Contextualization of Sufi spirituality in 17th-18th century China: the role of Liu Zhi (c. 1662 – c. 1730)

Lee, David Yat Tong (2015) Contextualization of Sufi spirituality in 17th-18th century China: the role of Liu Zhi (c. 1662 – c. 1730). PhD thesis, Middlesex University / London School of Theology.

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Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Islamic literati actively translated and wrote Islamic
texts in Chinese for use by Hui Muslims and the Scripture Hall Education System in China.
They used Confucian terms extensively to explain Islamic thought. This phenomenon has
been interpreted recently in China as a process of Confucianization of Islam. Consequently,
it is claimed that Islam in China is distinctive because it is Islam with Chinese
This is a study of the issue of the Confucianization of Islam in China from the perspective
of contextualization. Liu Zhi (c. 1662 – c.1730) is one of the most well known Hui Islamic
scholars. Both his acclaimed trilogy and his short treatises, including a Sufi poem, are
examined by using two foundational themes, namely the concept of unity of existence and
Sufi spirituality. Firstly, this study shows that Liu Zhi’s concept of unity of existence is
based on the Ibn ‘Arabi tradition which has been influential in Chinese Sufism. Liu Zhi
translated Persian and Arabic Islamic texts and interpreted the concept of unity of existence
by primarily using Confucian terms with the aim to make difficult Islamic concepts more
comprehensible to his readers.
Secondly, this study shows that Liu Zhi’s Sufi spirituality is in active conversation with the
Chinese cultural contexts. Sufi spirituality is contextualized primarily, but not exclusively,
as Confucian self-cultivation. The Sufi path is also interpreted as a Buddhist concept of
‘vehicle’ (乘). The goal of Sufi spirituality is the return to the Real by the empowering role
of the prophet Muhammad who is contextualized as the Utmost Sage. Finally, contrary to the common understanding that Liu Zhi has Confuciancized Islam, this
study shows that Liu Zhi contextualized his Islamic tradition by using a composite
translation-conversation model of contextualization. He was always faithful to his Islamic
tradition and contextualized the Sufi spirituality as practical wisdom.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: A. > School of Law
B. > Theses
C. Collaborative Partners > London School of Theology
Item ID: 17459
Depositing User: Users 3197 not found.
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2015 16:08
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2019 05:52

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