Muslim Religious Education in China

  China Perspectives January February 2003,pp 21to 29

  Despite their diversity ,China‘s Muslims[1]have been engaged for twentyyears in a process of reaffirmation of their religion and identity[2]:constructionand renovation of mosques ,dissemination of information on Islam in the world ,translation of religious texts,etc[3].As is the case in the rest of the Muslimworld ,their efforts have also been aimed at the field of education.At first ,in the early 1980s,education was restricted to the mosque schools ,but quickly,through individual or collective initiatives,both local and provincial,a numberof private Arabic or Sino-Arabic schools,as well as many institutes ,have openedall over the country.During the surveys we carried out in 2000and 2002in theprovinces of Xinjiang ,Gansu,Ningxia,Henan,Yunnan and in Hainan ,we wereable to observe the extraordinary growth of this Muslim teaching[4].

  Muslim religious leaders in China have always complained of their co-religionists‘lack of religious knowledge :the flowering of schools does indeed answer a desirefor education but also corresponds to the need to maintain and keep alive the Muslimreligion among the faithful dispersed in the Chinese world,on whom twenty yearsof repression[5]of all public religious activity have left their mark.Moreover,in the framework of the policy of reforms carried out in the field of education[6]for over ten years(decisions taken in 1985and 1993)which led to the decentralisationand privatisation of education,the objective of these Muslim initiatives is tocompensate for the disengagement of the central state ,and to make it possiblefor populations[7]in difficult economic situations ,and particularly for girls,to receive a basic education.Within the Chinese Muslim world ,education and itsmodernisation are the objects of debate ,controversy and competition between religiousmovements.These debates are not about the situation of the primary or secondarypublic schools,although it is a difficult situation ,for these schools remainon a very low level despite the efforts made,particularly in the peripheral regionsand along the frontiers[8].According to Hui researchers,the situation of Huipublic schools,as with other schools,has deteriorated ,particularly with decentralisation.One of them gave a revealing description of a primary school in a Hui area of Xi’an,which does not seem to be the only one in this situation :“In order tobe able to meet the needs of the school ,whose expenses have increased considerably,the schoolyard has become a warehouse and a parking lot for taxis and lorries ,and the school toilets have been made into public toilets ”。He also noted thedifficulties encountered in paying the salary supplements of teachers ,and lamentedthe fact that many of the pupils had to work after school :“It means that theycan open their books only during classes”。In 1997,the school lost one-thirdof its pupils.[9]But since the public schools are the responsibility of the centraland local authorities and the local population has little influence on their decisions,discussions tend to be about the private schools,over which the Muslims ,havingestablished them,have real power.

  A study of the current development of denominational schools makes it possibleto measure the degree of autonomy available to Muslims and to observe the way inwhich the political control of the state is exercised over this aspect of religiouslife nowadays.In fact education,a politically sensitive issue,is an area wheremany players confront each other,on a variety of levels.

  In the Uygur autonomous region of Xinjiang,the authorities in Peking decidedto impose strict and systematic control over education in the areas of both religionand language.Religious education ,which had become widespread with the returnof religious activities in the 1980s,was once again forbidden in 1996followingthe troubles in the region(incidents in Khotan ,Gulja,Bahren and Aksu)。Sincethen there has been a slow recovery[10].In 2002an Imam was allowed to teach onlyone or two students[11],and only with the backing of the Bureau of ReligiousAffairs and of the local authorities,whereas,as we shall see,there can beclose to a hundred students in the mosque schools in other Chinese provinces.Therule which states that one must be over 18to study religion is ,in Xinjiang,strictly applied.Moreover it is not legally possible to open a Muslim school likethe ones in the rest of the country.Only one Koranic Institute (jingxueyuan ),managed and controlled by the authorities ,is authorised in Urumqi.Basic religiousinstruction is provided in the Arabic language.On the linguistic level ,in May2002[12],Peking provided a reminder in the press of the decision—taken earlierbut not yet really applied—to eliminate the Uygur language from higher education[13].Moreover the poverty of Uygur families,especially in the oases in southern Tianshan,makes it impossible for their children to receive a normal education in public schoolswhich have now become fee-paying,even for the theoretically obligatory first nineyears of schooling.The result is that a Uygur child who does not come from an urbanand relatively prosperous background has very little chance of being able to availof an education beyond primary level,which he will usually have received in Uygur[14].If a family seeks to compensate for this educational deficiency with religious schooling,they will have to wait until the child reaches the age of 18and send him eitherabroad,in this case to Pakistan ,if they can afford it,or to have him followthe course in a Koranic school in another part of China if they have been able toestablish contact with the school[15].The organisation of clandestine schools isindeed possible ,but the risks are real.Thus ,the limited opportunities foreducation mean,that in the streets of the cities,as in Khotan for example ,numbers of young boys aged between 12and 14work as drivers of ramshackle taxi-cartspulled by donkeys in order to contribute to their families‘needs.Moreover ,evena young Uygur graduate of the University of Urumqi has but little hope of professionalemployment in the region,as his low linguistic competence in Chinese will preventhim obtaining a job ,preference being given to Han Chinese speakers.In thesehopeless situations ,it cannot come as any surprise that young people seek toleave the area or are attracted by a modern discourse which preaches the unity ofIslam and a return to the Caliphate[16].A number of them ,suspected of belongingto the Hizb it-Tahrir[17](Liberation)movement ,were arrested[18]in the springof 2001in Xinjiang[19].

  In the other Chinese provinces,the situation is very different,in as muchas it is mainly a case of Chinese-speaking Muslims(the Hui )。The confrontationthen takes place not only with the central state but more with the local authorities.Moreover religious education reveals the rivalries between Muslim religious movements.

  From mosque school to private school

  There are about 40,000[20]mosques in China,each of which,in theory,hasa school[21].However ,not all the ahong(Imams )[22]of these places of worshiphave students.Apart from the authoritarian restrictions to be seen in Xinjiang ,this can be due ,in non-conflict situations ,to the tiredness and advanced ageof the ahong.In these circumstances,students can easily join another school nearby.While the average number of students can be estimated at twenty per mosque,someof them ,which have space ,better facilities and where the teaching of the ahongis renowned ,can bring together a hundred students.In theory at least 18yearsold[23],these students are mainly boys ,particularly in the provinces of thenorth-west.However the mosque schools are also open to girls when there are nomosques for women[24]as in the provinces of the central plain.Some of the studentshave been to public school,up to the end of the second secondary syllabus (gaozhong);however a large number of them stopped at primary school or at the end of thefirst secondary school syllabus (chuzhong)and some are virtually illiterate inChinese.They are natives of different regions and sometimes come from very faraway.Tuition fees are paid for by the host community ,as is accommodation,ifthe student ‘s family is unable to find the money.

  Some history

  All through the history of Islam in China ,as well as today ,education hasbeen a major issue.It is a question of maintaining communities of the faithfulin an environment which is overwhelmingly non-Muslim.In the sixteenth century,schools were opened at the mosques to provide religious education called jintangjiaoyu(teaching of the room of the classics),characteristic of traditional Islam(laojiao )[25],the content of which had been elaborated by an ahong from Shaanxi,Hu Dengzhou (1522-1597)[26],on his return from a journey to Mecca.At the beginningof the twentieth century,the fundamentalist and reformist movement ikhwan [27],of Wahhabite inspiration,made the modernisation of education one of its watchwords,insisting at the time on the learning of Chinese and the education of women.

  Other Muslim reformers involved in the intellectual ferment of the whole ofChinese society at the beginning of the twentieth century set up schools,suchas the famous teacher ‘s training college,Chengda[28],whose objective was toprovide modern teaching combining the joint study of Chinese and Arabic ,of history,mathematics ,and the sciences ,and to promote the sending of students abroad.

  The classic syllabus in traditional Islam (laojiao )called for over ten yearsof study,with several ahong.The halifa [29]learned Arabic and Persian ,thebasic texts (the haiti [30],the zaxue [31],the Koran,the sunna [32],thetafsir [33],the fiqh [34])and carried on[35]with deepening texts in both languageswith an emphasis on Persian[36],particularly in the case of Sufi teaching andof that dispensed by the female ahong.It was a teaching based on the master todisciple relationship ,which favoured a deepening of the understanding of thetexts and a broadening of knowledge.This course ended,as it does today ,witha ceremony called “the taking of the vestment”(chuanyi )[37]which marks theprogression from the rank of student to that of ahong.

  The situation today

  With the revival of religious activity,the need to rejuvenate the ahong ,and the pressure from reformed teaching ,the form and content of the classicalsyllabus have been modified.The number of years of study has been reduced to fouror five ,and the special relationship between master and disciple is tending todissipate ,because of the sometimes rapid turnover among the ahong,but aboveall because of the increasing number of teachers.Where the content is concerned,teaching is limited to the learning of Arabic and knowledge of the basic texts,supplemented by a course on the religious policy of the state.Thus the modernisationof religious teaching takes into account one of the main criticisms made of theahong of traditional Islam,which was that they are unable to express themselvesin Arabic ,and pronounce it with a strong Chinese intonation.Arabic is thus learnedas a modern language and no longer simply as a written language ,the sacred languageof the Koran.In order to display the good level of Arabic of today ‘s young Chinese,competitions in reading the Koran are regularly organised ,at provincial and nationallevels,in the presence of dignitaries from the Muslim world.This improved languagetraining is taking place at the expense of Farsi,which,nevertheless ,stillremains a language of study in the teaching of the female ahong and the Sufi brotherhoods.However ,the texts required for the final examination being mainly in Arabic,works in Persian are tackled less and less frequently.All in all ,while youngstudents now have a real ability to speak Arabic,there is ,on the other hand,to the regret of many ahong ,a reduction in religious knowledge.The academiccycle ends with an examination supervised by the local Bureau of Religious Affairs,by a representative of the local branch of the Islamic Association,if there isone ,and by the local ahong.After having taken the vestment,the new ahong isinvited by a local community to come and officiate.This reformed teaching has spreadto all the mosques in the last few years,whatever movement they belong to.

  Since the 1990s ,on the initiative of ahong or of lay teachers,some of themosque schools,while remaining on the premises or close to the religious building,have changed into independent organisations with the establishment of a directorand a specific administration[38].Other schools are being built independently.They all have the status of a private or specialised school (sili xuexiao,zhuanyexuexiao ,or zhuanke xuexiao )。

  These private schools have acquired considerable importance.Some are knownfor the numbers of their students ,male and female,the diversity of their training,and the possibility they offer of following university education in China (in theforeign language sections )or abroad.They often go by names such as“Sino-Arabicschool”(zhong a xuexiao ),“Arabic language school”(ayu or alaboyu xuexiao),or“Muslim Culture School ”(musilin wenhua xuexiao)。These names sometimes conveya specific option ;certain schools choose the name“Arabic School ”in order toemphasise that their main objective is the teaching of the language ;others addanother component showing their religious commitment such as Muguang alaboyu xuexiao(“Muslim Light”School of Arabic)or else an Arabic word :Xida zhong a xuexiao(Xidayah (The Right Path)Sino-Arabic School )。Others emphasise their characteristicidentity:Huizu wenhua xuexiao (School of Hui Culture )。Those responsible forthe Dali School have,deliberately ,not mentioned“Arabic School ”or“Sino-Arabic”,but use the concept of Muslim culture :Dali musilin wenhua zhuanke xuexiao(DaliProfessional School of Muslim Culture )。Indeed ,their objective is not to restrictthemselves to language learning ,but to give the students as wide an awarenessas possible of the contemporary world[39].These designations show the tensionsbetween what is specific to the Hui identity,what is part of the Muslim identity,and the desire to put Arabic in the forefront ,but we cannot draw any generalconclusions from this ,for the choice of names depends not only on the founder(s )of the school,but also on the local community,on its history and on thecircumstances of the moment.

  It is difficult to have an exact idea of the number of these private schoolsin the whole of China.There are said to be twelve schools in Yunnan province[40];for the other provinces,one can estimate that,where the number of Hui isrelatively high[41],there is a minimum of five or six schools.If one is to believesome young Hui students of this teaching,five schools are considered the mostprestigious :one in Ningxia ,two in Henan ,and two in Yunnan.The contentof the teaching is now largely identical;the differences lie in the facilities[42],particularly in computers ,and in the emphasis given to certain classes.The subjectstaught include:Arabic ,using textbooks produced in Peking or Shanghai ;a moreor less extensive basic religious education (Koran ,Sunna,fiqh ,tafs ?r ),for which the books come from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait;the history of China andof Islam,with books published in Chinese and mostly written by Hui[43].Lastly,there is a course called social sciences,dealing with Chinese legislation andreligious policy in China.Some schools offer instruction in modern and classicalChinese ,and even sometimes additional courses in English[44]and computing.Studiesare spread over four years with a final examination which only a few succeed inpassing.The schools are often co-educational (but with separate classes )[45];the students are aged between 18and 25[46],with girls making up more thanhalf of those registered.They are accepted after having passed the final secondarylevel examination (chuzhong or gaozhong)or reached an equivalent level.The numberof students averages a hundred and can reach three hundred in the biggest schools.More than half come from the province in question ,but also from all over China,and although the majority are Muslims (Hui and Uygur ),there are also youngHan ,or ,depending on the region,other minzu(Li,Yi ,etc.)who convertwhen their studies begin[47].The study costs of the least wealthy are usually paidfor[48]by the host community.In poor areas,costs are limited to 200yuan forfour years;elsewhere fees average 400to 500yuan a year,to which must be addedfood and lodging costs of between 50and 100yuan per month.These modest fees areexplained by the financial involvement of the local communities and also by thelow levels of remuneration given to teachers,some of whom are retired and workfor nothing.Salaries are calculated according to a person‘s family situation,geographical origins and training.Which is to say that a man who is the head ofa family,who comes from another province from that of the school,and has studiedabroad,will have the highest salary.Payments are in the range of 300to 500yuana month.While the majority of teachers are men ,about one-third are women.Anoteworthy complementary activity is the regular publishing of a newspaper writtenby the teachers with the participation of the students.These publications are widelydistributed in the mosques and in the other schools of each province and beyond;they are used to propagate theological ideas and to provide information on socialissues.

  “If we want to develop Islam ,girls must be educated !”

  The education of women,a preoccupation often spelt out by the ahong ,isone of the major components of current developments[49].Thus ,evening and sometimesmorning classes in the mosques,aimed at adult working or older women,bring togetherdozens of people and sometimes more.These classes are given by ahong [50]of bothsexes.An example is the evening school ,called the women ‘s school(n üxiao),in Sanya on the island of Hainan.This establishment consists of two main buildings,one being reserved for the young girls who follow the regular teaching of one ofthe village ’s mosques ,the other being made up of four classrooms.The quietof the day yields ,at nine o‘clock ,to the buzz of comings and goings,andwhen the female ahong arrives ,there rise the first sounds of the collective recitationof the surats of the Koran,sung out loud,surats which are repeated over andover in order to be remembered.There are about fifteen people in each classroom.The same evening classes are to be found in the women ’s mosques in the CentralPlain and also in the women ‘s mosque of Lanzhou (Gansu )。A complete plan ofaction designed to favour the education of girls has gradually been put in placealongside the schools with regular courses.For example ,instruction is givenone evening a week in specially provided classrooms ,or during the holidays inmosque schools,where one can see little girls of five or six learning the Arabicalphabet in chorus.Even more remarkable are those which,with few resources ,manage to maintain instruction aimed at adolescent girls.

  Let us take the example of a girls‘school in Shuijinwan,a village in northernYunnan,near Zhaotong.This very poor village is 90%Hui ,whose resources areessentially agricultural.It is a village where there has never really been anyeducation for girls despite the existence of a public school,to which familiesvirtually only send boys[51].The situation has apparently grown worse with theadvent of family planning.In 1982,an ahong ikhwan [52],along with a womanteacher from another part of Yunnan ,decided to found a school for young girlsin one of the mosques.This immediately had a hundred students.After having tomove twice,the school found a permanent establishment in a former food factory.The son of the ahong took over,with the assistance of five young female teachers,and together they teach over 80students aged between 12and 20.The school is consideredto be a minban,and receives funds from the local community;when things get toodifficult the district authorities assign it a subsidy of 1,000yuan for the year.The young girls pay no tuition fees ,their families are too poor,the only costsare board and lodging (20yuan per month )which some families cannot pay.Theschool adds up to 30yuan per pupil per month.These conditions mean,of course,that the buildings remain dilapidated ,the dormitories with floors of beaten earthare cleaned by the pupils ,and the meals cooked by the older ones.The teachersare paid a salary of 150to 200yuan a month.All the pupils are boarders ;theygo home to their families only at weekends or on religious holidays.When one seesthe harshness of life around it ,the school seems a haven of peace,and it iswithout any doubt a protective place for girls.In principle,the pupils have attendedpublic primary school ,and in this school are preparing for the secondary schoolexaminations(chuzhong and gaozhong ),but because of infrequent attendance atprimary school a remedial class is provided for the youngest.The day begins withexercise in the schoolyard and continues with teaching in Chinese (five hours aweek)and the learning of Arabic (eight hours a week)。These young girls alsoreceive religious instruction which is increased in the third and fourth years.Few pupils manage to continue their studies ,but it is notable that in 2002fourof them were able to go to a mosque school in Shandong.

  For the young girls ,the school is a way of getting out of their family environment.It is quite common to hear pupils recount their progress—sometimes rapid ,froma few days to a year—from school to school :they stay in the one where they feelmost comfortable.For others,it is a real source of hope.A young woman of 19,from a very religious Hui family in Xinjiang,told us how she had been obligedto stop going to primary school in order to help and support her sick mother.Herbrothers and sisters were able to pursue their secondary studies normally ,whileshe alone remained at home.When the family situation improved,she wanted to returnto secondary studies,but no longer could;one of the religious schools in Yunnanthen gave her a way out.

  The Koranic Institutes

  In parallel with private initiatives,the state has founded Koranic Institutes(yisilanjiao jingxueyuan )at provincial level,through the Department of ReligiousAffairs and the Islamic Association of China.Established between 1983and 1987,they now number eight ,all over China ,in the cities of Shenyang,Lanzhou,Yinchuan,Xining ,Kunming,Peking[53],Urumqi and Zhengzhou.They have universitystatus[54]and their objective is to train ahong,teachers ,and Arabic languagetranslators.These Institutes receive major funding[55],and one can admire theenormous new buildings which admit numbers of male and female students which aremuch lower than in the mosque schools or the private schools.The Zhengzhou Institutehas only 90students(47male ,43female)。The students enter these Institutesat the end of the second secondary cycle(gaozhong)after an examination.Until2001,the length of studies was only three years ,but is now five.Fees are relativelyhigh:even if a student can obtain a grant ,they must pay 1,600yuan for tuitionand 140or 150yuan a month for lodging.On the other hand the monthly salary ofteachers is around 1,200yuan.In order to attract students,the Institutes ,such as the one in Zhengzhou,seek to diversify the syllabus by opening specialisedcourses in calligraphy,for example,or in martial arts.A considerable numberof Muslim parents do not particularly want to send their children there :on topof the selection process for admission and the cost of studies,they are wary ofthe kind of religious instruction given ,since this is entirely controlled bythe political authorities.

  Religious education :a springboard for study abroad or for finding a job

  Many young people ,male and female,dream of studying outside China.Islamiceducation offers them this possibility.We do not have any statistics on the numbersof Chinese Muslim students abroad ,but figures of 500to 1,000[56]are quoted,of which at least 300at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo.That is very few comparedto the numbers who would like to go.As well as Egypt ,Saudi Arabia (Ryad,Jeddahand Medina),Syria(Damascus)and Pakistan (Islamabad )are the most commondestinations,followed by Yemen(The Science and Technology University ),Iran(Qom ),Indonesia,Tunisia and Malaysia.Damascus is favoured by many students,who emphasise the high level of the university and the excellence of the facilities.Saudi Arabia and Yemen offer material incentives(financing the stay and sometimesthe plane ticket)。Lastly Malaysia is a desirable but overly expensive destination[57].For women students the possibilities are limited:they can go to Saudi Arabia orIran if they are accompanied by their husbands;only Pakistan offers sections forwomen at the Islamic University of Islamabad[58].Studies are generally financedby the family ,with the support of the local community,and a complementary subsidyfrom the host university.Stays are for about five years,but there are also shortcourses (three months)for ahong,particularly at Al-Azhar.Objectives are ofcourse particular to each individual.Although in the 1980s it was a question ofdeepening the training of an ahong,many young people quickly turned to business,with varying degrees of success[59].In any case,teaching jobs are open to themin the various Muslim organisations.

  Going abroad is an opening for these students who would have had no chance ofbeing able to do so in the framework of public education(their families not beingwealthy enough,or not being able to get into the best schools )。When they return,having acquired a better knowledge of Muslim societies[60],they relay the debatesunder way in the Muslim world :their approach to society and to the role of Muslimsin the world,as well as their behaviour ,often depend on where they have studied[61].

  For those who have not been lucky enough to go abroad ,the normal syllabusleads to becoming an ahong;others become teachers or interpreters (in Cantonand Shenzhen)or follow a university course at the Foreign Languages Departmentof Peking University.The young women ,for their part ,teach in private schoolsor can find a job in the kindergartens opened by local communities[62].However ,many Hui teachers and leaders emphasise that there are now more than enough ahong,and prefer to open other possibilities to the young.From this point of view,itis worth examining the experience of the Dali School.Situated in a small villagenear the south gate of the city the “Specialised School of Muslim Culture”(musilinwenhua zhuanke xuexiao)was founded by three retirees,two former high schoolteachers and a former school director.Having returned to their village ,theywere upset at the irrelevance of classical Koranic teaching to the needs of todayand to changes in society.In 1991,they founded a school in a part of the mosque(laojiao ),despite the reservations of the old ahong.As well modernised teaching,they decided to open a section entirely in Chinese in order to prepare studentsfor the final examination for the teacher training university of Kunming(shifandaxue )[63].In 2002,13of the 16candidates registered passed the examination,which will make it possible for them to teach in a public establishment.

  Education :a muffled battleground between religious movements

  Islam in China,as elsewhere in the Muslim world ,is not monolithic.It hasbeen and continues to be influenced by many movements.While in past centuries therewere struggles for influence between traditional Islam and the Sufis,or betweenthe Sufi brotherhoods themselves,since the beginning of the twentieth centurythe confrontation has widened out to one between a fundamentalist and a modernistIslam ,represented by the ikhwan,and more recently to a more rigoristic movementcalled salafi (san tai )[64].The places of confrontation are traditionally themosque,and sometimes the street ,but education has always been one of its mainbattlegrounds.Today,as in the past ,the conflict can become very violent[65];formerly disagreements concerned the interpretation of the Koran and religiouspractices.In our day ,the debates have changed little,it is a question of returningto the purity of the origins,of reforming practices which have been overly adaptedto local circumstances,of remaining faithful to the Koran and of advocating theunity of Islam.Education is thus by nature the place where these movements areexpressed.It is generally on his return from a stay in the Holy Land that a manbearing a rejuvenated gospel introduces his teaching into a mosque school.His charisma,his ability to persuade and train disciples will be the driving force of the successof such a movement,as well,of course,as the social and political situationinto which he fits.Consequently,after twenty years of religious activity ,profoundchanges in Chinese society,the anxieties produced by social inequality resultingfrom economic development ,the lack of bearings of many young people and the absenceof any democratic political space ,mean that a growing number of young peopleare attracted to the discourse of the salafi movement on the unity of Umma,andby the clarity and simplicity of its doctrine (a return to the faith of the elders(salaf )[66].While there is here an attempt to find a kind of social morality,some ideals and a course of action for life —an attempt which is understandableafter the preceding years of political campaigns and today‘s upheavals —,thisrigoristic trend produces other effects ,more surprising in the contemporary Chinesecontext ,particularly for women.One becomes aware of it[67]at the sight of younggirls being educated in the schools of salafi inspiration ,who are entirely veiledin black,with their faces covered.This is a singular sight ,for the young girlsof the religious schools generally only wear a simple headscarf (hijab )and sometimeslong dresses.

  Religious education under surveillance The question of religious education haspreoccupied the Chinese authorities since long before September 11th.The increasein the number of schools,the growing numbers of students returning from Muslimcountries ,the circulation of the writings of reformers from the beginning ofthe century ,which are now banned[68],the situation in Xinjiang and also theactivities of other movements such as those of the Christians and of the Falungong,have prompted the authorities to increase surveillance.Thus on April 23rd 2001[69]they established,through the very official Islamic Association of China ,a“Committee in charge of Islamic education affairs”,considered to be a specialisedcommission(zhuanmen)at national level and made up of 16members,with a Huimajority(10out 16)。The authorities have also provided themselves with an instrumentto regain the upper hand and try to control not only the teaching but also the contentof religious discourse:“Eliminating among the masses the false interpretations(wujie )and confusion(hunluan )about religious matters”[70].The first publicinitiative took place in Xinjiang in August 2001and was devoted to the presentationof a new book of sermons published by the Committee in July and strongly recommended[71].Sermon competitions will be organised from now on ,like those concerning the readingof the Koran.This committee is also responsible for the publishing of translationsand of the textbooks for teaching.We have in fact been able to observe ,in theprivate schools we visited,a kind of standardisation through the widespread useof the same books on language ,history,etc.However the effectiveness of suchmethods is open to question ,particularly in Xinjiang where the problem has neverbeen of a religious kind.A significant event recently provided evidence of this:after a very official concert during which a poem exalting Uygur national sentimentwas sung,a severe call to order[72]was addressed to the Party cadres of the region,for an incident which manifestly had nothing to do with religion.

  Thus while the Party is unable to exercise total control over the ideas in circulation,delegating their surveillance to the Muslims themselves seems to be a guaranteeof restricting the growth of new movements.However ,where the growth of the salafiis concerned,this calculation has so far been mistaken.In fact ,the traditionalindependence of one mosque from another and the increasing autonomy of society makecontrol more difficult.Consequently,between state intervention in matters ofreligion and the increasing forms of autonomy ,there is an unstable balance ,the duration of which is difficult to predict.Moreover ,the exercise of thiscontrol will be all the more complicated because the government will not alwaysbe able to use the divisions of Islam among the various “nationalities ”。Therehas been much emphasis on the heterogeneousness of the situations of these“nationalities”and on the differences which divide them on historical,linguistic and culturallevels.These differences are indisputable and are visible to any observer;itis nevertheless true that not only are there exchanges between these groups ,butthat similar movements of revitalisation pass through them and transcend their boundaries.

  Translated from the French original by Michael Black


  [1]Islam in China today includes ten “nationalities ”(minzu )containingabout 18million people.These are partly the Turkish or Turko-mongol speaking communities(Uygur ,Kazakh ,Kirghiz,Bao‘an,Dongxiang,Tatar,Ouzbek ,Salar)livingin the provinces of the Northwest of China(Xinjiang,Gansu,Ningxia,Qinghai),a small group of Farsi speakers ,the Tadjik in Xinjiang ,and partly a populationof 9million Chinese speaking Muslims ,the Hui,who are scattered all over China.From the religious standpoint Muslims in China are Sunnis of the Hanefite rite.Only the Tadjik are Ismaeli Chiites.

  [2]Dru C.Gladney,Muslim Chinese.Ethnic Nationalism in the People ‘s Republic,Cambridge and London,Council on East Asian Studies,Harvard University Press ,1991,(1996,3rd ed.);Fran ?oise Aubin,“Chine ”,in H.Chambert-Loir etC.Guillot,Le culte des saints dans le monde musulman ,Etudes Thématiques,No.4,Paris,EFEO ,1995,pp.367-388.;Elisabeth Allès ,Musulmans deChine.Une anthropologie des Hui du Henan ,Paris,EHESS,2000.

  [3]E.Allès ,L.Chérif-Chebbi,C.H.Halfon ,“L ‘islam chinois ,unitéet fragmentation”,in Archives des sciences sociales des religions,No.115,2001,pp.26-28.

  [4]In the course of this research we were able to meet the authorities andthe pupils of the mosque schools in the towns and villages we visited ,of fifteenprivate schools and three Islamic institutes(jinxueyuan)。The minban are villageor collective schools under contract with the local authorities.

  [5]The first closings of mosques took place in 1958.Religious activities asa whole did not start again until after the beginning of the reforms undertakenby Deng Xiaoping in 1978.

  [6]See on this subject the special report“Education ”in China Perspectives,No.36,July –August 2001.

  [7]Minority populations with nationality status(minzu )whose level of illiteracyis often higher than the national average.See the graph giving a summary by regionof illiteracy among the non-Han populations.Thierry Pairault ,2001,“Formationinitiale et d éveloppement économique ”,China Perspectives ,No.36,July–August 2001,fig.1,p.6

  [8]Gerard A.Postiglione ed.,China‘s National Minority Education.Culture,Schooling ,and Development,New York and London,Falmer Press ,1999.On theeducation of Muslims in China ,see especially in this volume the articles by DruGladney ,“Making Muslims in China :Education,Islamicization and Representation”,pp.55-94,and Colin Mackerras,“Religion and the Education of China ’s Minorities”,pp.23-54.

  [9]Ma Bin,“Guanyu Xi ‘an huifang jiaoyu xianzhuang de sikao ”(Reflectionson the present situation of education in the Hui area of Xi ’an),Huizu xuegan(Journal of Hui Studies),No.1,2001,pp.199-205.

  [10]In August 2002we observed in the towns of southern Tianshan the openingof mosques only during the hours of prayer,which made any teaching impossible.Only the great mosque of Id kah in Kashgar remained open to the public for touristvisits.

  [11]We were able to observe one exception to this rule.The ahong of a Huimosque in Urumqi(Shaanxi mosque),which is the seat of the local Islamic association,has the privilege of having about twenty students.This privilege ,granted forpolitical reasons ,poses a serious background problem of discrimination againstother ahong ,especially the Uygur ones.

  [12]AFP,Hong Kong,May 28th 2002.

  [13]While science studies were already in Chinese,Uygur was still regularlyused in the other disciplines.

  [14]Each minzu uses its own language at primary school.The learning of Chinese(putonghua )generally begins in the last year of primary school and continuesduring secondary school at a rate of about three hours a week.

  [15]It is not unusual to see young Uygur boys and girls in the mosque schoolsin the provinces of central and southern China.

  [16]To many Muslims an ideal model of the organisation of power,the Caliphatewas abolished by Mustapha Kemal in 1924.

  [17]This movement has been active in Central Asia since 1995.For its thinking,its history and its organisation see Ahmed Rashid ,Asie centrale,champ de guerres,(original title:Jihad:The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia ),Paris,Autrement ,2002,pp.106-123;Olivier Roy,“Islamic Ferments and State Responsesin Central Asia ;Is there a Chinese Card?”,in Fran?ois Godement,La Chineet son Occident.China and its western Frontier ,Paris,Centre Asie,Ifri ,2002,p.151.

  [18]The Economist,March 30th 2002,p.26.

  [19]On the general situation in Xinjiang ,see the reports by Amnesty Internationaland Human Rights Watch.

  [20]The Islamic Association of China in 1995officially listed 33,300mosques,including 23,000in Xinjiang.These figures are approximate,and according tothe sources cited vary considerably ,with observation in the field prompting higherestimates.

  [21]As well as the Koranic schools ,there are martial arts schools in somemosques.

  [22]The term ahong (from the Persian akhund )is used in Chinese Islam forImam.

  [23]Some schools have pupils as young as 16.

  [24]These women‘s mosques are a particularity of Chinese Islam.Directed bywomen ahong ,they have existed for several centuries,particularly in the CentralPlain.See Elisabeth Allès ,2000,Musulmans de Chine.Une anthropologie desHui du Henan,Paris,EHESS,chaps.XII-XIII;M.Jaschok ,Shui Jingjun ,TheHistory of Women’s Mosques in Chinese Islam:A Mosque of their Own,Richmond ,Curzon Press,2000.

  [25]Ancient teaching which corresponds to the term qadim (ancient )in Arabicor gedimu in Chinese transliteration.

  [26]This teaching is described by Fran ?oise Aubin in :“L ‘enseignementdans la Chine islamique pré-communiste (du XVIe au milieu du XIXe siècle ):entre affirmation identitaire et modernisme ”,in N.Grandin et M.Gaborieauéds.,Madrasa,La transmission du savoir dans le monde musulman ,Paris,Arguments,1997,pp.374-375.

  [27]On this movement and its development in China,see J.Lipman,1997,Familiar Strangers:a History of Muslims in Northwest China,University of WashingtonPress ,Seattle-London ,pp.208-211.

  [28]Jinan Chengda shifan xuexiao.This school was created in 1925in one ofthe mosques in Jinan by Ma Songjing (one of the four great ahong in China in theRepublican period )。In 1929,the school was transferred to the Dongsi Mosquein Peking.It was among the first to send groups of students to the biggest universityin the Muslim world ,Al-Azhar in Cairo.

  [29]From the Arabic khalifah (successor )used in China as a term for a studentin theology.The term generally used in Arabic for student is talib.

  [30]Excerpts from the surats of the Koran in Arabic,annotated in Chinesetransliteration ,and translated.

  [31]A collection of the precepts relating to the ablutions and prayers of theday.It is conceived like the haiti ,in Chinese transliteration from the Arabic.

  [32]Deeds and sayings of the Prophet.

  [33]Exegesis of the Koran.

  [34]Islamic law.Includes the study of the four schools of law (Hanafite,Malakite,Shafeite ,Hanbalite)。

  [35]The complete syllabus comprised 13works.

  [36]The search for knowledge in Islam traditionally followed this slow path.

  [37]Today this ceremony is a highpoint in the cohesion of the community.Itbrings together not only the members of the local community and their ahong ,butalso the ahong of the mosque where the candidate comes from.For the occasion ,the latter wears a long green coat and an imposing white turban.

  [38]This structure had already been initiated in the 1920s ,for example inthe Chengda School previously mentioned.

  [39]Interview,July 2002.

  [40]Jacqueline Armijo-Hussein,1999,“Resurgence of Islamic Education inChina ”,ISIM Newsletter,No.4,p.12.

  [41]The city of Yinchuan (Ningxia )alone has three Sino-Arabic schools openat present.

  [42]These schools generally began with very little equipment.The teachingmaterials were sometimes merely notebooks assembled by the teacher.

  [43]Some of the writers are retired teachers who devote most of their timeto this dissemination of knowledge.A compilation of their texts on the historyof Islam and of Islam in China was published in 2000,in a work entitled Musilinzhongdeng zhuanye xuexiao hanyu jiaocai ,which is used in most of the schools.

  [44]Even in a laojiao mosque in Henan,we observed an English class in whichArabic was used as the language of translation.

  [45]Except in the Northwest(Ningxia ,Gansu)where it is the schools whichare separate.

  [46]In some schools the students can be up to 28or 30years old.

  [47]If one lives outside a major city,the difficulties in getting accessto secondary or university education are the same ,regardless of nationality.

  [48]As an overall figure for the schools we visited,10to 20%of the studentsare supported by the local community,but in certain regions ,as in the northof Yunnan ,40to 50%of the students need help.

  [49]Leila Cherif ,“Ningxia ,l‘école au f éminin ”,Etudes Orientales,No.13/14,1994,pp.156-162;Constance-Hél ène Halfon ,“Femme et musulmaneàLanzhou ,au Gansu ”,Etudes Orientales,No.13/14,1994,pp.151-155.

  [50]In the Yunnan,the term shimu is used for a woman ahong.

  [51]This situation is not unique.The same thing can be seen in Ningxia,forexample.

  [52]The other ahong of the town also belong to this movement.

  [53]A Koranic Institute already existed in 1955in the Niu Jie area.Zhou Xiefanand Sha Qiuzhen ,Yilisilanjiao zai Zhongguo (The Islamic Religion in China ),Peking,Huawen chubanshe ,2002,p.201.The present Institute opened 1986.

  [54]Interview,in April 2002,with the directors of the Institute in Zhengzhou.Presentation of the Zhengzhou Institute in Henan Musilin,April 15th 2002,p.23.

  [55]The Institute in Yinchuan has been particularly well endowed ,with asubsidy of 1million yuan in 1986as well as bank loan facilities.Via the IslamicAssociation of China,funds also came from the World Islamic Development Bank.

  [56]Jacqueline Armijo-Hussein,op.cit.

  [57]Some mention the sum of 10,000yuan per year.

  [58]Malaysia also offers classes for women but the fees are too high.

  [59]We have met some young people who,after a disappointing experience inbusiness,returned to the religious environment and teach in private schools.

  [60]Armo-Hussein notes a certain disillusionment in the face of the realitiesof life in modern Muslim society,1999,op.cit……We ourselves have met youngwomen who ,having gone Saudi Arabia with their husbands ,did not wish to remainthere.

  [61]We have been able to have very open discussions with ahong who had returnedfrom Iran or from Damascus,whereas they have felt a much more closed off and rigidattitude on the part of ahong who had studied at Medina ,and who,for example,avoid looking an unveiled woman in the face when they speak to her.

  [62]For example in Zhengzhou (Henan ),a kindergarten has been opened inthe mosque on Huayuan Street.It is attended by 100children,of whom 80are Hui.Likewise,the mosque on Maohuo Street in Zhaodong(Yunnan)has opened a kindergartenin buildings it leases from the Catholic church opposite the mosque.

  [63]The subjects taught are classical and modern Chinese ,foreign literature,philosophy and pedagogy.

  [64]Dru Gladney,“The Salafiyya Movement in Northwest China :Fundamentalismamong the Muslim Chinese?”,in Leif Manger ed.,Muslim Diversity :Local Islamin Global Contexts,Surrey ,Curzon Press ,Nordic Institute of Asian Studies,No.26,1999,pp.102-149.

  [65]Lipman Jonathan N.,“Sufism in the Chinese Courts:Islam and Qing Lawin the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”,in F.De Jong and B.Radtke eds.,Islamic Mysticism Contested.Thirteen Centuries of Controversies and Polemics ,Brill ,1999,pp.553-575;Cherif-Chebbi,Leila,“L ‘Yihewani,une machinede guerre contre le soufisme en Chine ?”in F.DeJong and B.Radtke eds.,ibidem,1999,pp.576-602.

  [66]The salafi take into consideration only the Koran and those Hadith whichare considered to be authentic,and reject the schools of law which have grownup in Sunnism.It is common to hear young halifa say with a certain admiration:“They know the texts better!”。

  [67]We have observed this phenomenon in Yunnan.

  [68]On can still find,but only very rarely and very discreetly ,translationsof Mohamed Abduh in Chinese ,as well as ,in Xinjiang,texts by Maududi ,butin Urdu.

  [69]Zhongguo musilin ,2001,No.3,p.8.

  [70]The complete definition of the tasks of this committee is presented inZhongguo musilin,No.3,2001,p.14.

  [71]Xinbian “wo er zi”(wa‘z in Arabic )yanjiangti (New Compilation ofSpeeches for Sermons),Peking ,Zongjiao wenhua chubanshe,2001,136pp.

  [72]South China Morning Post ,September 20th 2002.




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