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Muslim Sanzijing: Shifts and Continuities in the Definition of Islam in China

Muslim Sanzijing
  • Book Title:
 Muslim Sanzijing
  • Book Author:
Roberta Tontini
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  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1 Introduction 1
  • Motivation and Relevance 1
  • Literature Review 2
  • Roadmap 6
  • Conceptual Definitions 7
  • Chinese Muslims 7
  • Hui 8
  • Islamic Law 8
  • Muslim Sanzijing 8
  • 2 Tianfang Dianli: Norms and Rites of Islam in Imperial China 10
  • Introduction: Legal Traditions in Cultural Convergence 10
  • Hanafi Regionalism and the Chinese “Sunna” 13
  • Rethinking Jurisprudence 20
  • Leadership and Authority 25
  • Non-Muslims and Slavery 26
  • Inheritance and Dowry 28
  • Marriage and Polygyny 29
  • The Chinese Sharia 34
  • Confucian Frameworks of Islamic Jurisprudence 40
  • Conclusion: Islamic Law in Cultural Translation 44
  • 3 Tianfang Sanzijing: A Regional(ist) Theory on Islamic Law 50
  • Introduction: Liu Zhi and Yuan Guozuo’s Joint Intellectual
  • Enterprise 50
  • Coming of Age in Chinese Islamic Literacy 51
  • Wugong: From Religious Pillars to Social Bricks 59
  • Witness 68
  • Prayer 71
  • Fasting 75
  • Almsgiving 77
  • Pilgrimage 80
  • Rite and Law in the “Great Learning” of Islam 82
  • Traditions as Cradles of Transitions: Establishing Regionalism
  • in Chinese Islamic Law 92
  • Conclusion: The “Filiative Transmission” of Islam in China 105
  • viii contents
  • 4 Islamic Law in the Aftermath of the Anti-Qing Rebellions 113
  • Introduction: Novel Texts for Rebellious Contexts 113
  • Beginning, Unfolding and Indigenizing the Transmission 117
  • Rethinking Orthodoxy 121
  • “Ways” of Islam in a Changing Society 129
  • Wugong: The Five Ritual Endeavors 131
  • Wudian: The Five Social Norms 135
  • Minchang: Ordinary Matters 144
  • New Perspectives on Social Order 147
  • Conclusion: The Legacy of Two Primers 151
  • 5 Rethinking Liu Zhi’s Legacy in Postimperial China 156
  • Introduction: Islam in Transition 156
  • Strengthening the Chinese Nation: Hu Songshan’s Three-Character
  • Primer of Islam 157
  • China’s “Muslim Brothers”: A Regional Trajectory 170
  • Red Star over Muslims: Hu Xueliang’s Sanzijing for Girls 178
  • “Love Your Country, Love Your Religion”: Na Guochang’s Sequel
  • to the Tianfang Sanzijing 194
  • 6 Islam’s Filiative Transmission to Modernity 206
  • Conclusion: The Great Learning of Islam in China 217
  • Works Cited

Tianfang Dianli: Norms and Rites of Islam in  Imperial China

Introduction: Legal Traditions in Cultural Convergence

Although attention has been paid to the historical contours of Islamic identity in China, an important issue remains largely unexplored: the historical development and conceptual definition of Islamic law. One might assume that, given China’s own legal theory and praxis, the importation of Islamic law along with the religion would have simply represented an infeasible and unnecessary option.

However, the paragraphs that follow approach this puzzle from a perspective that sees Islam “as a religion of which the central theological feature is the law.”1 In this spirit, the centrality of the law in Islamic theology urges reflections on the way Chinese Islam historically handled the legal discourse.

Indeed, if Islamic law is to be seen as an integral part of the Muslim creed, it is legitimate to wonder what happens to it when the religion as a whole is exported into a non-Muslim setting. Thus, this chapter focuses on late imperial China, with an emphasis on early Manchu rule and on a specific Islamic text known as the Tianfang dianli.2

At its core, this chapter addresses the recon-ciliation of Chinese Muslims—as a minority in a predominantly Confucian society3—with the legal component of their religion. It is worth mentioning that the Chinese ulama4 were generally literate in Arabic and were well aware of the legal facet of their religion.5 In trying to make sense of the legal notions in the scriptures of Islam, these intellectuals could not avoid their social and political implications—a fact that ultimately led them to reinterpret these notions in light of local normative perspectives.

The Islamic and Confucian legal discourses developed out of different polit-ical experiences. The former came primarily from the nomadic landscape of the Arabian peninsula, while the latter evolved from the agrarian society of imperial China.

The importation of Islam in China set the ground for contact between Confucian and Islamic patterns of law and governance, which derived from these particular experiences. To some degree, contact between them cre-ated sources of potential collision. As this chapter highlights, the possibility of conflict was especially concrete for Chinese-speaking Muslims in late imperial China, given their simultaneous exposure to Islamic law and to Chinese legal codes prone to identifying them as full-fledged imperial subjects.6

However, this situation ultimately led to an intellectual adjustment regard-ing the dual legal affiliation of local Muslims. Early traces of this adjust-ment can be seen throughout the Han Kitab literature (or Chinese language Islamica. Here, Han refers to the Chinese language while kitab signifies “book” in Arabic), a collection of writings on Islam in Chinese largely written dur-ing the Qing period by the Chinese Muslim intellectual elite. The discussion below focuses predominantly on the Tianfang dianli, a particularly influential Han Kitab work authored during the early Qing,7 because of its commitment and connection to the Islamic legal issue. As discussed below, the Tianfang dianli represents an important Chinese contribution to the debate over the role of Islamic law in a non-Muslim political setting.

Therefore, special attention is paid to the cultural dynamics behind the construction of this Chinese Muslim approach to Islam and its jurisprudence, influenced by the Confucian background of the author but still consistent with the main tenets of Sunni Islam. Ultimately, the nature of its legal approach led to a singular definition of Islamic law in China, which was flavored by Confucian perspectives on the role of law and rites in society.

The chapter starts with a preliminary reconstruction of the legacy of Islamic law in China before the appearance of the Han Kitab and ends with a textual analysis of Islamic legal theory in “Confucian terms,”8 using the Tianfang dianli as a case study. The study’s initial proposition, dealing with the legacy of Islamic law in China, is meant to underline the utility of the Han Kitab  writings—as opposed to the Arabic and Persian literature on which they were partially based—for important information on the Islamic legal discourse as it developed in China.

After all, important hints about the Chinese intellec-tual contribution to the debate upon the role of Islamic law in a non-Muslim political setting are in the Han Kitab literature. In addition, the study draws attention to the Tianfang dianli as a concrete example of Islamic legal litera-ture in the Chinese context. This focus is meant to shed light on the Chinese re-interpretation of Islamic legal thinking in local terms as it subsequently unfolded through the Muslim Sanzijing genre. That said, this chapter advances the following core arguments:

Due to a convergence of multiple historical factors, the existence of a well-established legal tradition in China did not prevent Chinese Muslims from reflecting upon the legal aspects of the revealed scriptures of Islam. Early reflec-tions can be seen in the Han Kitab writings, which captured local perspectives on the “law” of Islam.9 Therefore, the Arabic and Persian sources on which the Han Kitab were based were not approached by Chinese scholars as universal statements on the contours of Islamic law.

 Instead, they functioned as a bridge literature that spoke for Islam during the centuries of its “silence” in China, thus ensuring “legitimacy” for the Islamic legal discourse as it finally developed in the Chinese context. By electing “continuity” as a criterion of orthodoxy, the formal “originality” of the Chinese Muslim legal discourse launched by the Han Kitab writings could claim consistency with the legal principles of Sunni Islam, despite possible formal differences between its final statements and the conclusions expressed by the Islamic sources of foreign origin.

2In spite of local Muslims’ exposure to the Chinese imperial law, both the ritual and the civil aspects of Islamic law were imported and translated into the Chinese context. A close analysis of the structure and content of the Tianfang dianli clearly indicates that both realms of Islamic law became objects of inter-est and reflection by the Muslim ulama.

However, the Chinese translation of the legal language of Islam exploited normative categories drawn from local understandings of society and its administration. As a result, Chinese Muslims developed a unique form of Islamic legal reasoning, consistently “Sunni” and yet in constant dialogue with the political language of the non-Muslim political center of China.

In essence, the chapter seeks to demonstrate that Islam in China developed a legal reasoning of its own, not necessarily aligned to the juridical language of its Arab and Persian origins, but nonetheless consistent with Sunni Islam’s over-arching attention to transmission and continuity.

 In particular, the Tianfang dianli laid the ground for the development of a unique Chinese approach to Islamic legal reasoning based on local discourses on the normative function of law and rites in society. As a result, the approach to Islamic law promoted by the Tianfang dianli was in sync with the basic principles of Sunni Islam while in conversation with the legal setting of the non-Muslim political state.

Hanafi Regionalism and the Chinese “Sunna”

This section lays out a preliminary theory on the legacy of Islamic law in China by addressing the historical premises of its Hanafi Sunni definition.10 The section highlights that Han Kitab writings were the Chinese local outgrowth of a transnational Islamic debate over the role and the contours of law in Islam. The legal discourse they put forward was consistent with Sunni Islam, regard-less of the local “innovations” they brought about in legal theory.

Even though it was highly influenced by Confucian ethics, the Chinese Muslim legal stand-point found in the Han Kitab literature could claim legitimacy vis-à-vis Sunni Islam by virtue of its incorporation of non-Chinese Islamic texts in the form of references. This could, in turn, create a necessary link between the Chinese Muslim legal tradition and the revealed scriptures of Islam in Arabic. This premise should be properly articulated before we detail the concrete adjustment of Islamic law in the Confucian sociopolitical setting promoted by the author of the Tianfang dianli.

The availability of sources in Arabic and Persian that could “speak” for Islam during the centuries of its quiescence in China11 had the power to ensure “orthodoxy” in the Chinese legal discourse, at least from a Sunni perspective.

This goal was achieved by the inclusion of Arabic and Persian references as the theoretical foundation for the development of Chinese Islam. This inclu-sion shows that Chinese Muslim sources in general, and the Tianfang dianli in particular, were actually “in dialogue” with the rest of the Sunni tradition, regardless of their suggestion of a political worldview possibly dissonant from the legal formulation presented in Arabic writings.

The Islamic literature available to Chinese mosques in late-imperial times was of two kinds. On the one hand, there was an Islamic bibliography in Arabic and Persian, generally dominated by the Thirteen Classics, a body of original Islamic works of non-Chinese origin.12 On the other, there was a Chinese lan-guage Islamica, the Han Kitab writings. Both were part of Chinese madrassas education, called Jingtang jiaoyu or “education of the hall of the scriptures.”13

The Thirteen Islamic Classics, which comprised textual references of Middle Eastern origin on Islamic studies, included the Koran and works on Arabic grammar, Sufi theology, Hanafi law, and a Sha’fi tafsir,14 all of which constituted the basis of the Jingtang jiaoyu education. At the same time, the Han Kitab writings were local works on Islam in Chinese, extremely heterogeneous in content and nature. Although the latest works on Islam in Arabic or Persian used in the context of Jingtang jiaoyu learning at Shaanxi, Shandong and Yunnan schools dates no later than the fifteenth century,15 the earliest extant work on Islam in Chinese does not date earlier than the seventeenth century, a fact that points to a century-long gap between the two for which no works

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