Islam in China
Islam arrived in China during the Tang and Song dynasties (618 BC-AD 1279) through trade links. From the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Islam became an independent religion in China, and many of its followers came from ethnic groups in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. There are now about 20 million Chinese Muslims. There are more than 40 mosques in Beijing that are open to the public.
In 651, during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty, Islam found its way into China. During the Tang and Song dynasties, land and sea routes provided contact with the Arab world and its Islamic religion. The land route, used by merchants and diplomats, went through Persia and Afghanistan before ending in China's northwest. The sea route began in the Arabian Sea and passed through the Bay of Bengal and the Straits of Malacca before reaching China's Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Hangzhou and Yangzhou ports. Mostly Arab and Persian merchants traveled along this route, many later settling in China and marrying Chinese women. Their descendants became Chinese Muslims.
During the western military expeditions of Genghis Khan in the early 13th century, a large number of Muslims, recruited from Central and West Asia, came to China. These Muslim soldiers, including some who were artisans and lower government officials, took Islam wherever they were garrisoned as peasant-soldiers.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), mosques were built all over the country and Muslims became government officials of various ranks. By decree of the Ming and Qing dynasties, Islam enjoyed state protection, making it possible for the religion to thrive in China.
Today, Islam has a large following among 10 of China's ethnic minorities, with a total population of 18 million: Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Tatar, Kirgiz, Tajik, Ozbek, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan. Most of the believers live in northwestern China, except for the Hui, the 6 million population of which are scattered all over the country and many of them, however, are not practicing Muslims.
The Muslims enjoy the same religious freedom as adherents of other faiths. Muslim customs are respected. Special needs in terms of food, funerals and the observance of religious festivals are protected by the people's government.