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Muslims in China

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Religion and Religious Groups and Their Foods

Fall Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(3) pages: 17 to 18

Widespread in China, Chinese Muslims are the second largest minority population after the Zhuang. They are discussed in Volume 24 (1); read that article. It begins on page 11. Many are called Hui or Huihui, and some call themselves Tongan. Most are descendants of Central Asian minority people who came to China long ago; and most still practice their Islamic religion. A good number intermarried Han Chinese, live in every county and province in China, and do not consider themselves one ethnic group as the Chinese government does.

The largest number of Chinese Muslims live in China’s Northwestern region in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (25.3%). Others live in Gansu (11.89%), the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region (9.29%), Henan (9.05%), and the Qinghai region (7.88%). Smaller numbers live in Yunnan (6.60%), Hebei (5.39%), and the Shandong provinces (5.06%). About two percent each live in Anhui, Beijing, Lioning, and in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region; and about one percent each live in Guizhou, Tianjin, Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Jilin, Fujian, Sichuan, and Heilongjiang.

Clearly, the Islamic population is widespread throughout China. They comprise many different Muslim populations and live in many places. They are the second largest ethnic minority, most speak Chinese, many also speak Arabic, and they have diverse heritages.

Chinese Islamic people were first written about during the Northern Sung Dynasty (960 - 1127 CE). Anthropologists say they may have been forerunners of the Uygur. They are a varied population that during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE) or earlier, came to China, and since have been industrious, and attended mosques they built in China. A popular member is Zheng He, a well-known chap who traveled to thirty Asian and African countries over twenty-nine years. He is well known for having done so.

Except for religious issues, these people blend in with the Chinese though their women are recognized by the headcoverings most of them wear. Middle-aged, women’s head-coverings most often are black, those over the age of sixty are white; and if married they can be green, red, or pink. Most of their men wear white caps.

To the Chinese government, the word Hui does mean an Islamic person; and they are known not to eat pork. Their main meat is lamb, young or old, they do eat beef, and never eat an animal found dead. They ritually slaughter the animals they do eat, preferably by someone of their faith, adore their meats in hot pots, and love them roasted whole for important celebrations. They eat in halal restaurants, that are often painted blue, and most believe in and practice their Islamic religion, though at different levels. These folk pay attention to personal hygiene, and wash their hands often. Their men pray at a local mosque five times a day. One can hear their call to worship from the tops of their minarets reminding them to do so.

Most of their forebears probably came to China with or as merchants during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE), or thereafter, have adopted lots of the Chinese culture and mixed it with their own religion. Their washing of hand is always done with running water, and they abstain from stimulants such as coffee and alcohol, enjoy tea in a Chinese lidded gaiwan and like it flavored with jasmine, dried apple, dates, sesame seeds, rose petals, walnuts, or goji berries. The make theirs pouring boiling water over the tea leaves, and they add some of the other items after that. With their tea, they like sanzi, deep-fried hot or cold noodles, and like them with many different plain foods.

When a Hui meets another Hui, they commonly stick out one finger to the other Hui, and that other one puts out two fingers in response. Most believe in the five pillars of Islam that include witness, prayer, giving alms, fasting, and pilgrimage, and they do kneel on a carpet when praying, and they do so facing Mecca. Elders can wear black robes, sport full beards, and rarely shave or cut their facial hair. When born or as a young infant, they are given a Hui name by an Iman who is called an ahung, and at death they are buried in a white cloth and not in a coffin.

In China, most Hui live near Han people and know, enjoy and participate in Han festivals in addition to their own. One of the latter is the Feast of Fast that is celebrated on the first day of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar when Ramadan ends. Another is Corban, and that is when families bathe, then pray together, and kill a lamb to share on this Islamic holiday.

They know there are ten different Muslim populations in China, and that they make up more than twenty million Chinese, speak a Sino-Tibetan form of Arabic, and attend school and do speak Mandarin. Many live in cities, love hand-pulled noodles called la mian, and flavor them and many other foods with chili, garlic, and several spices. They do like a spicy stew called ang zasui, often with internal organs added. They also like their foods with flat breads they call nang They want their meat slaughtered following their rituals, and they and Jews are known as “those who extract the sinew,” as they both slaughter their meats doing that.

They like flour porridge made with stock and neckbones; and in China’s south, they eat lots of lotus seeds and sticky rice, enjoy jiao zi at lunch and at other meals, love noodles, baked rice, nang or mantou filled with mutton and mushrooms; and they eat few vegetables. Their dinners can include mutton-based soups, rice porridges, meats, and fruits, and dumplings at main meals served with vinegar.

At their Corban festival, they prefer boiled foods; at Ramadan, do not eat during daylight hours from sun up to sun set, and after the sun goes down, begin their meal with tea or soup.

At weddings, they have eight dishes, this number symbolizing stability; and they do not believe in divorce. At funerals, most dishes are white and served with no sauce, not even soy sauce. If you smell perfume at a funeral, it is because they clean the deceased with something aromatic, and put some of it in every body orifice be it mouth, nose, ear, etc. and they put fagara in the mouth and scatter some on the body.

Hui women do embrace when greeting each other, their men never do. When a Muslim offers food, accept it as it is considered the polite thing to do, and do request a very small portion as they like to feed guests lots. They are generous people who provide considerable food and alms to others.

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