same time, he harshly criticised the absorption of Buddhist and Taoist elements into the practise of Islam in China. As he is generally regarded as an orthodox Islamic thinker, his writings also demonstrated a positive attitude towards Tasawwuf, or Sufi mysticism. In total, he published over 30 books, most of which fall into five categories.
  • Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy: 四典要会, 大化总归, 道行究竟, 理学折衷, 性命宗旨, 礼法启爱 据理质证,
  • Islamic calendar and history: 寰宇述要 (Description of the World), 天方历源 (History of Arabia)
  • Introduction and analysis of works of other Muslim authors in China, such as Ma Zhu and Liu Zhu: 真诠要录, 指南要言, 天方性理注释
  • Qu'ran: the first five volumes of 宝命真经直解 (True Revealed Scripture), the earliest translation of the meanings of the Qur'an into Chinese
  • Arabic grammar: 纳哈五 (Nahawu), 赛尔夫 (Saierfu), 阿瓦米勒 (Awamile)
  • Other: 朝觐途记 (Diary of a pilgrimage), a description of his time in Mecca; originally in Arabic, translated to Chinese by Ma's disciple Ma Anli

See also

  • Islam in China
  • Liu Zhi , an earlier Muslim scholar who also attempted to reconcile Islam and Confucian philosophy
  • Muhammad Ma Jian, a later Chinese translator of the Qur'an who also studied at Al-Azhar



Further reading

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