The Great Transformation: Contours of the Sino-Islamic Intellectual Tradition
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During the early modern period, Muslims in China began to embrace the Chinese characteristics of their heritage. Following centuries of cultural and physical division between local inhabitants and Muslim settlers, Arab, Persian, and Central Asian people were slowly assimilating into Chinese society, intermarrying with native people, and gradually forgetting their original languages. The passage of time and their isolation from the Islamic heartland, however, did not prevent these Sino-Muslims from retrieving the Islamic canonical writings that they found essential in learning and teaching their faith. Several scholar-teachers began to incorporate tenets from traditional Chinese education into their promotion of Islamic knowledge. As a result, some Sino-Muslims established an educational network, the scripture hall educational system (jingtang jiaoyu), which utilized an Islamic curriculum made up of Arabic, Persian, and Chinese works. The Han Kitab is the collective name of the corpus of Islamic texts written in Chinese that were produced within this system. Many of the Han Kitab texts were produced by a group of self- identified "Confucian Muslim" scholars (Huiru). This literature and the authors that produced it are valuable resources for understanding the role of intellectual networks and literary exchanges in the formation of religious beliefs. This study explores the contours of the Sino-Islamic intellectual tradition through the works of some its brightest luminaries in order to identify and explicate pivotal transitions in their engagement with the Islamic tradition. Three prominent Sino-Muslims authors are representative of major junctures within the history of Sino-Islamic thought and are used to illustrate discursive transformations within this tradition, Wang Daiyu (1590-1658), Liu Zhi (1670-1724), and Ma Dexin (1794-1874). Through an analysis of their writings on the subjects of pilgrimage, scripture, and language, I attempt to respond to several questions: how malleable are religious categories and why are they variously interpreted across time, how do changing historical circumstances affect the interpretation of religious beliefs and practices, how do individuals navigate multiple sources of authority, how do practices inform belief.