Thursday, December 1, 2016

Success of China’s Hui Muslims: Assimilation or Hyphenation?

By Haiyun Ma | Assistant Professor - Frostburg State University

MEI | Nov 10, 2016

With the increased international media attention on the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, Western news magazines such as The Economist and Foreign Policy have started to also focus on the Hui, or Chinese-speaking Muslims. The Economist article, “China’s Other Muslims” (October 8, 2016) depicts the Hui’s success as owing to their assimilation into Han Chinese culture and society. The article states that the Hui are counted as an ethnic minority only “because it says so on their hukou (household registration).” This imagined conception of the Hui leads to other fantastical representations: Hui are “rarely to be victims of Islamophobia,” can “negotiate around the grey areas of China’s political system,” serve as “middlemen between China’s state enterprises and firms in China Asia and the Gulf,” and are even able to “practice Islamic law (sharia) to a limited extent.”
Unlike the Uyghurs’ recent incorporation into the Chinese state around 1750s, the Hui have resided and intermarried in China since the Tang dynasty (618-907). The historic Hui presence generates hybridity in their race, language, religion, and literature; as a result, modern Western scholars often deploy hyphenated terms such as “Sino-Muslim,” “Confucian Muslims,” and more recently, “Muslim Chinese” to refer to them. It is possibly because of this phenomenon that the Hui have been portrayed as the best example of civilizational dialogue between (neo) Confucianism and Islam, and thus promoted by contemporary Confucian scholar Tu Weiming and his Islamic counterpart Seyyed Hossein Nasr.[1]