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From the Middle East to the Middle Kingdom

The Hui, an Introduction

From the series From the Middle East to the Middle Kingdom

Who are the Hui Muslims of China? Where did they come from, what are they like, and how are they being reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ? To bring real hope for their eternal future, it helps to learn something of the Hui people’s past:

Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair. —Walter Brueggeman

Christians, including Chinese and other nationalities are being trained to share God’s love with the Hui. To my knowledge, the most comprehensive and practical course is titled “不再陌生的回族” in Chinese and “Know Thy Hui Neighbor (KTHN)” in English.

KTHN was first developed as a series of workshops for a conference of cross-cultural workers. Attendees asked for follow-up teaching and shared the PowerPoint slides with their teams. The course grew in length and influence. To date, it has not been published or made available to the public, but the slides have turned up all over China. Various organizations have used this course, adapting it to their own needs. This “viral” spread of the materials is indeed what the authors hoped for. They tell students, “Your first-ever training is also an instructor’s training.” They have personally mentored course instructors, but many more have arisen organically in the Chinese church community.

Know Thy Hui Neighbor training includes six sessions of about three hours each, covering the following topics:

  • Session 1: Hui Ancient History, 7th–19th Century
  • Session 2: Hui Modern History, 20th Century until Now
  • Session 3: Hui Religious Sects
  • Session 4: Hui Customs and Festivals
  • Session 5: History of Mission to the Hui (1878-1951)
  • Session 6: Summary and Application to Ministry

The strong focus on history (three sessions) is well-founded. It is scarcely possible to understand the daily life of a Hui person, their relationship to their country and the Chinese people, or the successes and failures of gospel efforts, without digging into how this people group became what, who, and where they are today.

This blog series summarizes KTHN’s three sessions (nine teaching hours) related to Hui history. It is based on slides provided by the course’s creators and my notes from attending the course myself as well as my conversations with instructors. I offer only a brief introduction which should not replace comprehensive training. I will divide the content into shorter segments than the original material. Each bite-sized segment will summarise just one part of Hui history as it influences contemporary Hui life and receptivity to the gospel.

The Camel Had an Off Day.

My trainer started by telling us why we need a course like KTHN:

When we first came to North-West China, we joined a team who had been using the CAMEL method of evangelism with Hui people. One of the key features of the CAMEL method is using the Qur’an to build a bridge to the Bible. But whenever our teammates invited Hui to read, they were met with puzzlement (‘Why would I want to do that?’) or face-giving appeasement (‘OK, OK, I’ll read it someday.’). How come the CAMEL method, which has been so successful among Muslims elsewhere, failed to bring Hui to the Lord here?

Like other ethnic minorities in China, the Hui have a long, rich, and complex history that directly impacts who they are today. Much of what we see among 21st century Hui—their animosity towards China’s majority Han people, their geographical spread, their inclination towards trade and commerce—arose due to historical factors.

Even the Chinese government, in seeking to govern, control, and care for its citizens, is a diligent student of China’s history. As messengers of God’s hope, how much more should we learn from the past to change the future?

In part 2, we will see how Hui origins have shaped their present-day identity and attitude to religions. 

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Image credit: Julie Ma.

Julie Ma

Julie Ma

Julie Ma (pseudonym) is a graduate of Sydney Missionary and Bible College (SMBC) and a member of the Angelina Noble Centre for women in cross-cultural missions research. She left her home in Australia over a decade ago to serve Hui Chinese Muslims alongside her Chinese husband. After all these years overseas, …View Full Bio

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