Alameda (Calif.)–May 26, 2008–The recent tragedies that have overtaken Southeast Asia and the Far East have impacted Muslim communities — although in a minority there; i.e., Burma (see my recent article on the subject in this paper a few weeks ago), and Sichuan (China). Today I shall spend my time on that huge Chinese Province devastated by the massive earthquake of mid-month (May).
We in the West do not think of Islam as a major force outside the Middle East, but the People’s Republic of China has 56 officially recognized minorities. Ten of those are from the Muslim ummah. The estimates of the Muslim population in Chinga vary from 10 to 100 million — making that country one of the twenty most populous Muslim countries upon our globe.
The Muslim people there are divided into those ten recognized groups plus smaller grouping – all based on ethnicity. The Hui are the largest of the ten distinct Muslim ethnic groups. Some say the Hui Muslims are the descendants of Arab, Persian and Turkish Muslim immigrants who intermarried with the local Han (majority) Chinese people. Others say they are descended from Companions who emigrated in the early days of Islam to mainland China. There are approximately ten million Hui Muslims in China. Their culture is the same as that of the majority Han Chinese with the difference that the Hui practice Islam and do not eat pork or drink alcohol. Much of the Hui homeland is in the region of the epicenter of the devastating earthquake in Sichan Province.
Historically speaking — other than the practice of Islam — there is not much difference from the Han (majority Chinese). For the Huis, being a Muslim means belonging to an (independent) subethnic group, and thus their [“academic” or formal] knowledge of Islam is practically non-existent to the point that they do not even know the basic pillars of Islam, and yet they consider themselves Hui. On the other hand, there are recent Han Chinese converts who follow Islam much more stringently than the Hui, but they do not like to be called Hui because they are purely Han Chinese. Like Christianity, Islam crosses the boundaries of race and ethnicity. For the Musim, all that is necessary is the simple (paraphrased) Credo (in Engish): “I bear witness that there is no god except God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God!” (s).
Back to China’s disaster and her peoples (the traditional Hui Musims and the newer Han converts), in terms of lifestyles, the two groups are almost identical – to the point of speaking the same language. Even amongst the Hui one will find people who eat pork, though, and even drink alcohol; so it is difficult to tell where the Hui begins or the Han ends.
Unfortunately, with the immensity of the destruction, I could not locate articles that addressed directly — with hard facts and figures — the impact of the earthquake upon the Hui and other Chinese Musims and their immediate needs. Therefore, because of their populace’s concentration, it is unfortunately fair to assume that the Hui have been unevenly affected by the tragedy.
Even before the devastation, Islamic Charities had been active in China improving the lives of poorer Chinese citizens irrespective of religion. Beijing has recently expressed their gratitude to all the Musim charities working towards the humanitarian relief of their citizens – most especially to the Muslim relief workers, for with their geographical closeness to the disaster, they were some of the first to arrive into the interior with relief.