First Muslim Missionary to China
Those nations beyond his reach with the sword were to be approached by the peaceful efforts of missionaries. The most important of these foreign missions was undoubtedly China. A few Arab merchants had found their way to China, but the first apostle of Islam to that land variously called according to Chinese inscriptions, Wang-ke-che, Wang-ka-se, and Wang-ka-sze or has the title Sabhape, or Sarta (Companion of the Prophet). The Chinese missionary was probably 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 and Military Support
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 Djenghis 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 have 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.
From the previous account it will be seen that Islam was established more or les peaceably in China. The country 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.
Less is known about the introduction and spread of Islam in that part of Mongolia which borders on Khansa, and in East Turkestan. The Arab tradition gives a curious account of the conversion of a young king of the country by a Samanite prince in the tenth century. Satoc, the converted prince, killed his uncle the regent, who opposed his apostasy, after first deceiving him as to his real belief. Once on the throne Satoc did his utmost to spread Islam through his kingdom, the inhabitants of which were previously Buddhists or Manicheans. He even went as far as to compel his subjects to embrace Islam, and left a dying injunction to his successor to do the same.
Marco Polo, in his travels in these regions (1271-1294), found Islam dominant in Eastern Turkestan, but not so apparently between that and China proper. About the same time, Kubla Khan established at Peking a sort of college for Muslims. In the following century the traveller Ibn Batutah remarked on the number of Muslims to be found in these parts; and gradually Eastern Turkestan and Dzungaria became entirely Muslim.
In many instances, as we have seen, Islam was spread by the efforts of kings and princes. The great grandson of Djengis Khan became a Muslim, and brought his people of Mongolistan mostly to follow his example. So Togoudar Ogoul, on ascending to the throne of Turkestan, renounced Christianity and became a Muslim, forcing and persuading his subjects to do likewise (Dozy, “L’Islamise”, p. 400) Similarly, about the beginning of the fourth century, Taliclava, the King of Transoxiana, became a follower of Muhammad, being the second Mongolian prince to become so; but carrying his proselytising zeal too far, he was murdered by the offices of his court (Vambery, “Bokhara,” p. 161). Later on in the same century, Ibn Batutah speaks of Tarma Shirin, who died a martyr for his faith, and in whose time wholesale conversions took place, owing to the pressure brought to bear on their people by the apostate princes.
While the conversion of the Uigers and Kharezmians took place in the twelfth century, and the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the important tribe of the Seljuk Turks had been converted still earlier, in the eleventh century; we are not told by what means, but perhaps by some travelling missionary, such as Sa’id al Hamadni, who, after travelling and preaching all over the world, died on the Oxus in 1384.
Islam Comes to Indonesia
Christian traders have not done much to spread Christianity in the various lands they have discovered and exploited, but the Arab merchants have won for Islam some of its fairest provinces. With their shrewdness, energy and administrative ability they affected Indonesia (the Malay Archipelago) and were also of considerable value in China, India and Central Asia and were very effective in Africa.
The conversion of Indonesia must be counted as a great triumph for Islam from a missionary point of view and we see that the results were achieved in no small way to the initial propogation and work done by Arab adventurers and spice merchants in the 9th century. There are only one or two cases of regular missionaries being sent direct from Arabia to what was then known as the Malay Archipelago. All the patriotic Arabs were potentially and actually, itinerant missionaries combining with the profession of traders the duties of religious teachers. The work of conversion was gradually performed; not until the people had become familiar with the faith were they offered the blessings of Islam.
The coast tribes were first won over; then some zealous native chief or influential Arab established a Muslim kingdom, and made war upon his neighbours (e.g. Sumatra 14th century). Java experienced a hundred years of acquaintance with the new faith before any determined effort was made to embrace it. Even then, things were made smoother by the modification of Islam in such a way as to render it acceptable to them. The main agents in their conversion were Arabs of intelligence and energy (e.g. the Arab Sheikh Ibrahim early 15th century), who worked together, living with the locals and intermarrying with them. Java became a sort of centre for propagating Islam in the islands further east.