To the casual observer, both Islamic and Chinese cultures can seem like discrete, assimilative forces that have little use for the numerous ethnic and cultural groups they have swallowed up in their histories of expansion. However, studying how the non-Turkic and (mostly) Sinophone Muslims in China have harmonized their faith with Confucian, Chinese nationalist, and even Marxist philosophical concepts highlights the actual process by which individuals adapt and integrate elements of disparate cultural systems. Studies of Chinese Muslims have been increasing in number and sophistication since China began reopening to foreign scholars in the 1980s. Dru Gladney was the first to conduct extensive ethnographic research, working in several sites to capture some of the diversity of this population that lives scattered throughout China. The editor of this volume, Jonathan Lipman, took the lead in chronicling their 1300-year history, and then numerous other scholars of religion, political science, and cultural studies have explored how Sinophone Muslims construct and inhabit a dual or hybrid cultural realm. Despite the translation of some of the foundational Sino-Muslim texts by Sachiko Murata and the publication of a cultural history of Qing-era Muslim Confucian scholars by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, most scholars have let the long intellectual history of Sinophone Muslim scholars languish at the margins of both Sinology and Islamic studies. This volume conveys the richness of this neglected topic by examining how Chinese Muslims fused Islamic ideas into the Chinese philosophical tradition, and eventually contributed to modern discourses of ethnicity, Chinese national consciousness, and global Islamic revival. By combining the work of American, European, and Japanese scholars of history, sinology, religion, and political science, Jonathan Lipman has put together a volume that shows how Sino-Islamic scholars who laboured at the margins of two civilizations actually found themselves at the centre of philosophical debates that continue to shape the modern world. Most modern scholars (myself included) have adopted the official and popular use of Huizu to include all non-Turkic Muslims in China who speak the same dialects of Mandarin or other local languages as their non-Muslim neighbours. However, the authors of this volume avoid using the term as a natural category to convey the recent, arbitrary, and contested classification of this population descended from a variety of foreign Muslim men and Chinese women as a discrete ethnicity. By classifying Chinese Muslims as Huizu, one of fifty-five minzu, or ‘minority nationalities’, the Chinese Communist Party effectively marginalized Chinese Muslims and subverted their attempts to integrate Islamic thought into the larger Chinese intellectual tradition. Thus, it is fitting that this volume rejects the unproblematic use of this term. While the numerous cultural, theological, political, and historical differences between Sinophone and Turkophone Muslims make the narrow focus understandable, some discussion of the latter populations would help to make this choice more clear to non-specialists and help to situate Sino-Muslims in relation to other Muslim subjects of modern and historic Chinese states. The book follows a roughly chronological organization, beginning with four chapters discussing early scholars’ attempts to translate Islamic ideas into the Chinese intellectual milieu. Then, the four later chapters highlight more recent debates about how Muslims should position themselves in relation to the emerging Chinese state and the global umma of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The contributions in the first half of this volume engage the reader by introducing Sino-Islamic scholars as people—often through their own words—in addition to analysing their ideas. The first chapter is a prime example of this. After a brief editor’s introduction, Lipman’s first chapter captures the immensity of the Sino-Islamic project with an analysis of Ma Zhu’s attempt in the early days of the Qing era to translate the Abrahamic creation story into a Chinese cosmology that had never known an all-powerful creator deity. Ma Zhu’s Qingzhen Zhinan (‘Compass of Islam’) illustrates how Sino-Muslim intellectuals sought to explain their faith to their non-Muslim peers in a way that would not contradict Confucian principles, while also remaining faithful to Islamic theology in order to propagate it among Chinese Muslims who could not read Arabic or Persian texts. This and other texts that helped accomplish this feat became canonized as part of the Han kitāb, or ‘Chinese [Islamic] books’, the name given to the foundational Chinese Islamic texts composed in the late Ming and early Qing eras. In a trend that will continue throughout the book and the history of Chinese Islam, Lipman describes how Ma Zhu’s work received laudatory praise from Chinese Muslims, but a less enthusiastic response from conservative and somewhat xenophobic Confucian intellectuals. James Frankel’s chapter on Liu Zhi, whom he rightly calls ‘the most prolific and celebrated of the Han kitāb writers’, continues in the same vein by describing how Liu’s attempt to synthesize Chinese and Islamic knowledge met with limited success in the eyes of Chinese scholars (p. 35). Perhaps more than any of the other contributors, Frankel is able to give a sense of Liu Zhi as a person torn between two worlds as he describes Liu’s struggle to use his scholarly prestige to elevate the status of his faith and his frustration at the mixed reception his work received in his own time. While Liu Zhi is certainly worthy of the high praise Frankel bestows upon him, he might be overstating his position of honour among Chinese Muslims today. As Chérif-Chebbi describes in the final chapter, Liu Zhi’s integration of the two traditions’ mystical vocabularies that earned him acclaim among generations of Chinese Muslims now earns criticism from some reformists who denounce cultural accretions in Islam. Roberta Torntini’s contribution focuses on one example of Liu Zhi’s work, the Tianfang Sanzijing ‘Three Character Classic of Islam’, to show how it laid theological foundations for adapting Islamic law to Chinese conditions. This primer of rhymed triplets introduces the basic tenets of Islam by imitating Confucian texts intended for the instruction of the young. Torntini shows how the text justifies the legitimacy of the Hanafi school of law through both Neo-Confucian and Islamic principles of authentication, but she could have provided more concrete examples of exactly how Islamic principles were adapted to suit Chinese conditions. Kristian Peterson’s essay proceeds to fill this gap by showing how Sino-Muslim scholars attached different meanings to the ḥajj and debated whether it was mandatory for Muslims in China. Peterson outlines how varying perceptions of the ḥajj also represent and construct different relationships between Chinese Muslims and the rest of the Muslim world, which foreshadow the debates within Chinese Islam that are the focus of the second half of the book. To begin the second half of the book, Wlodzimierz Cieciura examines the early twentieth-century debate about whether Sinophone Muslims should be considered a religious community of ethnic Han Chinese who practise Islam, part of a Muslim ethnicity that also includes the various Turkic Muslims living inside Chinese territory, or a separate Huizu ethnicity unto themselves. This discussion provides important historical context to understanding current relations among Muslims in China, who are now divided into ten different ethnic groups. Cieciura insightfully describes how the adoption of the last of these options by the People’s Republic of China effectively marginalized the study of Islam and of the works of the historical personages featured in the first half of the book by associating them with a purportedly ‘backward minzu’ (140). Cieciura illustrates how northern Chinese lay Muslims and their periodicals mobilized discourses of religion, politics, ‘scientific’ modernity, and national identity. However, he could have included more discussion of the relationship between these intellectuals and China’s various Islamic sectarian groups, which have often taken different sides on this issue and served to further divide Muslims defined as different ethnicities. Yufeng Mao’s contribution helps to illustrate how some Chinese Muslims have fomented such sectarian and political debates by studying in Muslim majority countries and returning with new ideas of how to better integrate Chinese Muslims into the global umma. This study highlights how, during the Nationalist era, Muslim students saw the opportunity to study at al-Azhar University not only as a means of elevating the state of Islamic knowledge in China, but also as a chance to enhance the prestige of Islam and China’s Muslim minority in the eyes of the state and their Han compatriots. Mao mentions briefly how Ḥasan al-Bannā and movements like the Islamic Brotherhood influenced Chinese scholars, but the reader is left to wonder what other Islamic scholars influenced Chinese students and how they perceived their pupils from the new Chinese nation. The final two chapters address ongoing debates between those Chinese Muslims who admire the attempts of historic Chinese Muslim intellectuals to integrate Islamic and Confucian thought and those more recent reformist scholars who present a much more critical view. The decline of Persian as a scholarly language among Sino-Muslims notably tipped the balance in favour of the latter, and Masumi Matsumoto aptly shows how this was also associated with the rise of Chinese nationalism. She describes how the practical necessity of learning Chinese instead of Persian and growing opposition to the Sufi ideas featured in many Persian texts combined to effect this dramatic change. Matsumoto’s chapter segues nicely into Chérif Chebbi’s contemporary update to this debate, as she puts it, ‘Between ‘Abd al-Wahhab and Liu Zhi’, which she correctly identifies as more of a spectrum than a dichotomy. Whereas the previous chapters tend to focus on distinguished scholars formally educated in both Confucian and Islamic traditions, Chérif-Chebbi notes that, while lay Muslim intellectuals without official academic positions may be late arrivals to the debate, they have also become the most popular and outspoken, particularly in online forums. She groups an almost overwhelming array of voices into academic, religious, and lay intellectuals to illustrate the different types of overlapping discourse. Then, she places these groups on a spectrum that thoughtfully traces the origins of each school of thought, in the process distinguishing between different schools of Salafism that are too often conflated. It is notable that this is the only chapter to discuss the absence of women among China’s Islamic scholars, although she also notes an increased interest in women’s religious education among some Salafis. While she admits that the chapter is a preliminary overview of the subject, her work serves to connect the other chapters to the present context and to illustrate the ample scope for future research. This volume will be useful in classes on Chinese religious thought, and the later chapters could be useful for teaching the history of Chinese nation-building and discourses of ethnicity. It includes a glossary of East Asian names and terms that will be particularly useful to non-specialists trying to navigate the hodgepodge of Arabic and Persian terms that Chinese Muslims have transliterated into Mandarin over the centuries. More broadly, this book serves as a useful case study of the localization of Islam, but the authors could do more to contextualize the subject matter within the broader history of Islamic thought and engage with debates in the field of Islamic studies. While it is understandable that studies of Chinese language sources would be dominated by Sinologists, this volume and studies of Chinese Islam in general would greatly benefit from more contributions by scholars conversant with Arabic historical and theological sources. This volume does an admirable job of bringing Chinese Muslims into the mainstream of Chinese intellectual history, and one hopes that it will inspire scholars of Islam to engage more with Muslim scholarship from the periphery of the Islamic world, like those Sino-Muslim intellectuals who saw themselves as contributors to both Chinese civilization and the global umma. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Islamic Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 30, 2018
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