Finding the Root Substance: Religious Classification of Liu Zhi

During the Qing dynasty in China, starting particularly in the 17th century, Hui Muslim scholars began to develop a distinctive Chinese reinterpretation of Islam based on the preceding Neo-Confucian tradition. In the early 18th century, the work of several such scholars was collected in the Han Kitab, a volume compiled by and primarily authored by Liu Zhi. Liu Zhi’s approach to Islam is almost exclusively metaphysical, emphasizing the unity of all being, and replaces the formal signifiers of Islam with native Chinese terms. Scholars such as Sachiko Murata and David Lee claim that this is part of a process of “contextualization”, by which “dynamic equivalence” with the Arabic and Persian source texts is established. I argue, however, that the substitution of terms with established and rich meaning in the traditions of Chinese thought constitutes “sinicization” - in other words, that this substitution results in such a radical departure from the meaning of the source text that it results in an absorption of some Islamic concepts by the system of Neo-Confucianism, rather than a simple adaptation of Islam into Chinese. I defend this thesis by referring to Liu Zhi’s works, particularly the Root Classic and Rules and Proprieties of Islam.



Author Information
Russell Guilbault, University at Buffalo, USA

Paper Information
Conference: AURS2016
Stream: Ethics, Religion and Philosophy

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