Laity and Lay Organizations in Chinese Religions: New Perspectives from Late Imperial and Modern China
3: Islam in the Chinese Religious Landscape: Emergence of Lay Muslim Organizations and Secularization of Mosque Leadership in Late Imperial China
Sunday, March 27, 2022
9:00am – 10:30am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, United States
In the background of increasing mobility, commercialization, and social networking activities in late imperial China, lay Muslims across China proper began to show rising interests in communal mosque affairs since the early Qing period. An evident manifestation of this was the emergence of lay Muslim voluntary associations dedicated to mosque activities since the late 18th century, such as the Tongpai hui in Henan led by a local lineage head, and the Yixin hui in Guangxi organized exclusively by women. This increasing involvement of lay Muslims and their associations in mosque operation and management contributed to a "secularizing" process of mosque leadership during the Qing: The leadership of mosques which used to be held by hereditary Islamic clerics began to be taken by lay Muslims, particularly elites in the mainstream society such as the gentry and merchants. The process first appeared in places like Shandong and Shaanxi where Muslim communities were large and established, and soon spread throughout China proper. Instead of causing a decline of Islam, the secularizing process produced seemingly contradictory outcomes. On the one hand, lay mosque leaders largely expanded mosque functions beyond conventional religious ones and further brought Islam under Chinese political ideology and state apparatus. On the other hand, they were also key supporters of mosques and public Islamic education, facilitating the creation and transmission of Chinese Islamic knowledge. Therefore, secularization in this case was more of a “reconfiguration” of Islam –a Muslims’ strategy to incorporate themselves into Chinese polity and society without losing Islamic distinction.