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)

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...

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...

State-Building In Religious Society: A Comparative Study Of Religious Control In Belt And Road Countries

This research aims to study state policies of the religious control in Belt and Road countries in Central Asia, including China (Xinjiang province), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. Through a comparative study of the religious policies in these countries, this study seeks to reveal how the socialist or post-socialist...

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...

Muslim Humanitarian Networks and Chinese Infrastructures in Northern Pakistan

This project investigates the intersection of Muslim humanitarian networks and Chinese-built infrastructures in Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan. The central aim of the project is to examine how at this meeting point of material and social entities that are often seen as disjointed new meanings emerge which alter the use and poetics of...

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...

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...

Back To Jerusalem: The Missionary Movement Of The Chinese Protestant House Church

Chinese Protestant Christianity has grown exponentially in the last few decades. China has become a missionary-sending country at the same time as its political and economic importance in the world has grown. Many Chinese Christians believe that God has been calling on them to undertake the great mission of converting Muslims to Christianity. The...

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...

Mapping the online discourse on the BRI in social media: general context and religious factors

This data mining project investigates the changing and contested narratives of the BRI in social media, focusing on sentimental and networking characteristics in online communication platforms. In an interim outcome, this work has firstly framed a systematic approach to analyse the discourse on the BRI in social networking platforms; with further...