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Chinese researcher Abd al-Rahman Sheng Hua Chang: Efforts to revive the ancient Chinese Muslim heritage are individual, and we aspire to be a bridge between two civilizations | culture

After a long absence that lasted for about 700 years, Chinese researchers began 3 decades ago to research their scientific and cultural Islamic heritage, seeking individual efforts to revive this heritage, which was written in several languages ​​and scattered here and there in the homes and mosques of Chinese Muslims.

Among those contemporary researchers who specialized in Islamic studies and devoted themselves to research and scrutiny the heritage of Chinese Muslim scholars is Dr. Abd al-Rahman Sheng Hua Chang, a researcher in Islamic philosophy.

Dr. Chang believes that the closed-minded policies of the ruling families in China in the past centuries caused the Muslims of China to be cut off from the Islamic world, which made their presence non-existent in studies and literature during these time periods, which caused a scarcity of information about them in Islamic libraries.

Zhang describes this period that the Muslims of China are going through as an important opportunity for them to return once again to communication and communication with the Arab and Islamic peoples. Especially since the openness policies that China has pursued in the past decades as one of the benefits of trade and economic relations and follow-up of scientific developments around the world have contributed greatly to the success of re-establishing contact with Chinese Muslims.

The biggest challenge for Muslim researchers in China on the one hand, and those interested in learning about the religious and cultural heritage of ancient Chinese Muslims, is how to collect and revive this heritage, especially since the efforts made by the sons of Chinese Muslims among researchers who studied in Islamic universities in Arab and Islamic countries are characterized by individualism and personal diligence. No professional scientific institutions entered to assume this historical mission before the rest of the heritage of Chinese Muslims was lost from ancient manuscripts and books.

On the reality of the ancient religious and cultural heritage of China’s Muslims, and the efforts being made to revive and preserve it and then gradually spread it among researchers and interested people, Al-Jazeera Net had this dialogue with Dr. Abd al-Rahman Sheng Hua Chang, a researcher in Islamic philosophy who has been living in Cairo for nearly 3 decades. .

Dr. Zhang was born into a Muslim family in Weishan County, southwest China’s Yunnan Province. His grandfather’s father was a sheikh of Islam who was famous in his province. He spent his life in learning and teaching, and he had students. His grandfather also participated in teaching in the village. His father also learned Sharia sciences and graduated from one of the mosque schools in the province, as well as his uncle, who is the first sheikh in specialized education. For legal sciences.

Zhang studied elementary school in his village. And his grandfather used to undertake his path in religious lessons, and he was an old man of dignity. . This biography was engraved in the memory of the young boy and accompanied him in his life until today.

Zhang obtained a doctorate in Islamic philosophy in 2021, and published some scientific works, including the book “Existence and Knowledge in Ibn Arabi’s Philosophical Sufism” and the book “Existence and Knowledge from Confucian Philosophy,” in addition to other scientific research.

Recently, Dr. Chang supervised the investigation of a book by scholar Muhammad Makin Al-Azhari Al-Darami Al-Sini, who died in 1978, on the history of Islam and Muslims in China.

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to the text of the dialogue.

  • During your childhood, you received religious lessons in “mosque schools”; Did you describe to us the method of teaching it?

The mosque school has two sections: a full-time section for full-time students, and it is considered a specialized study for us in China, and an evening section for primary, middle and high school students, as they study daily between sunset and dinner; Because they go to government schools during the day, and they also study in the morning after the Fajr prayer during the weekly holidays.

And these religious schools were widespread in the Islamic community in China, so there is no village or neighborhood of the Muslim neighborhoods that does not have a school affiliated with the mosque. I was one of the children who attended the evening religious school since elementary school. And I discovered after a period of time that it is one of the most important influences in loving the religion to the children and making them feel familiar and intimate with it.

A page from the twenty-fourth part of a historical Qur’an in China (Al-Jazeera)

  • What about your next academic stages?

The mosque school accompanied us throughout the compulsory study stage with full time during the winter and summer holidays. And all of that was before continuing my full-time study of Sharia sciences in the traditional mosque school in my village. southwest China), and I benefited greatly from it.

Then I moved to Gansu Province in northwest China; To join one of the modern Islamic schools there. After graduation, I returned to Yunnan Province and taught in an Islamic school there for two years.

I would like to point out that we are in the traditional school: we used to read the well-known heritage books, keen and focused on verbal analyzes purely and grammatically, as is the custom of the traditional public legal education system in China.

While in the modern school in which I studied, it combines the traditional method with the new, as other books were prescribed to us that were not known to traditional Islamic schools in China. We got acquainted with the conditions of Muslims and the ideas of their scholars abroad, so our horizons expanded.

  • How did you start your scientific journey outside China.. and what were its most prominent stations?

Since the first time I took the path of full-time learning, I decided to travel abroad to continue my studies, because legal education in our country has been weakened for reasons, just as the Islamic world is the source of Islam and the center of knowledge and scholars, so it is necessary to travel to it in order to benefit from scholars and thinkers, and to get acquainted with the conditions Muslims in it.

After two years of my teaching, I had the opportunity to travel to Syria, so I joined the Al-Fath Islamic Institute in Damascus (Department of Doctrine and Philosophy), and it was fortunate that I learned in this department at the hands of eminent teachers, headed by Sheikh Muhammad Saeed Ramadan Al-Bouti.

After graduating from the Al-Fateh Islamic Institute, I joined Al-Azhar Al-Sharif University, graduated from it, and then completed my master’s degree in it. And in Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, we learned from a constellation of distinguished scholars in the field of faith, philosophy, and others. Then she got her MA and Ph.D. from the Faculty of Dar Al Uloom, Cairo University.

  • What role do you currently play in the fields of research, study and authorship?

As I mentioned earlier, I obtained a doctorate in Islamic philosophy, in 2021, and published some scientific works for me, including the book “Existence and Knowledge in Ibn Arabi’s Philosophical Sufism” and the book “Existence and Knowledge from Confucian Philosophy,” and some scientific research.

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We hope that our scientific work will be a bridge between the Islamic and Chinese civilizations, so that we will introduce the Chinese to the religion, civilization, science, culture and philosophy of Islam, and we will introduce Arab Muslims to the culture, civilization and wisdom of China, the history of Islam and the conditions of Muslims there.

  • The Muslims of China have a long history that extends back more than a thousand years. What is the reality of their heritage today?

The heritage of Chinese Muslims is multifaceted, and their scientific and literary heritage can be divided in terms of language into what was written in Chinese, Arabic, Persian and Turkish, and in terms of source to the writings of Chinese Muslim scholars and their translators and the writings of Arab and Persian Islamic scholars. And the latter, although he is not one of the Chinese Muslim scholars, he contributed to the formation of Islamic personalities in China deeply, and he took great care of them by reading, copying, translating, abbreviating, summarizing, commenting, explaining and annotating, until he became an integral part in the scientific formation of Muslim scholars in China, such as The book Al-Kafiya by Ibn Al-Hajib (on grammar), the book Explanation of the An-Nasfiyah Beliefs by Saad Al-Din Al-Taftazani, for example, and Al-Lawa’ith by Abd Al-Rahman Al-Jami (on Sufism).

The cover of the twenty-fourth part of the Qur’an that was engraved and published in Yunnan Province in the late Qing Manchurian Dynasty (the island)
  • This scientific and literary heritage of the Muslims of China.. Where is it preserved today?

There are no public libraries to preserve this ancient heritage of the Muslims of China; There may be some private libraries that are concerned with preserving the manuscripts of the Qur’an, but most of the heritage books and manuscripts are scattered through Muslim homes, especially in northwestern China and Yunnan (southwest), where Muslims congregate more, and Islamic education spreads more. As for the artistic and archaeological holdings, they are mostly kept in museums.

Not long ago, researchers from universities and academic institutes began studying this heritage and collecting manuscripts. This is a commendable effort, but it lacks scientific investigation and careful examination according to the requirements of contemporary science and from an integrated Islamic perspective.

  • In what language were the books of the Chinese Muslim heritage written, and does it have a geographical extension outside it?

Most of this heritage is written in the Chinese language, some of it in Arabic and a little of it in Persian, and some of it inherited from the Uighur brothers (East Turkestan / Xinjiang Province in northwestern China) was written in their Turkish language.

I do not have detailed information about the impact of these books outside China, but they must have an impact on the Chinese expatriates; It is natural for them to use it in learning and teaching religion in the beginning, for the Muslims who migrated to Central Asia in the nineteenth century, and the Chinese expatriate community in the last century in Myanmar, where their imams and sheikhs were from China, and they were the ones who graduated in the traditional legal education system, which is solid. The connection with the Islamic heritage in China.

  • What about efforts to revive this heritage in the present era?

Yes, there are efforts to collect, preserve and revive this heritage that began nearly 30 years ago. Most of its authors are academic researchers and university professors who specialize in Chinese Islamic culture, through theses and research projects.

  • What are the main obstacles and challenges that you face in preserving and reviving the Islamic heritage in China?

Among the most prominent obstacles and challenges facing academic researchers is the lack of proficiency in the Arabic or Persian languages, as well as the lack of a systematic study of forensic sciences.

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On the other hand, the interest of Muslim sheikhs and scholars in China who grew up learning the Arabic and Persian languages ​​and Sharia sciences is less interested in reviving this heritage scientifically due to the absence of the correct methodology in research and investigation.

  • Are there any successes achieved in the field of collecting, reviving and preserving the heritage of Chinese Muslims?

Yes, in addition to individual efforts through master’s and doctoral dissertations, there are huge scientific projects that have been completed, such as “The Great Collection of Islamic Heritage in China” in more than 20 volumes, and “The Complete Encyclopedia of Heritage Books of the Hui Nationality”, in 235 parts, I mean Subjects of religion, history, politics, art, literature, science and others.

Some well-known Chinese Islamic books have been translated from traditional Chinese to Simplified for a while, but their proportion to the total heritage is still small, and some works need to be taken out again.

In addition, the Islamic heritage in Arabic has begun to attract the attention of Chinese Muslim researchers who study in the universities of the Arab and Islamic world, and some of them have been investigated. Arabic and Persian sources, then Sheikh Muhammad Nur al-Haq translated it into Arabic with his explanation and annotation.

The Book of Explanation of Kindness by Sheikh Muhammad Abd al-Hakim Nour al-Haq (Al-Jazeera)
  • With regard to Islamic heritage in China, do you have any communication or cooperation with institutions concerned with heritage in the Arab and Islamic worlds?

University professors in the Arab and Islamic world encourage their Chinese students to achieve the legacy of their Islamic scholars at the master’s and doctoral level, and some researchers have published their research in books, and this is a form of cooperation.

Other than that, I have no knowledge of communication or cooperation between Chinese researchers and institutions concerned with heritage in the Arab and Islamic world. We need more acquaintance and fruitful cooperation with scientific and research institutions concerned with reviving the general Islamic heritage.

  • What are your recommendations to revive the heritage of the Muslims of China?

We recommend that the children of Chinese Muslim researchers take care of collecting and reviving the heritage of their scholars in various arts and sciences, and they can be chosen as the subject of scientific theses at least. We hope that God will help us to produce complete collections of traditional Islamic literature that were written in Arabic.