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March 09, 2005

Islam with Chinese characteristics...no, really!

I jump stumbled upon this interesting article, Islam with Chinese characteristics begins to take hold (username: gnxppublic password: publicgnxp). It is about the Hui1 community in China, and there were two points which really struck me as peculiar, first, there are female only mosques ("nusi") and, female imams who preach in these mosques!!! Does anyone know of similar phenomena anywhere else in the world? I have recently been promoting an idea that "obvious" implications of religious traditions become fixed through community consensus rather than a transparent chain of logic from first principles, I would offer that perhaps this "innovation" among the Hui is a function of their relative isolation (until recently) from the worldwide Ummah (Muslim community).

Here is a book review of a work entitled The History of Women's Mosques in Chinese Islam: A Mosque of Their Own. The reviewer concludes that geographic isolation of Muslims in China played a key role in religious innovations such as the nusi and female imams, in line with my hypothesis above.

1 - The Hui are to be distinguished from the ethnic Turkic Muslims of Western China, like the Uighers. The Hui are considered a "nationality" in China, but in practical terms they are basically Han who happen to be Muslim.

Posted by razib at 05:46 PM