Global/Local Perspectives on Chinese Muslim Origin Narratives and Guangzhou’s Islamic Heritage Sites

Post Author(s)

Alongstanding tradition among Hui Muslims attributes the arrival of Islam in China to a mission led by Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ (ca. 595-ca.574), a relative of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632). Although the historicity of this story has been questioned to the point of incredulity, Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ is associated with two important sites in Guangzhou – the Huaisheng Mosque and a tomb where he is purportedly buried.

Guangzhou was one of the original centers of Muslim commerce and immigration in the Tang dynasty (618-906), and in recent decades has seen an influx of both Hui domestic migrants, as well as international Muslims coming to do business. The Huaisheng Mosque and Waqqāṣ tomb have emerged as focal points for both groups of Muslim newcomers, as symbols of Guangzhou’s ancient Islamic heritage.

The tomb in particular attracts Muslims from around the world, who treat it as a sacred site, and the person buried there as a saint. The mythic power of the Waqqāṣ narrative has not only persisted among Hui Muslims, who invoke it as a source of identity, but has also expanded well beyond China to Muslim communities around the world, who treat the tomb as a mazār, or pilgrimage site. These overlapping trends have helped situate Guangzhou as a center for trade and religious tourism, building links between China, its Hui Muslim population, and the global Muslim Ummah.

The proposed project will trace the history and development of Islamic heritage and Muslim life in Guangzhou, using the mosque and tomb as points of reference. Specifically, it will explore how these sites have helped Hui Muslims create an origin narrative that tethers them to the sacred memory of Islam’s origins in Arabia, thereby contributing to the construction of a communal identity imbued with legitimacy and religious prestige.

The research will also encompass the role of Guangzhou’s Islamic heritage sites in anchoring foreign Muslim merchants and other sojourners in China, and more recently in attracting international religious tourism.

Finally, the project will examine how the prestige of the Islamic heritage sites has brought mutual benefit to both the Muslims in China and Chinese government authorities, who have collaborated in making Guangzhou a hub along the Belt and Road in a convergence of local, national and global interests.

Note: This subproject has been developed into a separate GRF grant, ‘Global/Local Perspectives on Chinese Muslim Origin Narratives and Guangzhou’s Islamic Heritage Sites’ (RGC Ref No. 14602319)

BRI Mapbox: An Online Map Generating Database

The BRI Mapbox illustrates the spatial configuration between infrastructures and religious factors in the BRI region. This work maps out and correlates routes, borders, railroads, pipelines, ports and free trade zones with demographic, economic and geo-political data in both contemporary and retrospective timeframes. These spatial features form a...

Mapping Routes, Exchange, And Transformation Along The Borderlands Of Laos, China, And Vietnam: The Lanten Case

Political and, often, scholarly, boundaries divide Asia artificially into units, such as Southeast Asia and China. This modern division often contributes to masking ongoing processes of exchange and flow of persons, goods and ideas, and societies inhabiting the borderlands. Such is the case of the Lanten communities (Landian Yao or Yao Mun) who...

Between A Rock And A Hard Place: Sinophobia And Religious Nationalist Sentiments In Vietnam

President Xi Jinping’s launch of the One Bell One Road Initiative (OBOR or BRI) was met with a negative reaction in the Vietnamese public sphere, although the speedy development of infrastructure connecting Vietnam and China would stimulate a number of trade sectors. The discussion focused on whether part of Vietnamese sovereignty should be given...

Parallels And Paradoxes: New Religious Formations In Response To The BRI In Sri Lanka

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has attracted significant volumes of foreign investment. The vast majority of this investment has come from Chinese companies, which have committed loans amounting to over US$ 7 billion so far. Much of this investment has been used to finance large-scale infrastructure projects, including the...

Building Inter-Asia New Age Networks: Balancing Heterodoxy And Patriotism In Chinese Spiritual Tourism To India

The recent military clashes between India and China in the Galwan Valley resulted in the Sino-Indian border heating up to levels unseen in recent years. Meanwhile, India continues to downplay China’s Belt and Road Initiative and refuses to sign a BRI Memorandum of Understanding. In June 2020, parallel to the reports on these tensions, Chinese...

Alternative Healing Methods And China’s Health Silk Road: Chinese Muslim Medical Enterprises And Practitioners In Dubai

China has gained more prominence in terms of its global health leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. The state dispatched medical teams and supplies to many Belt and Road countries in the last six months. Sinopharm, a large state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company, established its first overseas COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial program in...

Buddhism At The Borders Of Trade: Colonial And Post-Colonial Discourses On Trans-Himalayan Economic Networks And Connectivity

The expansion of international trade exerted and continues to exert considerable influence on the negotiation of nation-state borders and on the formation of cultural, social, and religious identities. While the relationship between religion and trade is undeniably complex and multifaceted, it has been suggested that commercial connectivity has...

Modern China And The Question Of Muslim Sectarianism In The Context Of Inter-Asian Religious Circulations

Sinophone Islam, as found in the Xibei (Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia), is characterized by sectarian (jiaopai) divisions among four groupings: the Qadim, the Sufi orders (menhuan), the Ikhwan, and the Salafis. With the exception of the latter, all of these sects adhere to a common doctrinal and legalistic tradition, shared by their...

Paving Portions Of The ‘One Road’ Across The Indian Ocean: China’s Highway And Bridge Projects In The Republic Of The Maldives

Our work examines the work of constructing domestic overland roads and bridges within the Republic of the Maldives. This archipelago of atolls stretches across 90,000 square kilometres, but of that vast territory only less than 300 square kilometres is comprised of dry land. The country includes within its territorial waters two major deep-water...

Religious Circulation, Transportation Routes, And Urban Space: Christianity In Late Imperial And Modern China

This project studies the intricate and largely overlooked relationship between religious circulation, transportation routes and urban space in the historical context of state building and global connection in mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth-century China. Focusing on the case of Christianity, it examines three cities and regions that have played...