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Special> Focus on Xinjiang> Related
UPDATED: July 8, 2009
Uygur Ethnic Group and Islam

The Uygur ethnic group, with a population of 8.39 million, mostly lives in four regions of Xinjiang, namely Hetian, Kashgar (Kashi), Aksu and Korla. "Uygur" is a self-called name meaning "solidarity and affiliation". Uygurs are usually Moslems, but historically this was an ethnic group that had multiple beliefs. Besides traditional Shamanism and Manichaeism, they had believed Magianism, Nestorianism and Buddhism after they moved westward in the 9th century, greatly influencing their spiritual life. In the 10th Century, Islam was introduced into Xinjiang, and all Uygurs had converted by the late 15th century.

The Islamic belief of the Uygur ethnic group is mostly of Sunni origin, but it is also influenced by Sufism, whose head is generally called "Ishan" in a respectful way; hence, the sect is called "Ishan" as well. There are also a small number of Shiite followers in Kashgar, Shache and Tashkurghan. The Wahabi sect also spread in the modern era.

The word "Ishan" is Arabic meaning "directed to the right way". Its main opinion lies in that everything related to a person is bestowed by "Khudai" (Uygur name for Allah); Moslems shall worship only "Khudai" and no other icon or image. Whether one is rich or poor is determined by Allah. Therefore, it is necessary to offer penance in this life. recite prayers, worship, and intently seek to approach "Khudai" and be able to go to Heaven after death. They hold the opinion that the process of worship cannot be suspended under any circumstances. No killing is allowed.

The mosques of Uygur people can be divided into three types: the mosque for residents, where is the bottom-level religious site; the mosque of'Jum'a", which is a little bigger than mosque of residents, and where the congregations of several mosques may come for formal worship and listen to the Iman giving lecturing every Friday: the mosque established at roadside in remote areas far away from village used for travelers to worship, hence called a travelers' mosque by some people.

Besides the mosque, the Uygur "mazar" worship is unique. Mazar is Arabic meaning "holy land" or "tomb of the saint", which is generally the mausoleum of an Islamic noble or tomb of an Arab missionary, equal to the qubba of the Hui ethnic group. The mazar worshiped in the earliest times in Hi were that of Tughlugh Timur, 14th Century Khan of Kashgar. By the middle of the Qing Dynasty, the Uygur population of Yili had increased considerably and the custom of such pilgrimage developed greatly. Especially in years of Jiaqing, the Qing court implemented an open religious policy and advocated the building of religious sites, which unexpectedly promoted the custom of mazar worship. There were many mazar in Hi that attracted pilgrimage. Mausoleums were built for some senior religious figures and important local figures after their death and these, too, became objects of pilgrimage. Such mazar can be found near most ancient Uygur villages. Uygur people have deep faith in the mazar and they will go there to pray for a blessing in case of natural disaster and a lean year. Worship of the mazar has become one of the major religious activities of Uygur Islam. It aims to seek a blessing by performing religious ceremonies such as worship, reciting, praying and sacrifice. Pilgrims believe that mazar has divinity and it acts as an intermediary between man and Allah, giving blessings to Muslim life in both worlds; worship of mazar is also religious practice of cultivation, which is equivalent to worship of "ka'ba" [praying in the correct direction]. It is actually the result and development of tomb worship, ancestor worship and other types of worship. and the product of a combination of Islam with primitive beliefs and traditional cultures of the Uygur and other ethnic groups, which is characterized with distinctive local features of Xinjiang Islam.

The religious doctrine of the Uygur contains its own characteristics, such as "three principles of Ishan belief", "eight disciplines of Ishan" and "ten rules of Ishan self-cultivation". The so-called "three principles of Ishan belief" are the three criteria proposed by Sufism [a Sufi being one who does not separate himself from others by opinion or dogma; and who realities the heart as the Shrine of God]: forget not to pray to Allah anywhere and at any time: things indicated by Allah must be done: a believer is to talk with Ishan face to face every seven days. The eight disciplines are: Contend not for property and enjoyment, live a frugal life and do not be extravagant: believe only in Allah and recite His name often and keep it always in mind: do not bear false witness, do not do wrong, do not violate and kill anybody, do not commit crime, and respect women: never be distracted any activity from praying to Allah: do not forget to pray for national stability and bright prospects for the children. The "ten rules of self-cultivation" are the religious rules to be abided by during sell-cultivation: penance, exploration of theology, showing awe to Allah, achievement (omnipotence), abstaining from secular behavior (seeking trouble and exercising oneself in hardship), forgetting oneself (a crazy stale of mind). regaining consciousness (returning to what is simple and original), man-god combination (lining in a godly world), and determination (end-result determined by Allah).

There are many mosques in the Xinjiang region. The famous Attica Mosque of Kashgar (Kashi) was built in the middle of the 15th century. Its remained buildings were constructed in the 19th century. They are of typical Arabian style, with grand scale and elaborate building art, and the largest and the most famous mosque of Islam in Xinjiang.

Islamic culture has become one of the basic components of Uygur culture. Its academic culture has been expanded from Islamic classics to philosophy, literature, history, education, astronomy, geography, calendar and natural science and has influenced building, music, dance, painting and general secular culture and art. Meanwhile, the mosque and religious road systems. Islamic festivals, daily rituals, eating and clothing habits, and the customs of wedding and funeral, formed due to development of Islamic belief, constitute an important part of traditional culture of Uygur society.

(Minority Religions of China by Bao Guizhen, China Intercontinental Press, 2007)

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