One thing that usually gets lost in discussion of Islam in “far-away” lands is the contribution of non-Arab Muslims in spreading Islam. The point is not to diminish the contribution of Arabs Muslims but rather to highlight the contribution made by many other. Here an article about the contibutions and the influence of the Persian language in spreading Islam in China.
Persian helped promulgate Islam in China
Wednesday, January 10, 2007 – ©2005 IranMania.com
LONDON, January 10 (IranMania) – The Persian language has clearly contributed greatly to the promulgation of Islam in China over the years, the Iranian cultural attaché in China said at Nanjing University, MNA reported.
At a seminar on Xiao-Er-Jin, Mohammad-Javad Aqajari said, “Xiao-Er-Jin script, which is a combination of Persian, Arabic, and Chinese scripts, was used by the students of Islamic science in China with the aim of accessing Islamic sources.”
Xiao-Er-Jin is the practice of writing Sinitic languages such as Mandarin (especially the Lanyin, Zhongyuan and Northeastern dialects) or the Dungan language in the Arabic script.
The Xiao-Er-Jin writing system is similar to the present writing system of the Uyghur language in that all the vowels are explicitly marked at all times. This is in contrast to the practice of omitting the short vowels in the majority of the languages for which the Arabic script has been adopted (like Arabic, Persian, and Urdu).
“According to some sources, the Persian language has been used regularly in Chinese Islamic centers and many Chinese scholars believe that this fact has promoted the Persian language among the Muslim and even non-Muslim Chinese,” Aqajari noted.
“Studies by Islamic bibliographers show that many of the old Islamic manuscripts of China were written in Persian.
“According to some historical sources, some Chinese rulers even used the Persian language in their correspondence with European kings in previous centuries.
“The large number of antique Persian translations of the Holy Quran, Persian exegetic, mystical, astronomical, medical, and Islamic historical texts, and Persian dictionaries in China indicates that Persian was China’s official Islamic language, and we Iranians are proud of this,” he explained.
According to Wikipedia, since the arrival of Islam during the Tang dynasty (beginning in the mid-7th century), many Arabic or Persian speaking people migrated into China.
Centuries later, these peoples assimilated with the native Han Chinese, forming the Hui ethnicity of today. Many Chinese Muslim students attended madrasahs to study classical Arabic and the Quran. Because these students had a very basic understanding of Chinese characters but would have a better command of the spoken tongue once assimilated, they starting using the Arabic alphabet for Chinese.
This was often done by writing notes in Chinese to aid in the memorization of suras. This method was also used to write Chinese translations of Arabic vocabulary learnt in the madrasahs. Thus, a system of writing the Chinese language with Arabic script gradually developed and standardized to some extent.