By JI Fangtong (JI Fangtong, Professor and Thesis Supervisor at the School of Public Affairs, Nanjing University of Science and Technology)
(CNS) — From the Ming and Qing Dynasties to the First Republic of China, Chinese Muslim sages brought together foreign Islamic culture and the Confucian-based Central Plain culture to achieve the Sinicization of Islam. Known as the “confluence of Islam and Confucianism”, integration is seen as an important link in the history of exchanges and mutual appreciation between Chinese civilization and others. What are the characteristics of integration and its implications for East-West communication today?
What is the “confluence of Islam and Confucianism”?
As a historical event, the “confluence of Islam and Confucianism” refers specifically to the culturally conscious activity of Chinese Muslim sages from the Ming and Qing dynasties to the First Republic of China. It is characterized by the translation of Islamic writings into Chinese and the integration of foreign Islamic culture with indigenous culture, mainly Confucianism.
The confluence paved the way for the development of Islam and Muslims in China. It is not only seen as an episode in history, but also as a direction for current and future cultural exchange work.
Wang Daiyu, a Muslim scholar in Jinling (now Nanjing), a confluence pioneer. He published the first Chinese book on Islam, Zhengjiao Zhenquan (The True Explanation of Islam). Ma Zhu and Ma Dexin, who were in Yunnan, promoted the event. Their books, including Qingzhen Zhinan (Halal Guide) and Dahua Zonggui (General Introduction to Dahua), have greatly enhanced their breadth and depth. Liu Zhi, who was in Jinling, and his book Tianfang Xingli represent his highest achievement.
This group of Muslim scholars had studied or discussed Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and the Islamic classics. For example, Liu Zhi said he spent eight years reading Confucian classics, historical works, philosophical works, and literary works; six years on Islamic works; three years on Buddhist classics and one year on Taoist classics, as well as reading 137 Western books. Although Wang Daiyu’s reading time and reading order are slightly different, he also studies the works of Islam, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism and has deep knowledge of the four religions. Their academic experiences and academic achievements are proof of these scholars’ mastery of four religions instead of two. These integrated views and realizations of the four religions can be found in the three works of Wang Daiyu and the representative works of Liu Zhis.
It can be said that “the integration of Confucianism and Islam” literally refers to the integration of the two religions, but in its essence it includes the integration of all four. Integration has three aspects: integration of the doctrines of Islam and Confucianism; the integration of Sufi Islamic practice with Taoist and Buddhist practices; and the integration of the Islamic canon with the Confucian Li. In other words, the integration took place in these three areas, in which the achievements are concentrated. This integration lasted about 300 years, and it is difficult to say the achievements of these characters in a few words. The greatest achievement is the construction of the Chinese Islamic system, which defined not only the framework but also a series of concepts and categories, laying a solid theoretical foundation for the localization of Islam in China.