The Islamic Reform Movement was first initiated in the Middle East at the end of the nineteenth century. Scholars of Islamic modern history have proved that its scope covered the area from Morocco to Indonesia, including China. Sino-Muslim intellectuals were involved in the world-wide movement by visiting and staying in the Middle East. They would do this on their way to Mecca at the beginning of twentieth century, when prohibition against travelling abroad for people in China was abolished. Muslim intellectuals witnessed the reality of the movement and recognised the importance of the Islamic reform in China, since it had seemed to change its essential characters after having been separated from the world for centuries. After the massive immigration to China in the Yuan (Mongolian) period, (13th-14th centuries), Muslims in the Chinese imperial sphere were obliged to stay in China where the majority was non-Muslim. Even though they knew Islam was a religion that accepted the unity of religion and politics, it was impossible for them to implement the principle. Coexistence was the principle they implemented for centuries. If they did not strive to live together with non-Muslims, then they, as a minority, would be extinguished.
Reinterpreting the theology of the unity of being or wahdat al-wujud, which had prevailed in Islamic communities on the Eurasian Continent since the thirteenth century, a theology unique to Chinese society arose at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It asserted that Muslims in China should have dual loyalty both to Allah and to the Heavenly Mandate. Completing this theology, Wang Daiyu and Liu Zhi claimed, using the terminology of Confucian writings, there was no contradiction in obeying the order of the Heavenly Mandate, since his existence in this world was also the reflection of Allah. If a Muslim under the rule of the Heavenly Mandate lives a good and moral life, he/she would fulfil the life given by Allah and be able to return to the real essence of Allah after his/her death. They also asserted there was no contradiction between Confucian thinking and Islamic thinking. Both accepted human perfection in life. Their belief was later called “Gedimu” in Chinese, which was literally a corrupted form of qadim or “old” in Arabic, since the belief had been brought to China in earlier years. Because of this theory, Sino-Muslims with belief of Gedimu did not rebel against Qing dominance, even though Qing policy towards the Hui was sometimes harsh enough to exacerbate ethnic discrimination in the regional communities. When Hui rebellions initiated by Jahriya menhuan, a branch of a tariqa, took place in the Northwest in the middle of eighteenth and nineteenth century, most Gedimu Sino-Muslims distanced themselves from them. Some of them even participated in the efforts of the Qing court to suppress the rebellions.
Accumulating assets through commercial activities among Muslims and the other ethnic communities, some upper class Muslim families could afford to send their sons to study for the civil-service examinations. For the preparation of the examination, understanding of Confucian knowledge was considered to be so indispensable that it was compulsory for Sino-Muslim intellectuals to maintain the world-view that Confucian and Islamic knowledge did not contradict one another at all. Sino-Muslim literati were required to have knowledge of these two kinds of ethics to facilitate their lives in the Confucian society of China. However, at the turn of twentieth century, Qing imperial power and authority was shrinking, while Western and Japanese powers began to infringe on Chinese sovereignty in economic, political, and legal fields. If Sino-Muslims continued believing in the theory of dual loyalty, especially loyalty for the Heavenly Mandate, their existence would have been in peril in the event of the fall of the imperial authority.
(Source: Science et Religion en Islam)