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An Exploration of Islam in China

More Context from the ChinaSource Archives

From the series From the ChinaSource Archives

We were blessed to hear from Dr. Jeferson Chagas earlier in 2024, as he described effective methods of engaging Chinese Muslims with the gospel. Dr. Chagas has worked with Muslims throughout Asia, including the Hui people. In 2021 and 2022, we ran two series on this people group, their history, religious beliefs, and relationship with Christianity. In order to help our readers better understand how to share the gospel effectively, we’re pulling together some of the most relevant articles from the series, along with a few reflections on Ramadan.

How the Hui Practice Islam

Just as Christianity has its denominations, Islam has schools of jurisprudence and practice. Among the Hui, there are two major schools of practice. The Old School includes the Gedimu and Sufi schools. We’ll look at the New School below.

The Gedimu, or Old School, is the most enculturated and inward-looking. It also has the most adherents. It tends to be focused on family ties, the local mosque, and cultural stories and sayings. Read more about this school and effective ways to evangelize this group of Muslims in “Islam with Chinese Characteristics.”

The Sufi movement started in the Middle East in the 1300s and arrived in China in the 1600s. This mystical movement emphasizes union with God and pilgrimages to the tombs of holy men. Check out “Chinese Muslim Mystics” to get a deeper look at this branch of Islam and how it influences the practice of Islam among the Hui.  

Though the strict New Schools of Wahhabi-inspired Islam are far less common in China, Christian cross-cultural workers may interact with adherents, as they are trained in apologetics and debate. Their attitudes are considered extreme by the CCP, and it’s worth knowing more about this group, despite its small size. Take a look at “Wahhabi-Inspired Islam in China” to learn more.  

Just as many Christian workers poured into China under Deng Xiaoping’s era of openness, so did many Muslim missionaries. For some Hui, this was a period of deepening their practice of and learning in Islam. Some went on the hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Others went to the Middle East to study and brought home new teachings. In the post “Hui in a Globalizing China,” Julie Ma discusses the many ways Hui people have responded to globalization in China. Not everyone became more spiritual. Not a few Hui became more secularized, so it’s important to have a flexible approach when sharing the gospel.

The History of Christianity and the Hui

Though the Hui are often thought of as an unreached group, there have been sporadic outreach efforts since the 1800s. One of the most notable workers was George Harris, who went to China in 1916. Harris used innovative methods to reach the Hui. He and his wife, Winnifred, stayed in China through the communists’ rise to power, despite immense suffering. Read more about the Harrises and other early missionaries in “The First Missionaries to China’s Hui.”

Though modern evangelists should study successful methods and well-remembered workers, they also have to acknowledge that not all past workers were as sensitive as they should have been, and that leaves a long-lasting bad memory. In the final post of “From the Middle East to the Middle Kingdom,” we are reminded once again to be sensitive to the complex history the Hui people have with missionaries and foreigners.


Ramadan is one of the holiest times in the Islamic faith. For thirty days, Muslims fast from all food and water from sunrise to sundown. In 2016, Rev. Mark wrote his reflections after observing Ramadan in “These Thirty Days.”

In “May They Dream of Jesus,” Julie Ma recounts how two different Hui friends came to believe in Christ because of their dreams. Published close to Ramadan in 2022, the article invites readers to pray fervently that the Hui people and all Muslims will come to embrace Jesus as their savior.

For Further Reading

Joann Pittman wrote a great roundup of background reading on Islam in China a few years ago. Though some articles will be dated, there’s still a lot of great information in “Islam in China.”

Read all our posts that are tagged “Ramadan.”

Julie Ma wrote two excellent series on the Hui, which give background on their history, religious life, and current status. The first was called “From the Middle East to the Middle Kingdom,” and the second was “Know Thy Hui Neighbor.” Each one is spread out over several parts, providing readers with an in-depth understanding.

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Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson

  Rachel Anderson serves as the Assistant Content Manager at ChinaSource. Though she has never been to China, her ancestors were missionaries in East Asia and passed on a deep love and respect for those cultures. Rachel lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their five delightful children.      View Full Bio

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