This is an article from the January-February 1991 issue: The State of the World

Pray for Muslims in China!

Pray for Muslims in China!

China: A Single Ethnic Group?

Most people think of the People's Republic of China (PRC) as being almost exclusively Han Chinese. Most mission publications speak of China as if it were all one ethnic group. However, as you can see from the following map, only about half of the Chinese landmass is inhabited by the Han Chinese. The rest of the country is inhabited by other ethnic groups: Tibetans, Mongolians, Koreans and Turkic Muslims.

The PRC is the home of between 15 and 40 million Muslims. With the exception of the Hui, Chinese Muslims are all part of ten non-Han Chinese ethnic groups. About 80 percent live in four provinces- Chinghai, Kansu, Shensi and Yunnan; and two autonomous regions, Ninghsia and especially Xinjiang. Even Tibet, world-famous for its unique form of Buddhism, is home to many Muslims. About 80 percent of these Chinese Muslims work as farmers and herders while the other 20 percent do urban work.

Pray for a Church, a Bible and a radio broadcast among each of these Muslim peoples of China:

Uigher 7,600,000 Kazak 1,112,000 Dongxiang 374,000 Kirghiz 141,500 Sal 87,700 Tajik 33,500 Uzbek 14,500 Bonan 12,200 Tatar 4,800 Hui 8,600,000

Islam in China?

According to early Muslim tradition, Islam came to China via Abu Waggas, a contemporary of Mohammed who is said to have preached Islam in Canton and built a mosque in the early seventh century. It is known that Arabic and Persian Muslim merchants and mercenaries arrived by the end of that century, married Chinese women and settled down to raise the first Chinese Muslim families.

The Han Chinese majority and the Muslim minorities lived harmoniously throughout most of their long history of co-existence. The Arab traders helped the economy of the Chinese empire, and they also proved to be good warriors. There were a few exceptions, most notably during the Ch'ing Dynasty when Chinese rulers attempted to force Confucianism on the entire population, resulting in conflict with the Muslims who remained faithful to Allah. But, in time, new rulers proved more tolerant of the Muslims. Even during Mao's bloody Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 when all religion was suppressed, the Muslims took their beatings and stubbornly stood their ground until new rulers were willing to make concessions. Today, these Turkic Muslim groups are seldom victims of government suppression as are their brothers on the Soviet side of the border.

Relations Today

In recent years, the government of China has given many concessions to Muslims all over China. Last year, the first Islamic university in China was opened. Chinese Muslims are encouraged to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca with the help of a regional pilgrimage office founded six years ago. More Muslims are making their hajj than ever before in Chinese history. Also, Muslim regions are exempt from the PRC's "one family, one child" policy.

One reason for such concessions is economic. The grasslands of the northwest, where a large percentage of China's Muslims live, could provide meat and dairy products for the country. The government would like cooperation from the Muslims in developing this region. They would also like foreign aid from the Islamic Middle Eastern nations and realize that showing favoritism to Muslims at home may help.

Perhaps the stronger reason, however, is political. Border tensions with the Soviet Union and with India, both hostile to China, have made it wise for the government of China to be on friendly terms with the Muslims of Xinjiang, whose area borders both countries. For this reason, Xinjiang was given status as an autonomous region in 1955.

Government officials know how important it is to prevent any possibility of uprisings and political unrest. With problems in Tibet in the southwest, China is determined to avoid problems in the northwest. Understandably, the government fears that worldwide Islamic fundamentalism might encourage its Muslim minorities to strive for their own separate Muslim nation. To counteract such a move, the PRC government for several years has been moving 200,000 Han Chinese per year into the Xinjiang region. By 1985 this region was already 40 percent Han. The government hopes this new influx of non-Muslim peoples will both dilute Turkic Muslim nationalism and also provide more manpower to develop the region.

This resettlement plan, however, has backfired to some degree. The semi-nomadic Turkic peoples in these areas feel threatened by the Han settlers, who fence in the best land and congregate in towns. As a result, many of the Muslims move south to evade the Han, forming communities that practice an even stronger observance of Islam, while those who stay in the north tend to become more like the Han.

Into this already difficult mix have come radical Muslims from Turkey. Last spring these provoked an uprising in Xinjiang which resulted in 22 deaths. Since then, the Chinese government has begun to curb Islamic privileges in the area, which in turn may produce more conflict and bloodshed. Pray for peace in this region.

Where Islam Meets Christianity

For centuries the Muslim minorities of China have kept themselves separate from the dominant Han Chinese. Since the Cultural Revolution, which forced many Han Chinese Christians into areas of China where they would never have gone on their own, 10,000 have settled in Muslim areas, bringing with them a vibrant Christian witness. Muslims who have been won to Christ by these evangelical Christians have been violently persecuted, and in one case, the Han church was burned. Because of this Muslim resistance, the Han itinerant evangelists are finding it more and more difficult to evangelize in Xinjiang. Pray that the Muslims will see the error of their ways and turn to Christ as not only their prophet but as their Lord.

Despite Islamic militancy, there is tremendous potential for reaching these unreached Muslim millions in northwest China. But the needs are also great. According to a recent article in China Prayer Letter, "Very much needed are materials which instruct witnessing Christians in the beliefs of Islam and which explain how to approach Muslims with sensitivity. There is also a great need for Gospel radio broadcasts and literature in the Uigher language. The Uigher version of the 'Jesus' film is now in production. A new translation of the Bible into Uigher is needed (and is in process) using the Arabic script, rather than the Cyrillic script which is used in the Soviet Union."

With this introduction in mind, remember to pray for China's unreached people groups. The following list may be used in any month.

Pray for the Muslim minorities.

Day 1-2 Pray that each of China's Muslim minority peoples will be open to God's true Gospel. Pray that they will be touched by the Holy Spirit, prepared to hear and ready to repent and fully believe in Jesus Christ.

Day 3-4 Pray that the power of Islam will be broken, that Muslims will clearly see the difference between Islam and Christianity and will eagerly desire salvation and a relationship with God in Christ.

Day 5-6 Pray that secular Muslims will be freed from the lie of communism and abandon atheistic philosophies to follow Jesus.

Day 7-8 Pray that as salvation comes to the Muslims, God will also work to free them from the social ills so common in their culture-- alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, corruption, dysfunctional and abusive families and hopelessness.

Day 9-10 Pray that the ethnic barriers between the Muslims and the Chinese will be broken, that Muslims will be willing to hear the Gospel from Chinese believers and that the two, though ethnically and culturally different, can be one in Christ.

Day 11-12 Pray for the translation of the Uigher New Testament, that it will proceed quickly and accurately and that those involved will be fully protected from discovery in this valuable work.

Pray for the Chinese Christians among the Muslims
Day 13-14 Pray that the Chinese church would be healthy and free from error. Pray that God will raise up mature pastors, teachers and disciple-makers to guide young believers into maturity in Christ.

Day 15-16 Pray that God would protect and encourage persecuted Christians, keeping them strong in the faith.

Day 17-18 Pray that more Chinese Christians will see the need of the millions of unreached Muslims and will begin praying for and witnessing to their Muslim friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Day 19-20 Pray that Chinese Christians would develop a culturally sensitive method of witnessing to the Muslims, understanding that the minorities do not need to become Han Chinese in order to become Christians.

Pray for foreign workers among the Muslim minorities
Day 21-22 Pray for those in authority, that the foreign workers would have favor and would be able to find places to live and work for extended periods among the Muslims. Pray that the doors will remain open.

Day 23-24 Pray against the fear, fostered by government policies, that so many people have in dealing with foreigners, a fear which hinders relationships. Pray also that the foreign workers themselves would not be afraid of the government, but would be guided by the Lord in their friendships and bold when sharing the Gospel.

Day 25-26 Pray against government restrictions which have been increasing lately and which seek to limit contact between foreigners and their Muslim neighbors and co-workers.

Day 27-28 Pray that the foreign workers will be diligent in their language and culture learning and become ever more effective in making friends and sharing the Gospel. Pray that they would not be discouraged, even when the work seems slow, but would keep trusting the Lord for fruit.

Day 29-30 Pray that the foreigners would work well together, be mutually encouraging and able to resolve any differences quickly and completely. Pray that they would find joy in worship and prayer together.

Sources for further reading:
- Pray for China, PO Box 4195, Oak Park IL 60303 USA.

- China Prayer Letter and Ministry Report also Chinese Around the World, China Ministries International, PO Box 40489 Pasadena, CA 91104-7489 USA.

- Watchman on the Wall, Institute of Chinese Studies, 1605 Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104 USA.

- The China Mission Handbook: A Portrait of China and Its Church, Jonathan Chao, ed. To obtain a copy, contact China Ministries International (address above).

- Pray for Tibet, Prayer Ministries International, PO Box 36437, Albuquerque NM 87176 USA.

- The January 1991 issue of Global Prayer Digest focuses on Muslims in China. To request a copy, send 75¢ to G.P.D. Order Processing, 1605 Elizabeth St, Pasadena CA 91104 USA.Or send $6 for a one-year subscription to this magazine of mission devotionals to fuel your prayers for unreached people groups.


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