By: Steven Foley · Section: Diaries

Muslims take great pride in citing a hadith that says "Seek knowledge even unto China." It points to the importance of seeking knowledge, even if it meant traveling as far away as China, especially as at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, China was considered the most developed civilization of the period. Islam in China began during the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan (Allayhi Rahma, ra), the third caliph. After triumphing over the Byzantine, Romans and the Persians, Uthman ibn Affan, dispatched a deputation to China in 29 AH (650 C.E., Eighteen years after the Prophet's death), under the leadership by Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqaas (Allayhi Rahma), Prophet Muhammad's (Salla Allahu wa Allahai wa Sallam, pbuh) maternal uncle, inviting the Chinese emperor to embrace Islam.
Jul 11th, 2006: 12:13:45

Even before this, the Arab traders during the time of the Prophet had already brought Islam to China, although this was not an organized effort, but merely as an offshoot of their journey along the Silk Route (land and sea route).
One of the first Muslim settlements in China was established in this port city. The Umayyads and Abbasids sent six delegations to China, all of which were warmly received by the Chinese.
The Muslims who immigrated to China eventually began to have a great economic impact and influence on the country. They virtually dominated the import/export business by the time of the Sung Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE). Indeed, the office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period. Under the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) generally considered to be the golden age of Islam in China, Muslims gradually became fully integrated into Han society.

Under China's current leadership, in fact, Islam appears to be undergoing a modest revival. Religious leaders report more worshipers now than before the Cultural Revolution, and a reawakening of interest in religion among the young.

According to a publication on mosques in China(1998 edition), there are now 32,749 mosques in the entire People's Republic of China, with 23,000 in the province of Xinjiang. There has been an increased upsurge in Islamic expression in China, and many nationwide Islamic associations have been organized to coordinate inter-ethnic activities among Muslims. Islamic literature can be found quite easily and there are currently some eight different translations of the Qur'an in the Chinese language as well as translations in Uygur and the other Turkic languages.

Muslims have also gained a measure of toleration from other religious practices. In areas where Muslims are a majority, the breeding of pigs by non-Muslims is forbidden in deference to Islamic beliefs. Muslim communities are allowed separate cemeteries; Muslim couples may have their marriage consecrated by an imam; and Muslim workers are permitted holidays during major religious festivals. The Muslims of China have also been given almost unrestricted allowance to make the Hajj to Mecca. China's Muslims have also been active in the country's internal politics. As always, the Muslims have refused to be silenced. Islam is very much alive for China's Muslims who have managed to practice their faith, sometimes against great odds, since the seventh century.

For more see History of Islam in China

The Xinjiang Autonomous Uighur Region, located in China's northwest, is home to approximately eight million Uighur Muslims. There are several million Hui, Kazakh, and Tajik Muslims as well. Should any ethnic separatist movement threaten the mainland's territorial integrity this region would be the most likely flashpoint. The region's most radical group, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), not only has ties to al-Qaeda, but is also providing the government in Beijing with a pretext for solidifying their control over the province's Uighur population.

The total population of Xinjiang remains relatively sparse. Of China's 1.3 billion people, only about 20 million live in Xinjiang despite the fact that the province constitutes about one-sixth of China's total landmass. The region's expanding importance to China's economy, the Islamic presence in the region, and the threat of separatist and terrorist organizations have led Beijing to conclude that the country's northwestern frontier must be tamed.

While China's leadership may falsely categorize those seeking human rights and greater autonomy as terrorists, and their methods of control fail to follow acceptable norms, it is clear that the PRC faces a legitimate terrorist threat.

Islamists in Xinjiang maintain extensive ties to international terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda. The leading terrorist organization, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), maintains communications with jihadist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of its more experienced members fought with the mujahadeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and safe houses and cells have been uncovered everywhere from Germany to Pakistan. In fact, in late June, Chinese diplomats in Pakistan wrote the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they had information that members of ETIM were operating in Pakistan and maintain plans to kidnap them.

Not only do Xinjiang Islamists operate in a diverse variety of states, but foreign extremists have sought refuge in the radical sectors of China's Uighur community as well. Chinese authorities have captured Taliban militants in Xinjiang, and there have been reports that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan maintains a cell in the province. It is also worth noting that outside terrorist groups come to Xinjiang not because of a perceived regional lawlessness, but because they expect to find elements in the Muslim community that will harbor them.

China is settling its west and is likely to achieve success in bringing both economic prosperity and repression of regional autonomy to Xinjiang. Beijing and the region's Islamic terrorists will continue to clash, it's just a shame they both can't lose. One thing is for certain it will be a struggle!

China showed up in the American spectator's piece called The Dirty Dozen Religious Persecutors although Islam wasn't motioned specifically china leaves much to be desired in the area of religious freedom.

Although the plight of religious believers in China is better today than it was 20 years ago, the situation remains bleak for many people of faith. The Beijing government has been particular unforgiving in dealing with beliefs that it perceives to be a political threat, such as the Falun Gong and Tibetan Buddhism.
Antagonism towards Christianity is deeply embedded in China's history. Many church leaders are in prison and the authorities target home churches. Observes the State Department: "In some areas, security officials used threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention, and at times beatings and torture to harass leaders of unauthorized groups and their followers."

A small aside in regards to China; It's important to remember that, although China may project a strong image beyond its borders, the People's Republic is essentially a weak state. The Communist Party is aggressive abroad, but it's also vulnerable at home. We can help the Chinese people transform their society for the better. So let's engage the Chinese government less and the Chinese people more. That would be the smart thing to do!