Defining Shariʿa in China: State, Ahong, and the Postsecular Turn

Matthew S. Erie, Princeton University
Hui after Friday prayer at East Gate Grand Mosque Xining, Qinghai, 2010. Photo by Matthew S. Erie.
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Abstract

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