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May 21, 2003

in case you wanted to know...

Islam's Lasting Connection With China


For many Muslims living in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, they head to the tomb of Thabit Ibn Qays, an ancient Islamic sage, located in the western part of urban Hami, about 600 kilometres east of Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang.

Known by the local Muslim population as "Geys' Mazars," the ancient Islamic missionary is worshipped by an increasing number of Chinese Muslims every June and July.

It is one of the few existing tombs of the ancient Islamic sages, known among Muslims as the "Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad."

The tomb is 22 metres long from east to west, 12 metres wide from north to south and 15 metres high.

It consists of a square base, a round arched dome - both inlaid with green glazed bricks - and surrounding corridors with wooden columns and up-turned eaves, indicating a combination of both Arabic and Chinese architectural styles.

Qays was believed to have died in AD 635 on his homebound trip along the Silk Road westward. He was buried by his followers in the Xingxing Valley, to the east of today's Hami.

Years earlier, Qays, along with other Islamic missionaries - the most prominent among them being Sa'ad ibn abi Waqqaas, a maternal uncle of the Holy Prophet Muhammad - paid a landmark visit to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) capital of Chang'an (today's Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province), inviting Emperor Taizong to embrace Islam.

The remnants of the original tomb was relocated by Hami Muslims in 1946.

For over 1,300 years, the tomb has stood as a witness to the dissemination and evolution of Islamic culture in China.

Islamic culture

Islam is one of the five major religions in China. The four others are Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism and the Protestantism.

Muslims take great pride in citing a hadith that says "seek knowledge even it is in China."

It points to the importance of looking for lore, even if it meant travelling as far away as China.

Observing the Prophet's instructions, his followers sent missionaries to China one after another.

Some historians hold that, as early as the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) during the revelation of Islam (AD 610-632) to the Prophet, Islam had already appeared in China. [more]