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Islam during the Tang dynasty

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Title: Islam during the Tang dynasty  
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Subject: Islam in China, Tang dynasty, Islam during the Ming dynasty, Islam during the Qing dynasty, Islam during the Yuan dynasty
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Islam during the Tang dynasty

The History of Islam in China goes back to the earliest years of Islam. According to China Muslims' traditional legendary accounts, eighteen years after Muhammad's death, the third Caliph of Islam, Uthman ibn Affan sent a delegation led by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, the maternal uncle of Muhammad, to the Chinese Gaozong Emperor.


  • Origins 1
  • Early contacts between Islam and China 2
  • Early Muslims in China 3
  • Laws concerning religion 4
  • The massacre of foreigners 5
  • References 6
  • See also 7


According to Chinese Muslims' traditional legendary accounts, Islam was first brought to China by an embassy sent by Uthman, the third Caliph, in 651, less than twenty years after the death of prophet Muhammad. The embassy was led by Sa`d ibn Abī Waqqās, the maternal uncle of the prophet himself. Emperor Gaozong, the Tang emperor who received the envoy then ordered the construction of the Memorial mosque in Canton, the first mosque in the country, in memory of the prophet.[1]

While modern historians say that there is no evidence for Waqqās himself ever coming to China,[1] they do believe that Muslim diplomats and merchants arrived to Tang China within a few decades from the beginning of the Muslim Era.[1] The Tang dynasty's cosmopolitan culture, with its intensive contacts with Central Asia and its significant communities of (originally non-Muslim) Central and Western Asian merchants resident in Chinese cities, which helped the introduction of Islam.[1]

Early contacts between Islam and China

Arab people are first noted in Chinese written records, under the name Dashi in the annals of the Tang dynasty (618–907), (Tashi or Dashi is the Chinese rendering of Tazi—the name the Persian people used for the Arabs).[2] Records dating from 713 speak of the arrival of a Dashi ambassador. The first major Muslim settlements in China consisted of Arab and Persian merchants.[3]

In 751 the Abbasid Caliphate defeated the Tang dynasty in the Battle of Talas River. The Tang dynasty saw the creation of the first Muslim embassy, with the exchange of an emissary from Emperor Gaozong of Tang, with a general from the Caliph Osman. There were also requests for help from the Muslim soldiers. In 756, a contingent probably consisting of Persians and Iraqis was sent to Kansu to help the emperor Su-Tsung in his struggle against the rebellion of An Lushan. Less than 50 years later, an alliance was concluded between the Tang and the Abbasids against Tibetan attacks in Central Asia. A mission from the Caliph Harun al-Rashid (766–809) arrived at Chang'an. These diplomatic relations were contemporaneous with the maritime expansion of the Islamic world into the Indian Ocean and as far as East Asia after the founding of Baghdad in 762. After the capital was changed from Damascus to Baghdad, ships begin to sail from Siraf, the port of Basra, to India, the Malaccan Straits and South China. Canton, or Khanfu in Arabic, a port in South China, counted among its population of 200,000, merchants from Muslims regions.[4]

Early Muslims in China

One of the earliest mosques in China the The Great Mosque in Xian was built in 742 (according to an engraving on a stone tablet inside)

During the Tang dynasty a steady stream of Arab and Persian traders arrived in China through the silk road and the overseas route through the port of Quanzhou. The Muslim had their mosques in the foreign quarter on the south bank of the Canton River.[4] Not all of the immigrants were Muslims, but many or some of them stayed. It is recorded that in 758, a large Muslim settlement in Guangzhou erupted in unrest and fled. The same year, Arab and Persian pirates who probably had their base in a port on the island of Hainan.[4] This caused some of the trade to divert to Northern Vietnam and the Chaozhou area, near the Fujian border.[4] The Muslim community in Canton had constructed a large mosque (Huaisheng Mosque), destroyed by fire in 1314, and reconstructed in 1349–51; only ruins of a tower remain from the first building.

Laws concerning religion

Islam was brought to China during the Tang dynasty by Arab traders, who were primarily concerned with trading and commerce, and not concerned at all with spreading Islam. They did not try to convert Chinese at all, and only did commerce. It was because of this low profile that the 845 anti Buddhist edict during the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution said absolutely nothing about Islam.[5] Early Muslim settlers, while observing the tenets and practicing the rites of their faith in China, did not undertake any strenuous campaign against either Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, or the State creed, and they constituted a floating rather than a fixed element of the population, coming and going between China and the West by the oversea or the overland routes.[6][7]

The massacre of foreigners

Two massacres with Muslim victims took place in Tang dynasty China, the Yangzhou massacre (760), and the Guangzhou massacre.

In 878 recorded the massacre of Muslims in Guangzhou (Canton) by a rebel leader named Huang Chao. Abu-Zaid of Siraf reported that 120,000 foreign merchants were killed by Huang Chao, while the later Mas'udi claimed 200,000.[8][9][10] The victims were Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians (Parsees). It was estimated that the number killed were between 120,000 and 200,000.

Arab geographer and traveler Abu Zaid Hassan recorded:

'no less than 120,000 Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Parsees perished.' (Hourani 1995:76).


  1. ^ a b c d Lipman 1997, p. 25
  2. ^ Israeli, Raphael (2002). Islam in China. United States of America: Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0375-X.
  3. ^ Israeli (2002), pg. 291
  4. ^ a b c d Gernet, Jacques. A History of Chinese Civilization. 2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-521-49712-4
  5. ^ Herbert Allen Giles (1926). Confucianism and its rivals. Forgotten Books. p. 139.  
  6. ^ Frank Brinkley (1902). China: its history, arts and literature, Volume 2. Volumes 9-12 of Trübner's oriental series. BOSTON AND TOKYO: J.B.Millet company. pp. 149, 150, 151, 152. Retrieved 2011-12-14. Original from the University of California
  7. ^ Frank Brinkley (1904). Japan [and China]: China; its history, arts and literature. Volume 10 of Japan [and China]: Its History, Arts and Literature. LONDON 34 HENRIETTA STREET, W. C. AND EDINBURGH: Jack. pp. 149, 150, 151, 152. Retrieved 2011-12-14. Original from Princeton University
  8. ^
  9. ^ History of humanity
  10. ^ Familiar strangers: a history of Muslims in Northwest China

See also

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