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Islam in China in 5 Questions

When you think of China, you might imagine slanted eyes, low-quality and cheap products, martial arts, the world’s most populous country, the famous 9,000 km-long wall, and torture methods. Well, China has many well-known aspects, but we are interested in exploring the less discussed but crucial questions about Islam and Muslims in the country. Let’s delve into the answers to 5 questions about Islam in China.

What is the Muslim population in China?

The Chinese government keeps information about the Muslim population confidential. While officially stating about 25 million Muslims in the country, it is believed that the actual number is much higher.


When and how did Islam reach China?

According to Chinese Muslim traditions, China’s first encounter with Islam happened around 616-618 AD through Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, a companion of Prophet Muhammad. His tomb is even said to be in Guangzhou. Another account suggests that Islam reached China during the Tang Dynasty through an envoy sent by Caliph Uthman (651). Arab and Iranian merchants’ interactions with China and their settlements have also been significant factors.

When and how did Islam reach China

What are China’s most famous mosques?

The oldest mosques in China, built between the 8th and 13th centuries, are said to be the Guangzhou Mosque and those in Chang’an, Quanzhou (Zaytun), Hangzhou, and Yangzhou. Niujie Mosque, Huashieng Mosque, Idgah Mosque, Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre, and the Great Mosque in Xi’an are among China’s most famous mosques. Additionally, it is known that there are over 35,000 mosques throughout China.

Great Mosque of Xi'an-China
Great Mosque of Xi’an-China

Who are the most prominent figures in Islamic studies in China?

After the arrival of Islam in China, Chinese Muslims first attempted to understand the concept of monotheism and its basic tenets, leading to various studies up to the present day. Of course, the process of Islamization took many years. Various writings on Islamic matters and its requirements emerged from the 12th century. However, the significant advancement occurred during the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) with the translation and transliteration of Arabic texts into Chinese by Muslim scholars. This tradition was later called the “Han Kitab tradition.”

Wang Daiyu (d. 1660) and Yusuf Ma Chu (d. 1711) are some of the notable Muslim scholars during this period. One of the pioneers of this tradition was Liu Zhi (d. 1730), who became the first to translate parts of the Qur’an into Chinese. Liu Zhi’s translation was later completed by Ma Dexin (d. 1874), although the manuscript has not survived. Wang Daiyu, Liu Zhi, and Ma Dexin are among the most significant figures in Islamic studies in China.

Liu Zhi
Liu Zhi

What is the biggest challenge for Muslims in China?

As known worldwide, the biggest challenge for Chinese Muslims is the Chinese government’s policies of oppression. The pressure and threats negatively affect not only their religious life but also their daily lives. To overcome this challenge, Chinese Muslims rely on the support of Muslims worldwide.

What is the biggest challenge for Muslims in China
Li Zhi

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