Historians have chosen various approaches to the scholarly study of Muslim minority Hui population in China.
- Hui people are culturally unified through the Islamic Umma.
- Hui peoples in China are genealogically like the Han, but are different enough to be referred to as a separate group by the Han.
- Hui Islam has a distinct Chinese flavor.
According to the historiography of Raphael Israeli, Chinese Hui people are fiercely unified. He criticized Dru C. Gladney for his anthropological approach to analyzing inflammation of Muslims in the 1980s as an “ethnic nationalism”. Israeli strongly insists that “It may be true that Muslim riots in various parts of China were triggered by different local causes, but underlying all of them were: anger, revenge, and a personal and collective readiness on the part of individual Muslims to stand up to them, to confront them and bring about their solution, as a matter of their right.” (p 279) Israeli did prove a point from a historian’s perspective that put a disadvantage on the anthropologist.
However, Dru C. Gladney, more so an anthropologist than a historian, has the qualification as that he lived among various Hui populations several times. His judgement is fair. The Hui are recognized for being a distinct ethnic group for some cultural differences, but many are genealogically of the same makeup, with ancestry from Arabs and Persians in some. He says on page 25 that “In areas where Hui are less openly religious, the pork tabu becomes the most distinguishing marker of identity. ‘Hui are just Han who do not eat pork,’ I was told by a cadre in Tianjin”.
James D. Frankel suggests that the Hui made Islam a Chinese religion, not an Arab one. In other words, Islam transforms with the receiving people. It changed as Arab traders reached Central and Southeast Asia and made contact along the Silk Road and at ports, similar in pattern to that of Buddhism from India. “The Han Kitab presents Islam as an ethical and philosophical teaching, akin to the Dao, or Way, of Confucianism. The Prophet Muhammad is portrayed as a Sage, rather than as a prophet in the Semitic tradition, with the idea of divine revelation being downplayed.” (p 426)
The Hui Chinese ultimately band together in union with Allah, but do not necessarily differentiate from the Han. Hui Islam has a distinct Chinese flavor but is still Islam.
Gladney, Dru C. Ethnic Identity in China: The Making of a Muslim Minority Nationality. Edited by George and Louise Spindler. Fr. Worth: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998.
James D. Frankel. “‘Apolitization’: One Facet of Chinese Islam.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 28, no. 3 (December 2008): 423 – 434, accessed November 3, 2014, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13602000802548078.
Raphael Israeli. “A New Wave of Muslim Revivalism in China,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 17, no.2 (October 1997): 269 – 283, accessed November 3, 2014, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13602009708716376.