Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Dao of Muhammad

Zvi Ben-Dor has written a fascinating history of Muslims in China from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, focused on Islamic scholarship.  His work shows how Islam become rooted in a Chinese tableau, taking on both the intellectual form and physical structure of the Chinese Confucian literati class of this time period.

He shows the multiple shifts that occurred among Chinese Muslim intellectual elites.  A type of cultural hijacking took place: Muslim scholars transformed Islam from a religion to a Dao, a Way, and made the production of scholarship rather than the practice of religion the paramount virtue (in keeping with Confucian values).  Also, he guides us through even more shifts in modern times, as Chinese Muslims used their literati literature to produce a form of a Hui nationality as a modern, nationalist China was being formed.

We are accustomed to examining the Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in the western world.  When these religions enter China, they face different challenges and prospects than in the west.  Ben-Dor's book is an invaluable tool for viewing the specific set of Chinese circumstances which altered some of Islam's core ideas and beliefs.

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