- Series: Harvard East Asian Monographs (Book 248)
- Hardcover: 280 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Asia Center (June 30, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674017749
- ISBN-13: 978-0674017740
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,477,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China (Harvard East Asian Monographs)
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About the Author
Zvi Ben-Dor Benite is Assistant Professor of History at New York University.
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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.
The most intriguing part of the book is the theme of constructing a Chinese Muslim scholar's identity based on the very Chinese premise in its locality (China), logics (Confucianism), and cultural expression (genealogy) to preserve a culture that was distinctively non-Han. The beauty of it is that scholars claimed their Chinese-ness with defined and deliberate assurance from the center and essence of Chinese culture. In postmodern terms, they were de-centering China from its very core. First, they constructed the West as a distant space where rulers such as Muhammad reigned but did not intervene in the rule of the Chinese emperor. They portrayed Muhammad not as the Prophet but as a sage and a scholar. As they argued that Islam was about learning (in the Chinese term, a dao), they did not depict the mosque as a space of worship but as a space of learning--a school to study a particular kind of knowledge--namely the Dao of Muhammad. In order to explain their arrival in China, they created a mythical intersection between the West and the East. They told a story that the Chinese Emperor Tang Tai Chun had a dream that his empire was in danger and a person with a white turban saved it from falling apart, so he asked Muhammad to send his followers to help "pacify" China. After establishing their legitimate status in China through the emperor's invitation and the permission and encouragement/order from Muhammad that they should stay in China, one major author of the Han Kitab traced his origin back to the Prophet, which legitimated a direct connection with Islam. Scholars also constructed their own identity as literati of Islam and declared that their work was not different from the Confucian literati: to study, teach, and write--the only difference lying in the content of their teaching. Their dao was Islam and they argued it was compatible with the Confucian dao. Finally, they published the genealogy as evidence of their scholarship and to record their linage to a legitimate Chinese-Islamic scholarly tradition.
The book is a must-read for people who are interested in Islamic education in China, even though the author did not elaborate on the exact teaching in connection with the Han Kitab or the pedagogy implemented in the mosque. Ben-Dor Benite's textual analysis provide ample leads for scholars who want to conduct this line of research. The book is an intriguing read for people who wish to learn more about how a distinct minority group in China preserved their culture and forged their identity for more than one millennium.