Introduction to "Islam in China/China in Islam"

Matthew S. Erie, Princeton University
Allen Carlson, Cornell University
Uyghur woman in a market in Urumqi, Xinjiang, 2004. Photo by Matthew S. Erie.

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...