The Destination of Muslim Immigrants – China?

Who would have thought that out of all places in the world many people, including a lot of Muslims, would be migrating to China to flee political instability and other hardships in their countries. Apparently there are more than a thousand Iraqi refugees in Yiwu alone and Muslims from other parts of the Muslim world have also settling in China because of economic reasons. This is interesting to know since economics was the main reasons for the establishment of the first Muslim communities in both China and Korea. In the case of Korea however the Muslim community completely assimilated into the locals so that even its trace is gone from the populace but not so in China where the contacts with the rest of the Muslim world continued. Here are a few relevant excerpts from an MSNBC news story.

YIWU, China – For more than three years, Khaled Rasheed and his family spent the nights huddled in fear as bombs exploded near their home in Baghdad. Like generations of would-be emigrants before him, he dreamed of a better life elsewhere. But where?

Finding a place that was safe was Rasheed’s top priority, but openness to Islam and bright business prospects were also important.

It wasn’t long before he settled on a place that had everything he was looking for: China.


As part of this campaign, China has sought to portray itself as more open to Islam than other non-Muslim nations.

Over the past 20 years, the government has gradually allowed its own Muslim minority to rebuild institutions that were devastated by state-sponsored attacks on Islam during the Cultural Revolution. Islamic schools have opened, and scholars of Islam are being encouraged to go abroad to pursue their studies. Unlike Christians, China’s estimated 20 million Muslims are considered an ethnic minority, a status that confers certain protections and privileges.

“In America, for people with my religion there can be a lot of problems,” said Adamou Salissou, 25, from Niger. “The image they have of Muslims is that they are terrorists. Chinese don’t have a problem with religion. They think, ‘It’s your religion and it’s okay.’ ”

With funds from a Chinese government scholarship, Salissou is pursuing a master’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at Xiamen University in Fujian province, where a community of Arab traders thrived in the 7th and 8th centuries. Salissou’s brother Nour Mahamane, 23, joined him this fall and is studying for a master’s degree in petrochemistry in Shanghai.


‘They are free here’
Mosques in areas such as Yiwu, where foreigners are concentrated, have been given more freedom than some others, which are under strict state control. Officials at the mosque here estimate that more than 20,000 Muslim immigrants, about 1,000 of them from Iraq, have settled in the area over the past five years.

“The main feeling is that they are free here,” said Ma Chunzhen, the imam. “People are buying apartments and cars. They want to live here for good.”

When he first arrived in Yiwu from Beijing in 2001, Ma said, there were just over 100 people in his congregation. Services were held in a rented space in a hotel room. These days, up to 8,000 people attend the Friday prayer service in the shiny new mosque that was converted from a silk factory’s warehouse with money from foreigners who had settled in the city.

Things are of course not perfect as the following excerpt attests but still they are pretty good.

In Yiwu, there was anger in the Iraqi community after an Iraqi man, Mostafa Ahmed Alazawi, was found dead in his rented home on March 30. His family wanted him to be buried in China and applied to the city for a piece of land. The city ruled that foreigners could not be buried in China, forcing the family to ship the body back to Iraq. The decision fueled outrage among the Iraqis. Through a friend, the family declined to be interviewed.

Anwar said that despite the tensions he’s happier to be in China than elsewhere in the world.

“My brother lived in the Netherlands for nine years,” he said. “There, if you are a foreigner, you are below them. When he came to China, everything was different. Here, if you are a foreigner, you are treated better than Chinese.”

14 responses to “The Destination of Muslim Immigrants – China?

  1. Not surprised. Throughout time, there have always been muslims in China. And it’s close to middle east. In the nation’s capital, Beijing, most of the south of the city is occupied by Muslims.

  2. Very interesting piece, but let me correct one thing: In the Netherlands even being an immigrant you can access to high positions, like being an MP, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali did, before she was expelled by Rita Verdonk (Not a pleasant person, to be sincere). I have not read any other accounts of what is it to be an immigrant in China, but I certainly doubt that such a thing is possible there. I doubt too, from what I have been told by friends that “you are below” to them if you are a foreigner. Of course, it is not a perfect country and there are racist people, as everywhere else, but certainly it is not a mainstream attitude.

    • LOL with xenophobic PVV winning Dutch election, immigrants are going to feel so welcome in The Netherlands!

  3. Very interesting piece. I know of Arab students going to study in Japan, and Arab businessmen in China, but I had thought that both cases were temporary.

    Does China grant immigration visas and citizenship to foreigners as easily as western countries like Canada, Britain and Australia do? And how easy is it to learn the language?

    e.g. in Canada it is fairly straightforward to immigrate and acquire citizenship if you meet the criteria, and there are free classes to learn English (or French in Quebec, I believe). Is there anything comparable in China?

  4. I don’t think the Chinese central government grants citizenship to anybody easily. From what I know, there’s only ONE immigrant to China that’s well known. He’s a singer, oh well, that might be the reason I know he’s a citizen in China. However, due to the massive human population, I doubt China even lets anybody apply for citizenship. And the language is extremely difficult to learn. And don’t even start on the dialects.

  5. Assalamu Alaykum

    2 years ago I studied with 2 chinese mates here in France and I found them open minded not judgemental. They also told me that in China there were provinces were pork wasn’t allowed and in canteen there was special meal for muslims. Do you confirm ?

    I also have a question if you don’t mind How do they veiw hijab (veil) both in cities and rural areas ?

    Thanks 🙂

  6. Oh believe me, most Chinese people ARE judgemental and not so open minded. In some ways they are like Americans, to view the world from their points of view so if something is not conform with their culture or value, they look down on them. For example: body piercing. Young people dont give a damn about them, or they think it’s cool. But the older people, people in and over 40s, don’t even start. that’s just one example. Simply put, if they can’t accept it, it’s just wrong to them.

    As for the veil, from what i understand, most of them consider it part of the muslim culture, and some think it’s part of the fashion. Most of the Muslims live in the western part of China. There’s a semi-self governed province in China, called NingXia, very small province.

    sorry to turn this thread into a message board, lol.

  7. Everyone, welcome to the blog.

    kunzilla,I agree this phenomenon has been observed before but I think this time because of globalization it is going to be different. I mean peopel from Niger in China, that is interesting. Your point about the ‘dialects’ is correct. Technically some of the ‘dialects’ are different languages but are called dialects for political reasons.

    Guido, You have raised a good point. Getting citizenship is difficult in China. I think the opinion of the Iraqi guy was based on his personal experience so one cannot really generalize.

    h, No China does not grant immigration to foreigners. As for learning the language, Mandarin is considered relatively difficult for people coming from an Indo-European and Semitic language.

    Muslimah, Wa’alaikum’as’salam, the statement about pork being not allowed in whole provinces is an overstatement. There may be some localities where it is hard to find. On the question about hijab, it varies from ethnic group to ethnic group (in China Muslims are comprised of 10 ethnic groups) and the level of assimilation in the mainstream. Many non-Muslim Chinese people in the diaspora in the West however consider it weird. (The last statement is based on personal observation.)

  8. kunzilla, jazak’Allah for sharing the information. I have actually heard the statement about close mindedness from a lot of people so there may be some truth in that. This is one of the reasons that it is sometimes difficult to give dawah to Chinese people as some of them associate Islam with something foreign. 😦

  9. Actually, Islam is not as foreign in China as one might think. Because this religion has been in the area for as long as the religion itself existed. The only difference is that China wasn’t that big back then, hehe. As for ethnic groups, there are 56 in China including the main one, called Han. Islamic followers are not only called Muslims, in China they are called Hui. Hui is the name of the ethnic group. The word “muslim” is close associated with Islam, the religion. It’s kind of complicated for me to explain because obviously, I’m not the expert here. I just live there for almost 15 years.

  10. all muslims are welcome in china. foreigners dont get citizenship, but its not hard to get residency, and work permits. in fact, just about anyone can get it, as long as youre not trying to challenge the govt (ie tibet supporters, taiwan independence). there are tons of foreigners in shang hai. i have many american friends living in china. most of them made decent money, some a small fortune. most of them have little chinese skills, ie 2 yrs of chinese class. you will not find the kind of racism you do in europe. ive got an african friend teaching english in rural china. he says he is treated like a celebrity. even japanese are welcomed, despite all the bad things theyve done.

  11. Hello,

    I am from the Netherlands and i am a muslim and I am totally in love with China and korea. But when i look around in Holland there are not many Chinese or Korean moslims, or maybe its better to say: i cant find any!.
    A bit sad, because i would really like to know them!

    However its nice to hear that the islam is welcome in China, i never expected that.

    I am hoping to visit China and Korea once (or many times more). And maby i will even mary one(a Chinese or Korean guy) if I can find one! Wouldnt that be funny.

    But a very nice topic! I am glad i found it!!

  12. hi my name is james nasser i live in u s a i aim 50 years old i like to merry chinese lady age 35to 38 if you could help my

  13. It is sad indeed that China has to let in all these foreigners. Who will end up staying forever.

    Then their future generations will start to make demands from the Chinese. And cause trouble for Chinese in future.

    On the other hand, Chinese people have to face racial discrimination, second class status, ridicule and all other forms of unfair treatment, including muderous violence. Like the kind Chinese minority in Indonesia has been enduring since long.

    While foreigners in China are given preferencial treatment over locals. Why this unfairness? Why the double standards?

    All foreigners, including muslim foreigners, should leave China, once they have made sufficient wealth for themselves and their families. Go and take up permanent residence elsewhere. China is already overpopulated.

    I have no animosity towards any foreigner, including muslims. But it is absolutely humiliating for many Chinese to have to bear unfair and biased treatment when living abroad as minority. Only to see that foreigners have more rights and are treated better than Chinese in their own country.

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