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Source: Index >> Culture History >> Religions

Combination of Islam with Traditional Chinese Culture
(Tianshannet) Updated: 2010-August-4 17:56:35


The movement of translating and writing scriptures in Chinese that occurred in the middle of the 17th century accelerated the process of the nationalization of Islam in China, making Islam, a religion coming from the outside world, not only root deeply in China, but also amalgamated with traditional Chinese culture, for Islam in China by then had taken on obvious characteristics of traditional Chinese culture, whether in the form of presentation or deep-seated doctrine and ethics.

Firstly, Islam in China has been influenced more or less by the traditional Chinese culture on aspects of architecture, festivals and customs. Almost all the mosques in Arab and Islamic countries in central Asia have domes on the roofs and minarets for observing the moon and calling for prayers. But in China, except a few ancient mosques in coastal area and in Xinjiang such as the Guang Ta Mosque in Guangzhou, the Qing Jing Mosque in Quanzhou and the Eidkah Mosque in Kashgar that were constructed with Arab and Central Asian architecture, most of the mosques in the inland, such as the Hua Jue Xiang Mosque in Xi'an, the Jing Jue Mosque in Nanjing, the Niu Jie Mosque and the Dong Si Mosque in Beijing, the Qiao Men Mosque in Lanzhou, the Nan Guan Mosque in Linxia, the Southern Mosque in Jinan and the Souther Mosque in Cangzhou, all adopted traditional Chinese architecture, which is a temple-like compound with buildings around a square courtyard, and a screen wall facing the gate. The construction inside the mosque was richly ornamented with pillars and beams carved and painted, and also decorated with horizontal inscribed boards and antithetical couplets. For instance, there are four Chinese characters inscribed on the ridge of the Jing Jue Mosque: Wu Xiang Bao Dian (temple without idols), displaying unique Chinese Islamic architecture.

As for religious festivals, Chinese Muslims, as with other Muslims around the world, regard the three traditional Islamic festivals, namely 'Id al-Fitr (fast-breaking festival), 'Id al-Azha (festival of sacrifice) and Mawlid al-Nabiy (birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and also the day when he passed away), as the most important festivals. However, in some places in China, Muslims also call 'Id al-Azha "Festival of Fidelity". Just from the naming of the festival we can see that it has taken on Chinese characteristic. Usually in foreign countries, Mawlid al-Nabiy (March 12th A.H., both the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and the day when he passed away) is a day when Muslims get together to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, and commemorate him by reciting the Holy Qur'an and narrating the story of his life. However, Chinese Muslims celebrate it on any day of March A.H., not just March 12th. In doing so, they also commemorate the anniversary of the death of their ancestors, reciting the Holy Qur'an and slaughtering sheep or cattle to dine together to show their condolence. In fact, they celebrate this festival as the Anniversary of the Prophet's Demise. Besides the above three festivals, the Chinese Muslims also attach importance to Ashura and the Anniversary of Fatimah's Demise. Ashura is on January 10th A.H., being the day to commemorate the occasions when Prophet Adam, Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Nuh were rescued from danger. In some places in China, Muslims also call this the "Festival of Porridge", believing that Prophet Nuh relieved the human race with the last porridge made of beans after floating in the flood for six months, so men after him commemorate it by eating porridge on this day. The way they celebrate this festival and the story they tell concerning it is different from that in foreign countries. Anniversary of Fatimah's Demise is on June 15th A.H., being the day to commemorate the demise of Fatimah, daughter of Prophet Muhammad and wife of Ali. Chinese Muslims respect Fatimah far more than they respect Khadija, wife of the Prophet. This is also different from what foreign Muslims do. In addition, some Muslims in the Northwest worship the murshids (guides) and saints of their sect or Menhua, and hold ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of their demise, just as they celebrate Mawlid al-Nabiy. Sometimes there are several thousand followers getting together for the ceremony, quite a rare phenomenon abroad.

In respect of religious customs, only on few points such as taboo with food are Chinese Muslims completely in accordance with foreign Muslims, and on other aspects such as language, name, dress, wedding and funeral they have taken on the features of Chinese habits and customs. Chinese Muslims use Arabic or Persian words and expressions only in religious services, but speak Chinese during ordinary times. Their dress has evolved to be similar with that of the Hans. They use Chinese name, and will be given an Islamic name (selected from the names of prophets, saints or noble persons) at birth by an Imam, or sometimes combine Chinese name and Islamic name together to be their full name. As for the custom on marriage, they often invite an Imam to preside over the celebrations and celebrate it only covered with white cloth, no cerements or any burial articles) as is required by Islamic Law, and invite an Imam to recite the Holy Qur'an. On the other hand, Muslims in certain places in China show their condolence to the deceased by wearing mourning apparel, ornamenting the tomb, and commemorating the 7th day, the 40th day, the hundredth day, one-year anniversary and three-year anniversary. Obviously they have been influenced by Chinese traditions and customs on this aspect.

Secondly, in respect of deep-seated doctrine and ethics, Muslims in China adhere to the fundamental belief of Islam and the basic principles of the Holy Qur'an and Hadith on the one hand, and have absorbed others from traditional Chinese cultural ingredients including Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist thoughts, and integrated them with Islam organically, making it more systemized and theorized, turning Islamic doctrine and ethical thoughts into one with Chinese characteristics on the other hand.

Believing in the Oneness of the Creator is the fundamental belief of Islam, without which one deviates from Islam. The Muslim scholars, who appeared in the transitional period between Ming and Qing dynasties with Wang Daiyu and Liu Zhi as representative, integrated the Islamic doctrine on the Oneness of the Creator with the Confucian theory of the Supreme Ultimate.On the one hand, they accepted the viewpoint of the Supreme Ultimate theory that all things in the universe originated from five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth); the five elements originated from Yin and Yang (two opposing principles in nature, the former feminine and negative, the latter masculine and positive), and Yin and Yang originated from the Supreme Ultimate which originated from nothing. On the other hand, they asserted that there already exists a creator before nothing; it is Allah, who created the world and all the things in it. Thus, they both affirmed the fundamental belief of Islam that "there is no God but Allah", and integrated it with Confucian thoughts. Another example is how they dealt with the relations between the faith to Allah and the loyalty to ruler. In the Islamic point of view, the faith to Allah should not be shaken even a bit, but this is contrary to Confucian thought. To coordinate the relations between the two, the Chinese Islamic scholar asserted that being loyal only to ruler and father, but not to Allah, was not true loyalty, and being faithful only to Allah, but not to ruler and father, was not true faith; being faithful to Allah, loyal to ruler and obedient to parents were three virtues that one should pursue throughout life. It is in this way that they successfully settled the problem of how to coordinate the relations between faith to Allah and loyalty to ruler of a country where Islam was not the state religion.

In respect of ethics, Chinese Islamic scholars ingeniously integrated the basic principles of the Holy Qur'an and Hadith with the ethical thoughts of Confucianism, making both tally with the ethical thoughts of Confucianism, and not deviating from the fundament principles of Islam, building up the unique ethical thought system of Chinese Islam as a result. Among all the Islamic scholars who appeared in the transitional period between Ming and Qing dynasties Liu Zhi was the one who synthesized this system of thought and brought it to its highest development. In his "Arabian Ceremonies", he gave wide coverage to expounding his theory of "Five Human Relations". The "Five Human
Relations" actually means the ethical relationship of five aspects: ruler with subject, father with son, husband with wife, and one with friends. To integrate it, which is the kernel of traditional Confucian ethics and the foundation stone of the feudal idea of the "Three Cardinal Guides and Five Constant Virtues", with Chinese Islamic ethics, Liu Zhi arranged the consecution of the "Five Human Relations" in Islamic order with "Allah being the Creator" as starting-point. He believed that Allah had created the world and all things in it, and the primogenitor of human beings, Adam and Hawwa (Eve in the Bible) as well, through whom human beings originated. Allah also created the five human relations and took it as the foundation of all virtues to perfect His creation of human beings. Liu Zhi arranged the "Five Human Relations" not in the order of traditional Confucian ethical thought as "Three Cardinal Guides and Five Constant Virtues". He placed the relationship between husband and wife above all the rest, believing that it was the foundation of all human relations. Only by dealing with it well can the family be managed well; only by managing the family well can each one be placed in the right position, can the country be administrated properly, and can relatives and friends be tied closely. Here he took the positive Confucian ethical thought, namely "cultivating one's moral character, putting one's house in order, running the country well, and letting peace prevail on earth", as the basis for arranging the order of human relations. The reason why he did so was just to make it tally with the tradition of Chinese feudal ethics. Simply due to the above reason. Liu Zhi believed that marriage was the foundation of human beings (the five human relations started from marriage):, brotherhood was the basis of love (the love of human being started from brotherhood); friendship was the foundation to achieve virtue (it could help achieve the other four human relations). He also believed that the order of the Five Human Relations as well as the reasoning within them was created by Allah. Islam set up Five Pillars to carry out the Divine Laws, and Five Human Relations to carry out the Human Laws. The Divine Laws and the Human Laws covered one another and could not be separated. Carrying out the Human Laws laid the foundation for the Divine Laws, while carrying out the Divine Laws pointed one in the right direction to the Human Laws. Only fulfilling both the Divine Laws and the Human Laws could one complete what one should do as a man. The "Divine Laws" actually refer to the laws and truth set by Allah, it was a term that Liu Zhi borrowed from Confucianism to expound Islamic ethic. Thus, starting from Allah and concluding with the Five Human Relations set by Allah, the system of Chinese Islamic ethics was finally established.

Liu Zhi adhered to two basic principles when he expounded the Five Human Relations: firstly, to absorb all the Confucian ethical thoughts that were not contrary to basic Islamic principles without any changes, and quote a great deal of the Holy Qur'an and Hadith to prove them, and try his best to expound them in an Islamic point of view; secondly, to evade ingeniously the Confucian ethical thoughts that were contrary to basic Islamic principles, or give them new explanation to make them in line with both the tradition of Confucian ethic and the basic principles of Islam. In respect of the relationship between husband and wife, Liu Zhi maintained that husband should love wife and wife should respect husband; husband should instruct wife to know and abide by the doctrine and laws of Islam, and maintain her with legal income, while wife should be obedient to husband as respect. In respect of the relation between father and son, he advocated that father should be kind to son and son should be filial towards father, emphasizing that parents give birth to children on behalf of Allah, so they should fulfill their duty to raise them, treat them with kindness from the time they are conceived to the time they marry, and children should be grateful to Allah and their parents for their birth and up-bring, and respect and care for them to fulfill their filial duty. In respect of the relation between ruler and subject, Liu Zhi held that a ruler should be benevolent to his subject and the subject should be loyal to his ruler, emphasizing that a ruler should take it as their first duty to observe and understand Allah, for Allah is the greatest example of benevolence, also learning from prophets, for they are the ones spreading Allah's laws and are can act as his model. A subject should take loyalty as the criteria in carrying out his duty, for the power of ruler is divinely authorized. Ruler is the reflection of Allah, so subject should be loyal to ruler so as to show his faith to Allah. In respect of the relation between brothers, he advocated that the elder should be tolerant to the younger and the younger should be courteous to the elder, emphasizing that brothers are like hands, while the elder is like the right hand above the younger and the younger is like the left hand below the elder (it is thought that right is above left in Islam); they are distinguished by age but tied closely by blood. In respect of the relation between friends, he advocated that they should be both loyal and honest to each other, only by being loyal and honest and virtuous can one be a helpful friend. Only by being associated with a helpful friend can one be virtuous in this world and be rescued from disaster in the Hereafter, and accomplish happiness in both worlds. Although Liu Zhi used Confucian terms in expounding his theory of Five Human Relations, he adhered to basic Islamic principles, repeatedly elucidating ethical thoughts initiated in the Holy Qur'an as worshiping Allah, being just, preserving one's purity, doing good, keeping to one's promise and being tolerant. As for the ideas of "keeping chastity"" and "worshiping ancestors", which are of great importance in Confucian ethic, he avoided making any comment. According to Confucian ethics, a widow who remains unmarried after the death of her husband deserves high admiration. Zhu Xi, a representative Confucian,even proclaimed that it is a minor thing to be starved to death, while it is a big thing to lose chastity, advocating that the woman who can remain unmarried after the death of her husband should be cited and a memorial archway should be built for her chastity, while the one who can not do so should be punished. However, it is contrary to the principle indicated in the Holy Qur'an that a widow can remarried if she wants to do so, so Liu Zhi did not make any comment on this aspect. As for those of the Confucian ethical viewpoints that can't be avoided but contrary to the basic principles of Islam, he gave new explanations. For instance, in respect of the relationship between ruler and subject, the Confucian ethic calls for blind devotion to ruler, it has been even developed to the point that a subject has to die if his ruler wants him to do so. It is obviously contrary to the Islamic thought that faith in Allah cannot be shaken even a bit. So in the chapter "Ruler", Liu Zhi made it clear by quoting the Qur'anic verse that Allah ordered Dawud to be the ruler of the world: first, the power of the ruler is authorized by Allah; second, Allah orders the ruler to be wise and able, otherwise he will be punished. Restrained by the above two points, the contradiction between loyalty to ruler and faith to Allah was settled. In his point of view, the ruler is the king who has a visible body, while Allah is the imageless dominator. Praising Allah is the noblest of divine work, while serving a ruler is the noblest of human work. Only when praising Allah and serving ruler are both done well, can the divine work and human work be coordinated.

To sum it up, the integration of Islam with traditional Chinese culture, especially on deep-seated aspects such as those of doctrine and ethics, accelerated the nationalization of Islam in China, and characterized it with unique national features and made it different from that of other countries and regions. Confucian ideology had always occupied the dominant position in Chinese feudal society. Rulers used it as a tool to run the country, and people were influenced and restricted by it. Any ideology that is not in line with Confucianism could not find a 3lace in China to root and grow. Chinese Islam positively adapted tself to the Confucian ideology, the kernel of the traditional Chinese culture, and used Confucian terms to expound its own doctrine. That was of great importance for Muslims living in China to learn about Islam, and also for Islam itself to exist and develop in China. Although Islam in China has been branded many aspects of the native nation, its fundamentals such as the "Six Beliefs", "Five Pillars" and various food taboos remain unchanged. Simply due to this, Chinese Muslims have earned the respect of foreign Muslims, and have always been in good relation with them.

(SOURCES:China Intercontinental Press)Editor: zhaoqian
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