December 2020

Islam comes to China

First Muslim Missionary to China

China was beyond the reach of any military mission and was approached by the peaceful efforts of Muslim missionaries. A few Arab merchants had found their way to China, but the first apostle of Islam to that land has the title Sabhape, or Sarta ‘Companion of the Prophet. According to Chinese inscriptions he is called Wang-ke-che, Wang-ka-se,or Wang-ka-sze and should probably be linked with Wahab abu Kabocha, a maternal uncle of Muhammad. Most likely he was sent in 628, the year of missions, to carry presents and the new doctrine to China. Arriving at Canton, he went up to the capital Sy-ngan-fou, to see the Emperor Tai-Tsong, from whom he obtained permission to preach at Canton. After staying at Canton for two or three years, and building a mosque in 630 he returned to Arabia only to find Muhammad dead. Abu Kobocha took a copy of the Quran and returned with it to China. No doubt his preaching which is mentioned in an inscription (1351 A.D.) on the mosques of Canton, produced considerable results.

Islam Established in China through Immigration

But the real establishment of the faith in China was due mainly to the immigration of large numbers of Muslims – Arabs, Turks and Mongol, into the North-Western provinces of the Empire. Merchants as usual led the way, and we hear of Arab traders located in China before 750A.D. They do not appear to have been anxious to spread their religion, nor did they settle down permanently in the land. The Chinese chronicler however, speaks of crowds of barbarians flocking into the country from the west, bringing their sacred books (713-742), and there is evidence to show that a mosque was even erected in the capital, Sy-ngan-fou in 742. At all events a colony of Muslims settled in China thirteen years later, when the Khalif sent 4,000 soldiers to help the Emperor against the rebel, An-lo-chan. These, as a reward for there services, were allowed to establish themselves in Chinese territory, where they settled and intermarried, giving rise to a large Muslim population.

In the thirteenth century Marco Polo speaks of the large numbers of Muslims in Yunnan, and somewhat later, a Persian vizier, Rashid ud-din, says that almost all the people of that province were Muslims. The evidence of Ibn Batutah (fourth century) also is to the same effect, that there were large numbers of Muslims in China.

The earliest immigration was reinforced by successive ones, especially when Jenghis Khan by his conquests had brought east and west so much nearer to one another. Arab, Persian and Turkish Muslims poured into the Middle Kingdom, and these being fostered and protected by immunities, gradually developed into an organised and a flourishing society. The attitude of the government was often favourable to their Muslim subjects, whose religion they regarded with a politic tolerance, as a mixture between Buddhism and Confucianism. The Emperor Tai-Tsong in 1384 praised Islam and in the eighteenth century Yong-Ching upheld the cause of the Muslim subjects against a native Mandarin, who accused them of various crimes against the laws and morality of the country. However, from time to time restrictions were laid upon the Muslims in China; they were not allowed to go on pilgrimage to Mecca; foreign mullahs were forbidden to enter China, and even the building of mosques was prohibited.

China, then, owed its escape from a conflict with the missionary sword of Islam mainly to its distance. Yet in 713, Kuteiba ibn Muslim, having carried his victorious standards through the whole of central Asia, advanced towards China sending Hubeira with the usual terms – Islam, tribute, or the sword. But pressing matters in the newly conquered countries re-called him before he could enforce his haughty designs. The annexation, however, by the Muslims of the country between the Oxus and the Jaxartes was of great importance to the history of Islam and China; for the establishment of Islam in Kharezm gave rise to the kingdom of the Hue-Hue, or Chinese Muslims.

Turning to the South-Western provinces of China, we find that Islam in Yunnan owed its chief impulse to Umar, a Muslim from East Turkestan, who was appointed to the government of Yunnan by Kubla Khan in 1295.

Islam comes to India

Early physical force

It is a hotly debated question whether the large number of Muslims in India is due to a rapid and long-sustained process of peaceful conversion, or to large immigrations, political influence or physical force. It seems that the answer lies in an amalgam of all four propositions.

India first felt the force of the Muslim sword in 712, when the Khalif Walid sent an army to avenge an outrage on an Arabian vessel. Qasim, the Muslim general, offered Islam or tribute; but the Rajputs chose to fight and after being defeated a number of Brahmans were forcibly circumcised. Having failed to make them Muslims, Qasim proceeded to put all the Brahmans over seventeen years of age to death, and to enslave the rest. Contrary however, to the law of the Quran, other Rajputs were allowed to continue in their idolatry and pay tribute. In fact the Arabs showed more clearly in India than anywhere else that their object was not so much the conversion of idolaters and polytheists as the plunder of temples and the enlargement of the Muslim Empire. In the “History of India”, by Wheeler, the eminent authority writes “The military adventurers who founded dynasties in Northern India and carved out kingdoms in the Deccan, cared little for things spiritual; most of them had, indeed, no time for proselytising, being continually engaged in conquest and war.”

It was in the eleventh century under Mahmud of Ghazni, that Islam was really established as a dominant power in India. On 28 November 1001 Mahmud fought and defeated the army of Raja Jayapala of the Kabul Shahi dynasty at Peshawar. He made nearly a score of invasions altogether, with the usual results of obtaining incredible quantities of loot, demolishing temples, and slaughtering infidels. Delhi became the capital of this Muslim kingdom, which was further enlarged by Muhammad Ghori (1149-1206) and kings during the latter part of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries. The invaders threw down the Hindu idols, put the priests to the sword, destroyed temples and replaced them by mosques. The offer of joining Islam always preceded any attack. Those who accepted Islam in this way probably apostasised when the conquerors retreated.

On the whole the early dynasties the Khiljis (1290-1320); the Tughlaqs (1320-1412); Lodis (1451-1526) were generally too busy engaged in fighting to pay much regard to the interests of religion; exacting tribute was a greater concern than winning souls. However, the Ghakkars of the mountainous areas of the Punjab are said to have converted in the 12th century under the influence of Muhammad Ghori.

Under the Moghul dynasty the religious influence of Islam became more permanent and persistent. In the 15th and 16th centuries there arose Hindu theistic tendencies which caused dissatisfaction because of their vague Pantheistic nature. In contrast Islam appeared to express a reality of the divine existence with an objective characteristic of truth which had a wider appeal in north India.

Official pressure was more persistent upon the Hindus under Aurangzeb (1618-1707). According to family traditions many in the eastern district of the Punjab changed in order to save the land of the village. Many Rajput landowners in the region of Cawnpore were compelled to convert for the same reason. Aurangzeb shares with Haydar ’Ali (1761-1782) and Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) the reputation of forced converts of families and sections of the population. A proclamation of Tipu Sultan stirred up a revolt in 1789 and was enforced by his army of 20,000. Thousands of Hindus were circumcised and made to eat beef but by the end of 1790 the British army destroyed the last remnant of his power and then most of the converted Hindus reverted.

Peaceful means

It is a hotly debated question whether the large number of Muslims in India is due to a rapid and long-sustained process of peaceful conversion, or to large immigrations, political influence or physical force. It seems that the answer lies in an amalgam of all four propositions.

While it is true that the focus of the spread of Islam in India centres on conquest and the brutal massacres of the Brahmans by Mahmud of Ghazna, the persecutions of Aurangzeb and the forcible circumcisions effected by Haydar ’Ali, Tipu Sultan and others. There were however, vast conversions that did not owe themselves to force. Knowledge of Islamic mission amongst the Indians is taken from biographies of Muslim saints and local traditions.

Generally the low-caste Hindus welcomed the Muslim invaders with its concept of the equality of man with the higher classes of Hindus practically untouched by Islam. The trade in spices, ivory and gems between India and Europe for many hundreds of years was conducted by the Arabs and Persians causing a continual stream of Islamic influence to flow to the west coast of South India. From this constant influx of foreigners there resulted in the trading centres along the coast a mixed population, half Hindu and half Arab or Persian. No obstacles were placed in the way of proselytising. The graves of some of the Muslim missionaries were honoured for example Shaikh Jalal-al-Din Tabrizi (d. 1244).

Shiite Islam has deep rooted influence in the history of India from North to South with various Shia Muslim dynasties ruling Indian provinces from time to time. The Bahmani Sultanate (1347–1490) was a Muslim state of the Deccan in southern India and was the first independent Islamic and Shi’ite Kingdom in South India. Being less strict than the Sunnis they made use of Hindus in administration and assimilated some their beliefs, making it more acceptable to the native Hindus. From this compromise of religion arose the Indian Sufis, who, mingled the Pantheism of the Hindus with some of the tenants of Islam and looked upon Muhammad and Ali as incarnations of the Supreme Spirit. They acknowledged the truth of the Quran only in a spiritualised sense. Other attempts were made to amalgamate the two religions.

At the beginning of the fifth century Kabir preached the identity of the Hindu and Muslim God with Ali and Rama as the names of this God. A century later Chaitanya preached the common salvation of all races and castes, asserting that Islam and Hinduism both contained elements of truth. Midway between these two reformers comes Nanuk, the founder of Sikhism, which is distinctly a compromise between the religions. The peaceful teaching of Nanuk was transformed later into the basis of a religious warfare by the Guru Govind.

Apart from the rapid increase in population one chief reason for the success of Islam in India has been the social conditions of life among Hindus. The insults thrown on the low caste Hindus by their co-religionists and the impassable obstacles to improve their condition found its answer in another religion. Whether by conviction or convenience they changed their religion. There has been a constant stream of Hindu women marrying Muslim men with their children being brought up in the Islamic faith. A stream of lower caste people have left their caste and found refuge in Islamic charity and their children have been protected when their parents either died or deserted them.

Kashmir has proportionately more Muslims to Hindus than any other province in India. Missionary activity seems to have been carried out by faqirs and dervishes among whom were Ismailian preachers from Almut. The first Muslim king of Kashmir was Sadr al-Din who is said to have owed his conversion to a certain derwish Bulbul Shah early in the 14th century. The cause of Islam was advanced later in the century by Sayyid ’Ali Hamadani a fugitive from Persia. He was accompanied by 700 Sayyids who established hermitages all over the country. In the 15th century a Shia’ Mir Shams al-Din came from Iraq and won converts. When Kashmir became a province under the Moghul Akbar Islam strengthened naturally.

In the 19th century there was a remarkable revival of Islam due to the Wahhabi reformation attempting to purge Islam of all Hindu superstitions and spreading the faith amongst unbelievers.

Individual Eschatology concerns the condition of the individual between his death and the general resurrection at the close of the age.

December 2020

The Mahdi literally means “the guided one”, and has come to mean in an individual way, the divinely guided one. While Allah himself is called al-Hadi in the Quran (Al-Hajj 22:54; Al-Furqan 25:31) the figure of al-mahdi or mahdi, and his mission is not mentioned at all. Islam uses the term of certain individuals in the past and of an eschatological individual in the future. The Mahdi is interpreted differently by Sunnis and Shi’a although both look for one who will arise to restore the purity of Islam and usher in a Golden Age in which Islamic revelation will reign in the ideal community, the umma.

There is a general belief amongst Muslims that the living Muhammad intercedes for them at the throne of God. The Wahhabi’s state that the intercession of their Prophet is only by the permission of Allah on the Last Day and that there will be no intercession for sins until the Day of Judgement. In principle the Quran denies that there is an intercessor with Allah. However, there are a few passages which suggest that under certain circumstances Allah does allow someone to intercede. It seems that Muhammad’s intercession is available for the Muslim as he/she invokes the blessings of Allah upon the Prophet.

The appearance of the Anti-Christ (ad-Dajjal)

Resurrection and the Last Judgement Al-Qiyama

December 2020

Questions and Answers about the Second Coming of Christ which are held by orthodox Muslims

Both the Quran and Tradition present their picture of ‘Isa. They give him a high place among the prophets; they affirm his sinless-ness; they affirm he had power to work miracles but all this does not distinguish Him in any way as to its nature from the other prophets who came before him.

The Quran recognises that David glorified and praised God. The mountains and the birds alternated with him in these praises (Al-Anbiya 21:79, Saba’ 34:10, Sa’d 38:18). Muhammad, it seems, took literally the passages where creatures and elements joined David in their praises so it seems that when David was fatigued Allah caused other parts of nature, both animate and inanimate to relieve him. David is presented as a model Muslim, praising Allah, fasting, prostrating, acting justly and fighting for the honour of Allah

The title Tawrat is given in the Quran and all Muslim works for the Book of Moses (in Hebrew Torah stands for ‘the Law’). The term tawrat is found in the Medina period. Muslim scholars accept that the Tawrat teaches the unity of God yet believe it falls short of the full revelation as it does not give an account of the stated method of prayers (Al-Fath 48:29), the fast, a detailed description of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and alms-giving, nor is there anything regarding heaven and hell. For these reasons the Tawrat is said to have been altered by the Jews.