Islamic Religion

The Islamic religion had a deep influence on the life style of the Hui people. For instance, soon after birth, an infant was to be given a Huihui name by an ahung (imam); wedding ceremonies must be witnessed by ahungs; a deceased person must be cleaned with water, wrapped with white cloth and buried coffinless and promptly in the presence of an ahung who serves as the presider. Men were accustomed to wearing white or black brimless hats, specially during religious services, while women were seen with black, white or green scarves on their head -- a habit which also derived from religious practices. The Huis never eat pork nor the blood of any animal or creature that died of itself, and they refuse to take alcohol. These taboos originated in the Koran of the Moslems. The Huis are very particular about sanitation and hygiene. Likewise, before attending religious services, they have to observe either a "minor cleaning," i.e. wash their face, mouth, nose, hands and feet, or a "major cleaning," which requires a thorough bath of the whole body.

Islamism also had great impact on the political and economic systems of Hui society. "Jiaofang" or "religious community," as once practiced among the Huis, was a religious system as well as an economic system. According to the system, a mosque was to be built at each location inhabited by Huis, ranging from a dozen to several hundred households. An imam was to be invited to preside over the religious affairs of the community as well as to take responsibility over all aspects of the livelihood of its members and to collect religious levies and other taxes from them. A mosque functioned not only as a place for religious activities but also as a rendezvous where the public met to discuss matters of common interest. Religious communities, operating quite independently from each other, had thus become the basic social units for the widely dispersed Hui people. Following the development of the Hui's agricultural economy and the increase of religious taxes levied on them, some chief imams began to build up their personal wealth. They used this to invest in land properties and engage in exploitation through land rents. The imams gradually changed themselves into landlords. Working in collaboration with secular landlords, they enjoyed comprehensive power in the religious communities, which they held tightly under their control. They left routine religious affairs of the mosques to low-rank ahungs.

The last stage of the Ming Dynasty and the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) saw the emergence of a new system of religious aristocracy among the Huis in Hezhou (today's Linxia in Gansu Province). It came into existence as a result of intensified land concentration which exceeded the boundaries of one single religious community. This made certain imams rulers of a whole series of religious communities, turning them into Islamic aristocrats. They were deified. Kiosks were erected in their cemeteries for Moslems under their jurisdiction to worship. Their position was seen as hereditary. They enjoyed a series of feudalistic privileges as well as absolute authority over their people. The system had been in existence, however, only in some of the Hui areas in Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. The Huis in hinterland China had always functioned under the religious community system.

It was during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) that the Huihuis began to emerge as an ethnic group.

Along with the nationwide restoration and development of the social economy in the early Ming Dynasty years, the distribution and economic status of the Huihui population underwent a drastic change. The number of Huihuis in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces increased as more and more Huihuis from other parts of the country submitted themselves to the Ming court and joined their people in farming.

Other factors contributed to their dispersion: industrial and commercial exchanges, assignment of Huihui garrison troops to various areas to open up wasteland and grow food grain, nationwide tours by Huihui officials and scholars, and especially the migration of Huihuis during peasant uprisings. They still managed, however, to maintain their tradition of concentration by setting up their own villages in the countryside or sticking together in suburban areas or along particular streets and lanes in cities. The dislocation of military scouts dating from the Yuan Dynasty had enabled the Huihuis to extricate themselves gradually from military involvement and to settle down to farming, breeding livestock, handicrafts and small-scale trading. Thus they established a new common economic life among themselves, characterized by an agricultural economy.

During the initial stage of their eastward exodus, the Huihuis used the Arab, Persian and Han languages. However, in the course of their long years living with the Hans, and especially due to the increasing number of Hans joining their ranks, they gradually spoke the Han language only, while maintaining certain Arab and Persian phrases. Huihui culture originally had been characterized by influences from the traditional culture of Western Asia and assimilation from the Han culture. However, due to the introduction of the Han language as a common language, the tendency to assimilate the Han culture became more obvious. The Huihuis began to wear clothing like the Hans. Huihui names were still used, but Han names and surnames became accepted and gradually became dominant.