Thursday, December 07, 2006


(orang Melayu beragama Islam mesti baca artikel ini..Melayu yang bukan Islam @ Murtad pun boleh lah jugak kalau nak baca..)

As Muslims in China reach out

THE rise in the number of issues relating to politics and Islam has aroused greater interest in the religion around the world, including the United States. Some of that interest involves the lands considered the origins of the faith.

However, some quarters in Europe and North America have lately developed an interest in Islam in South-East Asia instead. Muslim communities in this region are generally considered more progressive, and thus may have more promise for the future.

The opposite seems to apply to Muslims in China, who still look to the Arab lands of West Asia as the archetypal fount of their religion.

Recent reports indicate that the growing need by China’s industry and government for energy resources, particularly oil, has prompted and encouraged growing links between China’s 21 million Muslims and their spiritual brethren in the Persian Gulf region.

But typically, there is a caveat: Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang apparently still do not enjoy much by way of special dispensations from the state, and occasionally quite the reverse. The Uighurs are associated with autonomy movements and demands for an “East Turkestan,” and thus tend to be politically suspect.

The favoured Muslim community in China seems to be the Hui in Ningxia. The Hui are less bent on autonomy or separatism than the Uighurs, and are more active and also more successful in seeking to connect with Muslims abroad.

Efforts to make these connections are therefore more social than political, as far as the Hui Muslims are concerned. They are thus more acceptable to Beijing, particularly when they help to buttress bilateral relations in hopes of expanding trade as well as oil and gas imports.

To an extent, the convergence of economic-political and spiritual-social developments is predictable. As a measure of the connection between China’s current need for more energy resources and its opening to Arab Muslims, even a traditional ally like Pakistan that is defined by Islam from its inception since Indian partition seems to be overlooked.

At the same time, there is a sense that efforts to extend spiritual ties should be based on more than just the desire by Chinese industry to consume larger amounts of oil.

And if that were the case, there is much to be gained by all concerned if China’s Muslims looked to South-East Asian Muslim communities at least as much.
As in China centuries ago, Islam spread to South-East Asia gradually through cultural osmosis, particularly trading connections, settlement and inter-marriage rather than overt proselytisation.

The result is that the faith is less politicised and more peaceable here than in West Asia, which must also be of concern to Beijing.

There is also the issue of numbers. There are more Muslims in South-East Asia than West Asia, with the prospect of more developed activities and programmes. Malaysia’s Islamic banking practices and Tabung Haji pilgrims’ fund board, for example, are said to be pioneers in the field.

Muslim communities in South-East Asia also tend to be more economically developed than in West Asia.

This covers economic growth as well as economic redistribution –also of much current concern to China – as well as the development of professional status and expertise in society.

Socially, gender relations are also better observed and developed in South-East Asia. This coincides with China’s decades of proud egalitarianism in which women contribute as much to social development as men.

Overall, the Muslim-majority societies of South-East Asia are more open and cosmopolitan than many in West Asia. Again, this gels with China’s current opening to the world in pursuing greater internationalism.

Yet despite these considerations, the base equation of China’s urgent energy needs might evoke the argument that West Asia is vital strategically. No doubt it is, but so is South-East Asia through which China’s oil shipments pass through.

Meanwhile, the other argument remains that extending spiritual links should be based on more than just China’s growing consumption of a physical commodity.

And if it is to be based more meaningfully on more substantial and durable concerns like historical and cultural links, or values, then the stronger case can be made for South-East Asia.

Anything less will seem cynical and make China’s policymakers look mean and self-centred.

For China’s Muslims to want to seek more international linkages is natural and acceptable where it is part of a growing China extending outwards in myriad ways, but not when their efforts are manipulated by Beijing.

If there is manipulation, the implication is that if and when these linkages are no longer politically expedient, they would be officially discouraged or banned. The question then becomes whether even China, in the 21st century, can get away with such Machiavellian devices – if that is what it intends.

Conversely, the other implication is that for the Hui or any other Muslim community in China to reach out genuinely, it should do so with Muslim communities in South-East Asia. They might even learn that not only is Malaysia the current Chair of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, but Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was also the first OIC Secretary-General (1971-73).

Eventually, the current growing affinity between Muslim communities in China and those abroad is only one example of several growing affinities between different sectors in China and their overseas equivalents. It is a national development in an increasingly internationalised world.

China had always been too big and complex to be characterised, shaped, driven or determined by any single community, faith, denomination or ideology.

A rapidly developing China today is even bigger and more complex to be understood properly in any single dimension.

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