Cross-Currents e-Journal (No. 12)
Islam in China/China in Islam
Rather than China versus Islam, the overarching theme of this special issue is “Islam in China/China in Islam.” In thinking through “Islam in China,” we argue that the relationship between China and Islam is not one of opposition, but rather one of cultural, linguistic, and economic imbrication. Indeed, it is difficult to describe Islam and China as two separate or essentialized entities. For some Muslim minorities in certain regions of China, there is no distinction between neo-Confucianism and Islam or between the nation-state and the global umma (community of Muslims). Through intellectual labor, modes of prayer and worship, art, calligraphy, architecture, cuisine, linguistic creoles, and legal pluralism, these Muslims embody multiple cultural referents. For other Muslim minorities in other regions in China, political and economic circumstances present challenges to living in accordance with Islam while also being a citizen of the PRC. In other words, the Muslim experience in China encompasses a complex mosaic of accommodation, adjustment, preservation, and, at times, resistance. Thus, generalizations about this incredibly diverse population are unhelpful, and careful attention must be paid to history, politics, and place...
This article takes the example of a disappeared altar in a Himalayan valley as revelatory of contradictions within the mechanics of a Hui Muslim revitalization project. The community example—a group of historically identifiable Muslims in China—centers on the disappearance of a gifted propitiation altar that once stood as an instantiation of community cohesion among ethnically varied populations in the valley. The investigation examines transformations of modernity and the erosion of the “social glue” that held valley communities together as the disappearance of this gift is revealed to be a telling instance of the large-scale productivities and corrosions effected by China’s contemporary renaissance of reemerging religious movements and community identifications, processes in which Chinese Muslims serve as a potential indicator for a long view of reform contemporary social transformation.
Keywords: China, ethnicity, minzu, Muslims, Yunnan, religion, frontier, revitalization
In this ethnographic sketch, I analyze the complex processes of Sino-Islamic identity formation by examining the variety and diversity of locally produced “authenticity,” situated within a global understanding of Islam. Even within a single province, among a single official minzu (nationality) that People’s Republic of China propaganda, media, and scholarship often construct as a unified, static group, localized practices and processes of identity formation are remarkably diverse. This article investigates how trans/national discourses and practices of Islamic authenticity are localized within two specific field sites: the provincial capital of Kunming and the rural Muslim enclave of Shadian. For the purposes of this article, I focus primarily on how life is temporally and spatially structured, both in everyday practice and in imaginings of one’s place in history, modernity, the Muslim world, and the Chinese state. By setting out details of the daily lives of two Hui Muslim women, I aim to elucidate how temporal and spatial structures of life, which are tied to urban or rural location, reflect and shape local identity formation. I argue that as actors involved in their own self-production, Hui Muslims in Kunming and Shadian negotiated, appropriated, and contested both monolithic notions of Islam and the official state-propagated minzu classificatory system, producing their own versions of authentic Hui Muslim identities. What constituted authentic Hui Muslim identity depended to a great extent on the residence of the individual.
Keywords: Chinese Muslims, Hui, identity, modernity, trans/nationalism, comparative ethnography
This article traces the activities of Ma Dexin, a preeminent Hui Muslim scholar and grand imam (akhund) who played a leading role in the Muslim uprising in Yunnan (1856–1873). Ma harshly criticized Shi’ism and its followers, the shaykhs, in the Sufi orders in China. The intolerance of orthodox Sunnis toward Shi’ism can be explained in part by the marginalization of Hui Muslims in China and their attempts to unite and defend themselves in a society dominated by Han Chinese. An analysis of the Sunni opposition to Shi’ism that was led by Akhund Ma Dexin and the Shi’a sect’s influence among the Sufis in China help us understand the ways in which global debates in Islam were articulated on Chinese soil.
Keywords: Ma Dexin, Shi’a, shaykh, Chinese Islam, Hui Muslims
Just as shariʿa (Islamic law) has been demonized globally, so too, paradoxically, have governments sought to appropriate Islamic authority for secular rule. Based on nineteen months of field research in northwest China, this article offers some preliminary thoughts on the ways in which the party-state manipulates shariʿa for purposes of rule. Through the example of the China Islamic Association, an organization constituted under the Chinese Communist Party in 1953, the author argues that the party-state’s evolving relationship to Islamic authority demonstrates what he calls the “postsecular.” Rather than discursively demarcating (legitimate) secular law from (illegitimate) religious law, the China Islamic Association has, since 2001, a watershed year in the relationship between secular and Islamic authority, sought to expound law from the revealed sources of Islam that are congruent with Chinese socialism and nationalism.
Keywords: Islamic law, Northwest China, China Islamic Association, postsecular, ethnography
This article questions dominant understandings of “China,” “Islam,” and the relationship between the two. It does so by uncovering an alternative understanding of China, one held by a group of people living within the Qing Empire and, later, the Republic of China: the Turki-speaking Muslims of Altishahr, known today as Uyghurs. Turki manuscript sources depict China as a distant and distasteful power, as a khanate in the Inner Asian tradition, and as a city synonymous with its ruler, characterized above all else by its rejection of Islam, yet vulnerable to conversion by charismatic Sufis. This notion of China, it is argued, is no more culturally determined than the predominant understanding of China that undergirds most scholarly studies of China, and no less enlightening. And yet Altishahri and other Islamic perspectives have been excluded from our notion of China, largely through a dependence on the concept of “syncretism.” As an alternative to the syncretism approach to cultural interchange, the article advocates for a greater focus on overlapping networks of shared meaning. Applied to the Altishahri case, this approach gives a sense of what is lost in the privileging of Islam and China as dominant categories, and shows the distortions involved in bounding these categories.
Keywords: Islam, China, syncretism, Uyghur
In my opening comments during the conference “The Everyday Life of Islam: Focus on Islam in China,” held at Cornell University on April 27 and 28, 2012, I proposed a number of themes, tensions, and conflicts on which we might focus our discussion of the papers. This epilogue will summarize some of the conversations that ensued and note areas of particular interest that emerged from revisions to the five essays presented in this special issue of Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review.
Some conference participants attempted to make generalizations at national and transnational levels, while others stuck tenaciously to local details. Our discussions sometimes strayed from “everyday life,” but rarely from diverse, sometimes divisive, solutions to the everyday problem of “being Muslim and being Chinese” and its macrocosmic projection, “Islam in China/China in Islam,” or, in Rian Thum’s contribution, Islam not in China. The essays here, influenced by conversations and debates during the conference, suggest future agendas for study of Islam in China and research on Muslim minorities and comparative religion and politics...