Chinese Islam and the Dominant Narrative

For any social community, religious or otherwise there is usually one dominant narrative and many more multiple narratives. If the community is large enough then owing to ideological, cultural or geographic reasons the dominant narrative of the sub-community may differ with the dominant narrative in as far as it will emphasize the role of the local in the narrative of the global. The same applies for historical narratives. While Muslims all over the world have almost the same narrative with respect to the early history of Islam it begins to diverge after the first few generations, the history of Muslims in the locality predominate including the contributions of local Muslims to the larger body of Islam. This is an almost universal phenomenon. Owing to geography, cultural output, relative economic power, center of socio-economic power there also exists a dominant narrative of the later centuries with some regional variations. In the larger Islamic world there is also a dominant narrative for the later centuries also. Its details may vary but it is usually centered around the Middle East which is quite peculiar given that most Muslims actually do not live in the Middle East. In terms of geography Chinese Muslims have largely been on the periphery of the currents of Islamic history. This of course does not mean that China has not been part of what I would like to call the Muslim imagination. On the contrary contacts between the Islamic world and the Confucian world were extensive in the Muslim world. The Islamic civilization expanded eastwards while the Chinese civilization expanded westwards and thus the two frequently interacted. For the present discourse the point that I want to get across is that it is high time that for the Muslims outside of China to make the history of Islam in China part of the dominant narrative. Globalization is already impacting the narrative of the Islamic civilization. There are many things that Muslims from other countries, especially in the West, can learn from Chinese Muslims. The question of Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Harb which used to be of great importance from people in Muslim majority countries not too long ago and for some even now, was never an issue for Chinese Muslims because for hundreds of years China was and is their country. The story of Islam need not be, and I believe it is not, exclusionivist. Thus it is quite easy to weave a narrative of Islam in China and the larger Chinese history since one is likely to find Muslims in one role or another at almost all junctures of Islamic history. It is only after recognizing the other as similar to us that we can talk about us. Here by ‘other’ I mean our non-Muslim Chinese brothers and sisters. Many of us in the West have heard stories about the revival of Islam starting in the West but perhaps it happen not in the West but rather in the East. Something to think about.

On a side note, I posted some information on Halal Chinese food in NYC some time ago. I wanted to know if people have other suggestions that I did not cover. I will be on the East Coast next week. People usually get away from e-mails during vacation time. For me its the opposite. I still have to fulfill my promise to follow up on all the e-mails and the comments that I have received on the blog. Insha’Allah 🙂

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4 responses to “Chinese Islam and the Dominant Narrative

  1. the dar-al…. grouping are perfectly fine. its just that their definition has changed. in this age, they have been defined as more a personal thing(eg. can muslims practice their deen fully in that country) rather than the overt political ones of the pre-colonial era.

  2. Pepe, That’s the point. The previous operational definitions are no longer applicable and everyone should recognize this.

    Khayyam, wa’alaikum’as’salam, Thanks. This topic is also a list of topics to cover in the future.

  3. Just wait til the muslim (religion of peace) population becomes large enough to cause real trouble in china. (sharia law)

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