[Documents menu] Documents menu

More on Islam in China

By SIA Ka-Mou, The Jakarta Post, 8 June 2002

I would like to comment on The Jakarta Post article on May 31 titled IAIN to cooperate with Chinese-Indonesians in which noted Muslim scholar Nurcholish Madjid stated that Islam was a faith followed in China before it arrived in Indonesia.

Indeed, the embracing of the Islamic faith in China happened almost 1,000 years earlier than in Indonesia. As early as the Sui dynasty (581-618 A.D.) during the revelation of Islam (610-632 A.D.) to Prophet Muhammad, Islam had already appeared in China. And in 713 A.D., the ambassador from the Islamic Caliphate was received at the Tang court. Since then, both overland trade along the silk route and maritime trade via the spice route to the southeastern port of Canton flourished. So did cultural and scientific exchanges. For over 500 years, Canton, now called Guangzhou, was known in Arabic as Zayton.

The tomb of Muhammad`s maternal uncle can also be found in Guangzhou. One of the most prized Chinese musical instruments, Pipa actually originated in the Islamic world and was called Barbat, Tanbur or Mizhar in Arabic and in Persian. And the Chinese word for ball, qiu, was said to originate from the Persian word, Gui, from the game of polo.

Chinese medicine, both the materials and prescriptions, in fact, were influenced by Persia and Arabia, as recorded by Tang dynasty officials. A famous Islamic physician Razi (865-925 A.D.) was even said to have helped Chinese pharmaceutical expert Li Xun to study in Baghdad the works of ancient Roman medical master Claudius Galen.

Separatism in Xinjiang, in fact, is not because of Islam but owing to Pan-Turkism. The Nestorian branch of Christianity actually came to China earlier than Islam, but was rejected. Yet Islam has flourished and the mosques in Beijing built in 996 A.D. and the one in Xi'an originally built in 742 A.D. are all living monuments and testaments even after the collapse of many imperial dynasties.