June 9, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 729

An Interview with the Director of the Islamic Association of China

June 9, 2004
China | Special Dispatch No. 729

The London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat featured an interview with Mustafa Yang, deputy director of the Islamic Association of China. The following are excerpts from the interview: [1]

'China's Muslims Observe the Religious Commandments in Absolute Freedom'

Question: "How big is the Muslim [population] in China?"

Yang:"China has about 20 million [Muslims], belonging to 10 ethnic groups. The Muslims are widespread in China, but particularly concentrated in the northwest of the country. The Chinese Muslims are Sunnis, and they are of the Abu Hanifa school of Islam. They observe the religious commandments in absolute freedom, thanks to the Chinese government and its policy which assures freedom of religion for all its citizens.

"The Muslims in China are a national minority, and they preserve their religious and national identity. They have good relations with the Arab and Muslim countries and with Muslims [across the world]. Top officials of the Islamic Association in China and officials of the Egyptian Waqf Ministry have exchanged visits. [Egyptian] Waqf Minister Dr. Hamdi Zaqazouq visited China two years ago, at the head of a delegation of clerics."

Question: "When did Islam reach China?"

Yang:"The history books have many traditions regarding Islam's arrival in China, but historians have not managed to determine the [exact] date. One of the traditions tells that Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, three Companions of the Prophet, and 40 [others] came to China at the invitation of one of the emperors of the Sui dynasty. [2] They remained in the city of Canton [Guangzhou ] , and built a mosque there… Even if there are doubts regarding this tradition, it is certain that Islam reached China at a very early time.

"The first mosque established outside the Arabian Peninsula was in Peking [Beijing]. This was in 620 [CE]. At the mosque's entrance, there is a tablet on which is written in Arabic that its founder was ibn [Abi] Waqqas… Islam did not reach China by means of invasion and conquest, but by means of friendly relations with the Arab and Muslim merchants who came to China. Some of them settled there and took Chinese [wives]. Thus, Islam spread and the number of believers in China grew."

'China has Four Main Religions: Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, and Confucianism'

Question: "What are the most important services that the Islamic Association in China provides for Muslims?"

Yang:"China is not a Muslim country, and has no Minstry of Waqf, or of Da'wa[Islamic propagation], or of Islamic affairs, as there are in the Arab and Muslim countries. Therefore, the Islamic Association of China is the only institution supervising Muslim affairs, and it is responsible for Da'wa and for organizing religious activity… [The association] is a government body, of the State Council that is responsible for all the religions in China."

Question: "What are the important religions in China? What is the status of Islam among these religions?"

Yang: "China has four main religions: Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Buddhism is considered the religion of the majority of the Chinese people, and Islam is the second most widespread, after Buddhism."

'45,000 Mosques, 50,000 Imams and [Activists] for Da'wa'

Question: "How many mosques are there in China? How do Muslim children get a proper Muslim education?"

Yang: "In China there are about 45,000 mosques, with about 50,000 imams and [activists] for Da'wa. Every mosque has an administrative committee that is responsible for managing the mosque affairs. The committee is made up of several members, and is headed by the mosque's imam. The funding for renovating and repairing the mosques comes from various sources. A large part of the funds come from the government, and [another] part from donations from Muslims and from external assistance from international institutions and other [bodies]. With regard to Islamic education, in many Chinese districts Muslim youth receive [Islamic] teaching and education, and trained to be active in Da'wa.

"Islamic education is an issue that preoccupies all the Muslims in China. All the families strive to have their children educated according to the precepts of Islam, and so that they will know the Koran by heart. Three elements provide this type of study: [One is] the family – where the parents raise their children according to the precepts of Islam. [The second] is the mosques – where Koran study classes and religious classes are held. [The third is] official education in the Islamic institutes."

'We Have No Special Problems Connected to Da'wa, Mosques, Education, and Schools'

Question: "What are the main problems facing Muslims in China?"

Yang: "We have no special problems connected to Da'wa, mosques, education, and schools. But the main problem plaguing us is the backwardness of the Chinese Muslims in the modern sciences. Thus, we are encouraging our sons to study these sciences by all means and methods. We are striving for a Muslim to train himself to use the new technology in the various spheres of work, so that the Muslims in the new century will be equipped with knowledge and faith, constitute an example for others, and not be dependent on others. Because in today's world there is no room for backwardness and weaklings…"

"We Don't Call this Region 'East Turkestan' but 'Shing Yang District'"

Question: "The media say that the Muslims in East Turkestan are repressed by the Chinese government, and that every so often the Muslims in Turkestan demonstrate against this repression. How true is this?"

Yang: "We don't call this region 'East Turkestan' but 'Shing Yang District.' This region has belonged to China for a long time. About half its residents are Muslim, and their situation is gradually improving. They practice their religion naturally. But a few years ago activity by some violent and extremist movements, that the Muslim residents themselves reject, was observed in the region."

Question: "But the Chinese government is accused of resisting these movements with excessive cruelty, and of having killed many Muslims. Why doesn't the government try to negotiate with these movements, instead of [causing] bloodshed?"

Yang: "The government enforces the laws for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Anyone who breaks the law is punished. This is a natural matter in every country in the world, not only in China."

Question: "What Islamic organizations are providing assistance to Muslims in China?"

Yang: "Assistance is provided to Muslims in China by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Islamic Development Bank has given financial assistance to build four Islamic institutes in several Chinese provinces. [Also] the Muslim World League has provided financial assistance in recent years, by means of which the ancient mosques were renovated."

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 14, 2004.

[2] Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas (d. 674) was a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, and one of the 10 Companions who were promised entrance into Paradise.

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