A brief Synopsis of the History of Islam in China
During the days of the third caliph of Islam, Uthman Ghani (rta), a Muslim deputation led by one of Prophet Muhammad's companions (may peace be unto him) visited China in 651 A.D (29 A.H.) to invite the Tang Emperor to embrace Islam. His Imperial Majesty found Islam to be compatible with the teachings of Confucius and welcomed Islam into the Chinese Empire. A magnificent mosque was soon after built in the Chinese capital Chang'an (Xi'an). This mosque which is the oldest and biggest Mosque outside Mecca is known as "The grand Mosque of Chang'an".
Islam and the Muslims in China
Relations between the Muslims immigrants from Central Asia, Persia and Western Asia and the non-Muslim Han Chinese progressed fairly well. The first foreign Muslim settlement in China was established in Chang'an port during the Tang dynasty. Not long after Sa`ad Ibn Abi Waqqas' first visit to China, the Middle Kingdom had the second biggest Muslim community in the world. Millions of these Persian, Arabic and Turkic Muslims settlers have been turning to China in different times, they intermarried with Han Chinese men and women, converting them to Islam and also becoming Han Chinese in the process. Sometimes these new settlers as well as their assimilated descendents had petty skirmishes with local Han Chinese Taoists and native nan Man ren (aboriginal Malays) in Southern China where there are few Muslims.
These early successes opened the doors of China for more and more Muslim missionaries. In 138 A.H. General Liu Chen revolted against Emperor Xuanzong. On a request for help from the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mansur deployed a unit of 40.000 armed Turkic Muslim troops to China.
With their help the Emperor suppressed the rebellion. After crushing the rebellion, the Turkic soldiers settled in China. They married Chinese women and adopted Han Chinese surnames, language and customs.
The Muslim influx to China continued thereafter through sea and land routes.
Islam enjoyed its Golden Age in China until the end of the Ming Dynasty of which all the emperors embrace Islam except for its founder Zhu Yuanchang who was a Buddhist. The long rule of the Manchu dynasty (1644-1911 AD) was a dark period for the Chinese Muslims.
During this period the following five wars were waged against the Chinese Muslims: (1) the Lanzhou War, (2) the Zhe Kanio War, (3) the Xinjiang War, (4) the Yunnan War, and (5) the Shaanxi War. In these destructive wars, the Muslims, especially Han Chinese Muslims in Northern China suffered inestimable losses. Countless Muslims numbering in the millions were martyred. For example, more than half of Gansu's population, was Muslim. Only 5 million could escape alive.
More Han Chinese Muslims sustained similar setbacks in several other small and big wars. During the past three centuries of barbaric Manchu reule, the overall Muslim population has decreased at 30%.
However, despite the great Muslim massacres during the past, the present Chinese Muslim population still exceeds 400 million. The Chinese Muslims follow the Islamic theory and practice. They practice all the five fundamentals of Islam. They differentiate between the forbidden (Haram) and the permissible (Halal). They are leading a decent and a civilized life in China.
Pro-Muslim Shift in Chinese Policy
The Chinese statesman, Mao Zedong (1893-1976) achieved his political objective through `The Long March'. When he settled down at his headquarters at Niyan, many Han Chinese Muslims supported him. Large numbers of Han Chinese and Muslims from other nationalities also joined his Red Army. However, at no stage of their cooperation with the communist leader did the Muslims forsake their Islamic identity even for a while. In 1954, the Muslims were given guarantees about their prayers, traditional rites, civilization and culture. As compared to other religious groups they were extended more liberal facilities, especially in the matters of cementing ties with the Muslim world. Friendly relations with the Muslim countries is a great economic need for modern China. Han Chinese Muslims have accordingly loomed large in China's foreign policy ever since 1985, and the under-developed areas predominated by the non-Han Chinese Muslims are now extended preferential treatment.
During China's Cultural Revolution (1966-76) locks were forcibly put on a number of Chinese mosques. All such mosques have now been restored to the Muslims. Since Deng Xiaoping's ascent to power, all Chinese Muslims have been accorded complete religious freedom. The Chinese Radio dominated by the CCP even broadcasts Qur'anic lectures.
The Muslims feel satisfied with such welcome official measures. The pleasant pro-Muslim shift in the Chinese policy is currently making an exceedingly favourable impact on the dissemination of Islam in China. China has exceptionally cordial relation with its neighbouring Muslim states such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikstan and Pakistan.