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The Tung Period

The first Chinese contact with Islam took place in the reign of the middle Tung dynasty (ruled 5 – 138 AH), whose northwestern territory came to abut the lands of the caliphate following the triumphant conquests of Qutaybah in Transoxiana, in 96 AH. Though, at the outset, Qutaybah had entertained the idea of taking Muslim arms into the heart of the Chinese capital, he soon abandoned his ambitious plan and dispatched an embassy to the Chinese, in 96 AH, headed by Hubayrah b. Mashmarj Kullabi; a move that resulted in a long-lasting and enduring peace along the Chinese-Islamic border. 

Trade carried out by Arabs and Iranians in the southern ports of China continued unabated into the Islamic period and throughout its first few centuries, a factor which contributed to the formation of Muslim settlements in the southern coastal regions of the country. Chinese legends are, at least, right on the mark with regard to the fact that Islam was first introduced in the port of Canton before in any other area. None the less, the assertion of such names as Sa`d b. Abi Waqqas – whose alleged tomb still exists in Canton – or another legendry figure by the name of Wahab Abu Kabshah – a purported relative of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) – as propagators of Islam in China is certainly bereft of any historical veracity. 

According to The History of Ming Dynasty, beginning in the 10th century AH (631 AD), Muslim merchants appeared on China’s shores and settled in such port cities as Kuang-chou (Canton), Chuang-chou (Zaytun) and Hang-chou (Khansa). The first solid evidence for this assertion is a pillar in the main mosque in Singan Fu, which, based on its inscription, dates from the first year of the reign of Tin Pao, a date which based on the view of Brumhal must be fixed in 742 AD (124 AH).

The period of the strength of the late Ming dynasty (reigned 128 – 294 AH), was a time of the flourishing of maritime trade and, as a result, that of the spread of Islam in southern China. Islamic sources refer to such degree of amicable relations between Chinese emperors and Muslim caliphs that, according an unsubstantiated report in western sources, at one point, the caliph, Mansur, is said to have dispatched a four thousand-strong Muslim force to aid the Chinese emperor in crushing a revolt; a gesture reciprocated by the settlement of the soldiers in major Chinese cities. The existence of native or expatriate Muslim scholars in China, such as Abu `Umar Sini, in the first half of the 2nd century AH, the Shi`ite traditionist, Ibrahim b. Ishaq Sini, in the second half the same century, and Hamid b. Muhammad Sini, in the coming century, is an indication of the fact that the penetration of Islam into the region was accompanied by cultural activities. 

The position of Muslim immigrants in Canton (Khanfu), in the 230s AH, reached such degree of consolidation that the emperor appointed a Muslim man from among the immigrant population to look after their affairs, with permission to, even, read sermons in the name of the caliph. Lovitsky is of the opinion that these immigrants, even, included individuals of Ibadi affiliation, two of whose scholars, Abu `Ubaydah `Abd Allah b. Qasim and Nazar b. Maymun, are reported to have traveled to China, in the 2nd century AH. 

The decade of 260s AH was a time of domestic strife and decline of Tung power. In 264 AH, a certain Chuang Chaw (Yanshu, in Muslim sources), who had initiated a major revolt throughout Hunan region, gained control of Canton (Khanfu). A large number of people, including Muslims, were put to the sword and maritime trade became extremely unsafe. This development marked the beginning of a halt in Muslim trade with China, which was to last for a considerable length of time. 

Though, little information is available on the spread of Islam in the northern territories of China during the Tung period, it is certain that Muslim merchants’ trading activities covered the entire country, from north to south.

* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.555 - 556

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