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Inserts / Messages
- Basic Education
- Interesting Articles
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- Wiladat Celebrations
- Questions about Iman
- Healthy Living
A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith
T.W. Arnold Ma. C.I.F
Professor Of Arabic, University Of London, University College. Written in 1896, revised in 1913
Rearranged by Dr. A.S. Hashim
|Tradition ascribes to Muhammad the saying, “Seek for knowledge, even unto China.” It is not impossible that the name of this country may have been known to him,
for commercial relations between Arabia and China had been established long before his birth.
It was through Arabia, in great measure, that Syria and the ports of the Levant received the produce of the East.
In the sixth century, there was a considerable trade between China and Arabia by way of Ceylon, and at the beginning of the seventh century the commerce between China, Persia and Arabia was still further extended, the town of Siraf on the Persian Gulf being the chief emporium for the Chinese traders.
It was at this period, at the commencement of the Tang dynasty (618-907) that mention is first made of the Arabs in the Chinese Annals; they note the rise of the Muslim power in Medina and briefly describe the religious observances of the new faith.
The Annals of Kwangtung thus record the coming of the first Muslims into China :—
|“At the beginning of the Tang dynasty there came to Canton a large number of strangers, from the kingdoms of Annam, Cambodia, Medina and several other countries.
These strangers worshipped heaven (i. e. God) and had neither statue, idol nor image in their temples.
The kingdom of Medina is close to that of India, and it is in this kingdom that the religion of these strangers, which is different to that of Buddha, originated.
They do not eat pork or drink wine, and they regard as unclean the flesh of any animal not killed by themselves. They are nowadays called Hui Hui.
Having asked and obtained from the emperor permission to reside in Canton, they built magnificent houses of a style different to that of our country. They were very rich and obeyed a chief chosen by themselves.”
It is most probable that Islam was first introduced into China by merchants who followed the old-established sea route. But the earliest record we can trust refers to diplomatic relations carried on by land, through Persia.
- When Yazdajird, the last Sasani king of Persia, had perished, his son, Firuz, appealed to China for help against the Arab invaders; but the emperor replied that Persia was too far distant for him to send the required troops. But he is said to have dispatched an ambassador to the Arab court to plead the cause of the fugitive prince—probably also with instructions to ascertain the extent and power of the new kingdom that had arisen in the West,
- and the Khalifa Uthman is said to have sent one of the Arab generals to accompany the Chinese ambassador on his return in 651, and this first Muslim envoy was honorably received by the emperor.
- In the reign of Walid (705-715), the famous Arab general, Qutaybah b. Muslim, having been appointed governor of Khurasan, crossed the Oxus and began a series of successful campaigns, in which he successively subjugated Bukhara, Samarqand and other cities, and carried his conquests up to the eastern frontier of the Chinese empire.
- In 713 he sent envoys to the emperor, who (according to Arab accounts) dismissed them with valuable presents.
- A few years later, the Chinese Annals make mention of an ambassador, named Sulayman, who came from the Khalifa Hisham in 726 to the Emperor Hsuan Tsung.
These diplomatic relations between the Arab and the Chinese empires assumed a new importance at the close of this emperor’s reign, when, driven from his throne by a usurper, he abdicated in favor of his son, Su Tsung (a.d, 756). Su Tsung sought the help of the Abbasid Khalifa, al-Mansur , who responded to this appeal by sending a body of Arab troops, and with their assistance the emperor succeeded in recovering his two capitals, Si-ngan-fu and Ho-nan-fu, from the rebels.
At the end of the war, these Arab troops did not return to their own country, but married and settled in China. Various reasons are assigned for this action on their part;
- one account represents them as having returned to their native land but, being refused permission to remain on the ground that they had been so long in a land where pork was eaten, they went back again to China;
- according to another account they were prepared to embark for Arabia, at Canton, when they were taunted with having eaten pork during their campaign, and in consequence they refused to return home and run the risk of similar taunts from their own people; when the governor of Canton tried to compel them, they joined with the Arab and Persian merchants, their co-religionists, and pillaged the principal commercial houses in the city; the governor saved himself by taking refuge on the city wall, and was only able to return after he had obtained from the emperor permission for these Arab troops to remain in the country; houses and lands were assigned to them in different cities, where they settled down and intermarried with the women of the country.
The Chinese Muslims have a legend that their faith was first preached in China by a maternal uncle of the Prophet, and his reputed tomb at Canton is highly venerated by them. But there is not the slightest historical base for this legend, and it appears to be of late growth. It doubtless arose from a desire to connect the history of the faith in their own land as closely as possible with apostolic times—a fruitful source of legends in countries far removed from the centers of Muslim history.
But of the existence of Muslims in China, especially of merchants in the port towns, during the Tang dynasty there is clear evidence. The Chinese annalist of this period (a.d. 713-742) says that
|“the barbarians of the West came into the Middle Kingdom in crowds, like a deluge, from a distance of at least 1000 leagues and from more than 100 kingdoms,
bringing as tribute their sacred books,
which were received and deposited in the hall set apart for translations of sacred and canonical books, in the imperial palace:
from this period the religious doctrines of these different countries were thus diffused and openly practiced in the empire of Tang.”
An Arab geographer, writing about the year 851, describes these settlements and the mosques which these merchants were allowed to build for their religious exercises; he states that he knew of no Chinaman having embraced Islam, but as he makes the same remark of the people of India, it may be that he was as ill-informed in the one case as the other.
But there is certainly no distinct evidence of any proselytizing activity on the part of the Muslims in China, and indeed very little information about them at all until the period of Mongol conquests, in the thirteenth century. These conquests resulted in a vast immigration of Muslims of various nationalities, Arabs, Persians, Turks and others into the Chinese empire. Some came as merchants, artisans, soldiers or colonists, others were brought in as prisoners of war. A large number of them settled permanently in the country and developed into a populous and flourishing community, which gradually lost its original racial peculiarities through intermarriage with Chinese women.
Several Muslims occupied high posts under the Mongol rulers, e. g.
Abd al-Rahman, who in 1244 was appointed head of the Imperial finances and allowed to farm the taxes imposed upon China,
and Omar Shams al-Din, commonly known as Sayyid Ajall, a native of Bukhara, to whom Qubilay Khan, on his accession in 1259, entrusted the management of the Imperial finances; he was subsequently governor of Yunnan, after this province had been conquered and added to the Chinese empire. Sayyid Ajall died in 1270, leaving behind him a reputation as an enlightened and upright administrator; he built Confucian temples as well as mosques in Yunnan city.
The descendants of Sayyid Ajall played a great part in the establishing of Islam in China; it was his grandson who in 1335 obtained from the emperor the recognition of Islam as the “True and Pure Religion “—a name which it has kept to the present day,—and another descendant of Sayyid Ajall was authorized by the emperor in 1420 to build mosques in the capitals, Si-ngan-fu and Nan-kin.
The Chinese historians of the reign of Qubilay Khan make it a ground of complaint against this monarch that he did not employ Chinese officials in place of the immigrant Turks and Persians.
The exalted position occupied by Sayyid Ajall and the facilities of communication between China and the West established by Mongol conquest, attracted a number of such persons into the north of China, and it was probably as a result of these immigrations that those scattered Muslim communities began to be formed, which have grown to large proportions in most of the provinces of China.
Marco Polo, who enjoyed the favor of Qubilay Khan and lived in China from 1275 to 1292, notes the presence of Muslims in various parts of Yunnan. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, all the inhabitants of Talifu, the capital of Yunnan, are said by a contemporary historian to have been Muslims; and Ibn Baṭuṭah, who visited several coast towns in China towards the middle of the fourteenth century, speaks of the hearty welcome he received from his co-religionists, and reports that “In every town there is a special quarter for the Muslims, inhabited solely by them, where they have their mosques; they are honored and respected by the Chinese.” 
Up to this period the Muslims appear to have been looked upon as a foreign community in China, but after the expulsion of the Mongol dynasty in the latter part of the fourteenth century they received no fresh addition to their numbers from abroad, in consequence of the policy of isolation which the Chinese government now adopted; and being thus cut off from communication with their coreligionists in other countries, they tended, in most parts of the empire, gradually to become merged into the mass of the native population, through their marriages with Chinese women and their adoption of Chinese habits and manners.
The founder of the new Ming dynasty, the emperor Hung-wu, extended to them many privileges, and their flourishing condition during the period that this dynasty lasted (1368-1644) is shown by the large number of mosques erected.
The emperors of this dynasty cultivated friendly relations with the Muslim princes on their western frontier, and there was a frequent interchange of embassies between them and the Timurid princes.
One of these is of interest in the missionary history of Islam, inasmuch as Shah Rukh Bahadur in 1412 took advantage of the arrival of a Chinese embassy at his court in Samarqand, to include in his answer an invitation to the emperor to embrace Islam. He sent with his envoy, who accompanied the Chinese ambassadors on their return, two letters, the first of which, written in Arabic, was to the following effect:—
|“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
There is but One God, Allah: and Muhammad is the Apostle of God.
The Apostle of God, Muhammad (peace be on him!) said: There shall not cease to be in my Masjid a people abiding in the commandments of God; whosoever fails to help them or opposes them, shall never prosper, until the commandment of the Lord cometh.
When the Most High God purposed to create Adam and his race, he said: I was a hidden treasure, but it was my pleasure to become known; I therefore created man that I might be known;
It is manifest from hence that the divine purpose (great is His power and exalted is His word!) in the creation of man was to make Himself Known and uplift the banners of right guidance and faith.
Wherefore He sent His Apostle with guidance and the religion of truth that it might prevail over all other faiths, though the polytheists turn away from it,
that he might make known the laws and the ordinances and the observances of what is lawful and unlawful,
and He gave him the holy Quran miraculously that thereby he might put to silence the unbelievers and stop their mouths when they discussed and disputed with him,
and by His perfect grace and His all-pervading guidance He has caused it to remain even unto the day of judgment.
By His power He hath established in all ages and times and in all parts of the world, in east and west, and in China, a mighty monarch, lord of great armies and authority, to administer justice and mercy and spread the wings of peace and security over the heads of men;
to enjoin upon them righteousness and warn them against evil and disobedience and lift up among them the banners of the noble religion;
and he drives away idolatry and infidelity from among them through belief in the unity of God.
The Most High God thus disposes our hearts by His past mercies and His ensuing grace to strive for the stablishing of the laws of pure religion and the continuance of the ordinances of the shining path.
He also bids us administer justice to our subjects in all suits and cases in accordance with the religion of the Prophet and the ordinances of the Chosen One,
and build mosques and colleges and monasteries and hermitages and places of worship, that the teaching of the sciences and the schools of learning may not cease nor the memorials and injunctions of religion be swept away.
Seeing that the continuance of worldly prosperity and dominion, and the permanence of authority and rule depend upon the assistance given to truth and righteousness and the extirpation of the evils caused by idolatry and unbelief from the earth,
in the expectation of blessing and reward, we, therefore, hope that your Majesty and the nobles of your realm will agree with us in these matters and join us in strengthening the foundations of the established law.”
The other letter, written in Persian, makes a more direct appeal, without the rhetorical embellishments of the Arabic:—
|“The Most High God, having in the depth of His wisdom and the perfection of His power created Adam (peace be upon him !), made some of his sons prophets and apostles and sent them among men to summon them to the truth.
To certain of these prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, David and Muhammad (peace be upon them !) He gave a book and taught a law, and He bade the people of their time follow the law and the religion of each of them.
All these apostles invited men to faith in the unity and to the worship of God and forbade the adoration of the sun, moon and stars, of kings and idols; and though each one of these apostles had a separate law, yet they were all agreed in the doctrine of the unity of the Most High God.
At length, when the apostolic and prophetic office devolved on the Apostle Muhammad Muṣṭafặ (the peace and blessing of God be upon him !) all other systems of law were abrogated.
He was the apostle and the prophet of the latter age, and it behooves the whole world—lords and kings and ministers, rich and poor, small and great,—to observe his law and forsake all past creeds and laws. This is the true and perfect faith and is called Islam.
Some years ago, Chingiz Khan took up arms and sent his sons into various countries and kingdoms—Juji Khan to the confines of Saray, Qrim and Dasht Qafchaq, where some monarchs, such as Uzbek Khan, Chani Khan and Urus Khan, became Muslims and observed the law of Muhammad (peace be upon him!).
Hulagu Khan was set over Khurasan, Iraq and the neighboring countries, and some of his sons who succeeded him received into their hearts the light of the law of Muhammad (peace be upon him!), and in like manner became Muslims, and honored with the blessedness of Islam passed into the other world, such as the truthful king, Ghazan, and Uljaytu Sulṭan and the fortunate king, Abu Said Bahadur, until my honored father, Amir Timur Gurgan, succeeded to the throne.
He too observed the law of Muhammad (peace be upon him !) in all the countries under his rule, and throughout his reign the followers of the faith of Islam enjoyed complete prosperity.
Now that by the goodness and favor of God this Kingdom of Khurasan, Iraq, and othres, etc., has passed into my hands, the administration is carried on throughout the whole kingdom in accordance with the pure law of the Prophet; righteousness is enjoined and wrong forbidden, and the Yarghu and the institutes of Chingiz ` have been abolished.
Since, then, it is sure and certain that salvation and deliverance in the day of judgment, and sovereignty and felicity in the present world, depend upon true faith and Islam, and the favor of the Most High God, it is incumbent upon us to treat our subjects with justice and equity.
I hope that by the bounty and benevolence of God you too will observe the law of Muhammad, the Apostle of God (peace be upon him I) and strengthen the religion of Islam, so that you may exchange the transitory sovereignty of this world for the sovereignty of the world to come.”
It is not improbable that these letters gave rise to the later legend of one of the Chinese emperors having become a convert to Islam.
This legend is referred to, among others, by a Muslim merchant, Sayyid Ali Akbar, who spent some years in Peking at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century; he speaks of the large number of Muslims who had settled in China; in the city of Kenjanfu there were as many as 30,000 Muslim families;
- they paid no taxes
- and enjoyed the favor of the emperor, who gave them grants of land;
- they enjoyed complete toleration for the exercise of their religion, which was favorably viewed by the Chinese,
- and conversions were freely permitted;
- in the capital itself there were four great mosques
- and about ninety more in other provinces of the empire,—all erected at the cost of the emperor.
Up to the establishment of the Manchu dynasty in 1644 there is no record of any Muslim uprising, and the followers of Islam appear to have been entirely content with the religious liberty they enjoyed;
but difficulties arose soon after the advent of the new ruling power, and an insurrection in the province of Kansu in 1648 was the first occasion on which any Muslims rose in arms against the Chinese government, though it was not until the nineteenth century that any such revolt entailed very disastrous consequences, or seriously interrupted the amicable relations that had subsisted from the beginning between the Chinese Muslims and their rulers.
The official view of the Chinese Government of these relations is set forth in an edict published by the emperor Yung Chen in 1731:—
|” In every province of the empire, for many centuries past, have been found a large number of Muslims who form part of the people whom I regard as my own children just as I do my other subjects. I make no distinction between them and those who do not belong to their religion.
I have received from certain officials secret complaints against the Muslims on the ground that their religion differs from that of the other Chinese, that they do not speak the same language, and wear a different dress to the rest of the people.
They are accused of disobedience, haughtiness, and rebellious feelings, and I have been asked to employ severe measures against them. After examining these complaints and accusations, I have discovered that there is no foundation for them.
In fact, the religion followed by the Muslims is that of their ancestors; it is true their language is not the same as that of the rest of the Chinese, but what a multitude of different dialects there are in China. As to their temples, dress and manner of writing, which differ from those of the other Chinese—these are matters of absolutely no importance. These are mere matters of custom.
They bear as good a character as my other subjects, and there is nothing to show that they intend to rebel.
It is my wish, therefore, that they should be left in the free exercise of their religion, whose object is to teach men the observance of a moral life, and the fulfillment of social and civil duties.
This religion respects the fundamental basis of Government, and what more can be asked for? If then the Muslims continue to conduct themselves as good and loyal subjects, my favor will be extended towards them just as much as towards my other children
From among them have come many civil and military officers, who have risen to the very highest ranks. This is the best proof that they have adopted our habits and customs, and have learned to conform themselves to the precepts of our sacred books.
They pass their examinations in literature just like every one else, and perform the sacrifices enjoined by law.
In a word, they are true members of the great Chinese family and Endeavor always to fulfill their religious, civil and political duties. When the magistrates have a civil case brought before them, they should not concern themselves with the religion of the litigants.
There is but one single law for all my subjects. Those who do good shall be rewarded, and those who do evil shall be punished.”
About thirty years later, his successor, the Emperor Kien Lung, showed distinguished marks of his favor towards the Muslims by ennobling two Turki Begs who had materially helped in suppressing a revolt in the north-west and Kashgar, and building palaces for them in Peking; he also erected a mosque for the use of the Turki Begs who visited the Imperial court and for the prisoners of war who had been brought to the capital from Kashgar.
Among these prisoners was a beautiful girl who became a favorite concubine of the emperor, and it is stated that for love of her he built this mosque immediately opposite his own palace and erected a pavilion within the palace grounds, from which the concubine could watch her fellow-countrymen at prayer and could join in their devotions.
This mosque was built in the years 1763-1764 and contains an inscription in four languages, the Chinese text of which was written by the emperor himself.
After crushing the revolt in Zungaria, this same emperor Kien Lung, in 1770 transported thither from other parts of China ten thousand military colonists, who were followed by their- families and other persons, to re-people the country, and they are all said to have embraced the religion of the surrounding Muslim population.
Whether such mass conversions occurred in other parts of the empire also, we have no means of telling, but the existence of a considerable Muslim population in every province of China can hardly be explained merely by reference to foreign immigration and the natural growth of population, though the numbers are larger in those provinces in which foreign Muslims have settled.
It is unlikely that the Muslims in China during the many centuries of their residence in this country, in the enjoyment of religious freedom and the liberal patronage of several of the emperors, should have been entirely devoid of that proselytizing zeal which modem observers have noted in their descendants at the present day.
To such direct proselytizing efforts must have been due the conversion of Chinese Jews to Islam; their establishment in this country dates from an early period, they held employments under the Government and were in possession of large estates; but by the close of the seventeenth century a great part of them had been converted to Islam..
Such propaganda must have been quite quiet and unobtrusive, and indeed more public methods might have excited suspicions on the part of the Government, as is shown by an interesting report which was sent to the Emperor Kien Lung in 1783 by a governor of the province of Khwang‑Se. It runs as follows :
|“I have the honor respectfully to inform your Majesty that an adventurer Han‑Fo-Yun, of the province of Khwang‑Se, has been arrested on a charge of vagrancy.
This adventurer when interrogated as to his occupation, confessed that for the last ten years he had been traveling through the different provinces of the Empire in order to obtain information about his religion. In one of his boxes were found thirty books, some of which had been written by himself, while others were in a language that no one here understands.
These books praise in an extravagant and ridiculous manner a Western king, called Muhammad. The above‑mentioned Han‑Fo-Yun, when put to the torture, at last confessed that the real object of his journey was to propagate the religion taught in these books, and that he remained in the province of Shen‑Si for a longer time than anywhere else.
I have examined these books myself. Some are certainly written in a foreign language; for I have not been able to understand them: the others that are written in Chinese are very bad,
I may add, even ridiculous on account of the exaggerated praise given in them to persons who certainly do not deserve it, because I have never even heard of them.
Perhaps the above-mentioned Han-Fo-Yun is a rebel from Kan-Su. His conduct is certainly suspicious, for what was he going to do in the provinces through which he has been traveling for the last ten years? I intend to make a serious inquiry into the matter.
Meanwhile, I would request your Majesty to order the stereotyped plates, that are in the possession of his family, to be burnt, and the engravers to be arrested, as well as the authors of the books, which I have sent to your Majesty desiring to know your pleasure in the matter.” 
This report bears testimony to the activity of at least one Muslim missionary in the eighteenth century, and the growth of Islam, which the Jesuit missionaries noted in the eighteenth century, was probably not so little connected with direct proselytism as some of them supposed.
Du Halde, in one of the few passages he devotes to the Muslims in his great work, attributes the increase in their numbers largely to their habit of purchasing children in times of famine.
|“The Muslims have been settled for more than six hundred years in various provinces, where they live quite quietly, because they do not make any great efforts to spread their doctrines and gain proselytes,
and because in former times they only increased in numbers by the alliances and marriages they contracted.
But for several years past they have continued to make very considerable progress by means of their wealth. They buy up heathen children everywhere; and the parents, being often unable to provide them with food, have no scruples in selling them.
During a famine that devastated the Province of Chantong, they bought more than 10,000 of them.
They marry them, and either purchase or build for them separate quarters in a town, or even whole villages; gradually in several places they gain such influence that they do not let any one live among them who does not go to the mosque.
By such means they have multiplied exceedingly during the last century.”
Similarly, in the famine that devastated the province of Kwangtung in 1790, as many as ten thousand children are said to have been purchased by the Muslims from parents who, too poor to support them, were willing to part with them to save them from starvation; these were all brought up in the faith of Islam.
A Chinese Muslim, from Yunnan, named Sayyid Sulayman, who visited Cairo in 1894 and was there interviewed by the representative of an Arabic journal, declared that the number of accessions to Islam gained in this way every year was beyond counting.
Similar testimony is given by M. dOllone, who reports that this practice of buying children in times of famine prevails among the Muslims throughout the whole of China to the present day; in the same way, they purchased the children of Christian parents who were massacred by the Boxers in 1900, and brought them up as Muslims.
The Muslims in China tend to live together in separate villages and towns or to form separate Muslim quarters in the towns, where they will not allow any person to dwell among them who does not go to the mosque.
Though they thus in some measure hold themselves apart, they are careful to avoid the open exhibition of any specially distinguishing features of the religious observances of their faith, which may offend their neighbors, and they have been careful to make concessions to the prejudices of their Chinese fellow-countrymen.
- In their ordinary life they are completely in touch with the customs and habits that prevail around them;
- they wear the pigtail and the ordinary dress of the Chinese,
- and put on a turban, as a rule, only in the mosque.
- To avoid offending against a superstitious prejudice on the part of the Chinese, they also refrain from building tall minarets, wherever they build them at all.
- But for the most part, their mosques conform to the Chinese type of architecture,
- often with nothing to distinguish them from an ordinary temple or dwelling.
- Every mosque is obliged by law to have a tablet to the emperor, with the inscription on it, ” The emperor, the immortal, may he live forever,” and the Muslims prostrate themselves before it in accordance with the regular Chinese custom, though with various expedients to satisfy their consciences and avoid the imputation of idolatry.
- Even in Chinese Tartary, where the special privilege is allowed to the Muslim soldiers, of remaining unmixed, and of forming a separate body, the higher Muslim officials wear the dress prescribed to their rank, long moustaches and the pigtail, and on holidays they perform the usual homage demanded from officials, to a portrait of the emperor, by touching the ground three times with their forehead.
- Similarly all Muslim mandarins and other officials in other provinces perform the rites prescribed to their official position, in the temples of Confucius on festival days; in fact every precaution is taken by the Muslims to prevent their faith from appearing to be in opposition to the state religion, and hereby they have succeeded in avoiding the odium with which the adherents of foreign religions, such as Judaism and Christianity are regarded.
- They even represent their religion to their Chinese fellow-countrymen as being in agreement with the teachings of Confucius, with only this difference, that they follow the traditions of their ancestors with regard to marriages, funerals, the prohibition of pork, wine, tobacco, and games of chance, and the washing of the hands before meals.
- Similarly the writings of the Chinese Muslims treat the works of Confucius and other Chinese classics with great respect, and where possible, point out the harmony between the teachings contained therein and the doctrines of Islam
The Chinese government, in its turn, has always given to its Muslim subjects (except when in revolt) the same privileges and advantages as are enjoyed by the rest of the population. No office of state is closed to them; and as governors of provinces, generals, magistrates and ministers of state they enjoy the confidence and respect both of the rulers and the people. Not only do Muslim names appear in the Chinese arm; as those of famous officers of state, whether military or civil, but they have also distinguished themselves in the mechanical arts and in sciences such as mathematics and astronomy.
The Chinese Muslims are also said to be keen men of business and successful traders; they monopolize the beef trade and carry on other trades with great success. They are thus in touch with every section of the national life and have every opportunity for carrying on a propaganda, but the few Christian missionaries who have concerned themselves with this matter are of opinion that they are not animated with any particular proselytizing zeal.
Still, many recent converts are to be met with, and the fact that a large number of Chinese Muslims can cite the name of the particular ancestor who first embraced Islam points to a continuous process of conversion.
Apparently the Muslims are not allowed to preach their faith in the streets, as Protestant missionaries do, but (as we have seen above) they do not fail to make use of such opportunities as present themselves for adding to the number of their sect. One of their religious text-books, ” A Guide to the Rites of the True Religion ” (published in Canton in 1668), commends the work of proselytizing and makes reference to such as may have recently become converts from among the heathen.
The fundamental doctrines of Islam are taught to the new converts by means of metrical primers, and to the influence of the religious books of the Chinese Muslims, Sayyid Sulayman attributes many of the conversions made in recent years.
The Muslim seminary at Hochow in Kansu is said to train theological students who return to their several provinces, at the completion of their studies, to promulgate their faith there, and in upwards of ten provinces centers are said to have been started where mullas are to be trained for Muslim propaganda.
Military officers convert many of the soldiers serving under them, to Islam, and Muslim mandarins take advantage of the authority they enjoy, to win converts, but as they are frequently transferred from one place to another, they are not able to exercise so much influence as Muslim military officers.
Conversions may also occasionally occur, which are not the result of a direct propagandist appeal, e. g. a Turkish traveler who visited Peking in 1895 reported that he found thirty mosques there, among them one that had originally been a temple; this had been the family temple of a wealthy Chinaman, whose life had been saved during the Boxer insurrection by the Mufti Wa-Ahonad (Abd al-Rahman); as a token of his gratitude, he embraced the faith of his deliverer.
Turkish and other Muslim missionaries have in recent years been visiting China and endeavoring to stir up among the Chinese Muslims a more thorough knowledge of their faith and to awaken their zeal, but their efforts seem so far to have borne but little fruit.
In 1867 a Russian writer, in a remarkable work on Islam in China, expressed the opinion that it was destined to become the national faith of the Chinese empire and thereby entirely change the political conditions of the Eastern world. Nearly half a century has elapsed since this note of alarm was sounded, but nothing has occurred since to verify these prognostications. On the contrary, it would appear that Islam has been losing rather than gaining ground during the last century, since the wholesale massacres that accompanied the suppression of the Panthay risings in Yunnan from 1855 to 1873 and the Tungan rebellion in Shen-si and Kan-su in 1864-1877 and 1895-1896,reduced the Muslim population by millions.
The establishment of the new Republic has given to the Chinese Muslims a freedom of activity unknown under any preceding government, but it is too early yet to discover how far they are likely to avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the altered conditions of life. The proselytism that still goes on, restricted as its sphere may be, indicates a still cherished hope of expansion.
Though four centuries have elapsed since a Muslim traveller in China could discuss the possibility of the conversion of the emperor being followed by that of his subjects, it was still possible for a Chinese Muslim of the present generation to state that his co-religionists in that country looked forward with confidence to the day when Islam would be triumphant throughout the length and breadth of the Chinese empire.