Yamin Cheng, PhD
The writer wishes to thank Mr Kamal Koh for editing the language of the article
Although Islam in China has existed for a very long time now (since the 7th century CE), but to many Chinese (whether in mainland China or to overseas Chinese), it is a foreign religion, not a religion that emerged from within the Chinese civilization. In mainland China, Islam has been seen by many as an ethnic religion, particularly the religion of the Hui ethnic group, and is therefore called ‘Hui Jiao,’ the Hui religion. In Malaysia, Islam is seen by many Chinese as a Malay religion, religion of the Malay people.
Notwithstanding, religion does not belong to any particular group of people. For instance, Buddhism emerged in India but it became a major religion of East-asian people (people who live in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam). What then is religion, such that it could draw multitude of followers?
The essence of religion, or what gives religion its identity, is sacredness or holiness. What is sacredness? Sacredness is what impacts upon our life so that we are ready to revere, and even worship, that which is immersed in it. In some societies, sacredness manifests as the invisible forces, like the invisible forces that were said to inhabit the natural environment (such as forests and rivers). In some societies, such as the Chinese, dead ancestors intervene in the life of the living. Still, in some societies, like the Jews, Christians, and Muslims, sacredness is directed at a divine power that is said to be responsible for the existence of the world. This divine power is God. He is the One, and is the reason for everything that exists. As such, we cannot behave in ways that desecrate His status as God, in ways that are blasphemous.
From the Islamic point of view, all that live must die, and all those that blossom must wither. In other words, there is a beginning and an end to everything. If this is the case, what meaning does life after death hold?
If life has no beginning and end, then the question of what comes after is redundant. But if life has a beginning and an end, then is could only mean that there is a source by which life springs from. What is this source? This source is ‘Zhen Zhu’, or God.
How is Zhen Zhu related to us? Zhen Zhu is ‘Tu Yi’ or the Independently One (or what in Arabic is called Tawheed). How is Zhen Zhu independently One? He is One because He is the source of existence of what is other than Him, what we call the ‘ten thousand things,’ namely, the world and everything in it. As such, He is not like the things He brings into existence. In consequence, we should not render our worship of Him by ascribing to Him similarities with the things of the world (such as idols), for otherwise, He is no different from the things He creates.
Zhen Zhu, besides being God, is also ‘Yang Zhu,’ or Lord (in Arabic, He is called Al-Rabb). Yang Zhu means ‘One Who Nourishes.’ The world, including its human inhabitants, is in need of God to sustain its existence. The world of Nature is Zhen Zhu’s gift to mankind for their use and consumption, hence their sustenance. In ancient times, people called Nature ‘Tao.’ Tao literally means ‘a road.’ There is the Tao of heaven, and there is the Tao of human. The Tao of human models itself upon the Tao of heaven, making the Tao of heaven its example for human living. The Tao of heaven has such aspects as high and low, what comes first and what comes next. In the same manner, human society also has grades of high and low, who comes first and who comes next.
Notwithstanding, human society lacks the moral ability to bring about peace and justice. Otherwise, our society would have endured very long moments of peace, just like Nature. Because Zhen Zhu wishes the best for the human society, He gifted to them guidance, called ‘Tian Qi,’ or divine revelation (called wahy).
With revelation acting as the intermediary – heaven, earth, and human – can co-exist ideally. This outlook is what ancient people called Tian Ren He Yi, or Harmony of Heaven and Human. This is also the outlook of Islam.