chapter  5
15 Pages

Social Conflicts between New Teaching and Old Teaching Sufi Orders among the Salar (Xunhua Sub-prefecture, Gansu Province) in the 18th Century

WithZongbao Ma

This chapter outlines the history of the Salar Muslims of Xunhua in the Qing empire’s northwestern frontiers. It explores the political and administrative circumstances during the Qianlong period that accommodated the advent of different Sufi orders among the Salars and the fierce competition for dominance that developed among them thereafter. The Salars were Turkic-speaking Muslims, from Transoxiana, west of the Pamir Mountains, who had served in the Ming dynasty military and eventually resettled in Xunhua. The Ming government appointed chieftains who exerted their authority through a hierarchy of lineages, to oversee the Salar population’s administrative and religious affairs. During the mid-Qing period the government launched political reforms which weakened the chieftain’s family power, enabling Sufi halls to step into the vacuum of authority. Thus, the earlier mosque hierarchy headed by the chieftain was taken over by Sufi shaykhs who became the established authorities among the Salars. The competition between Sufi orders to usurp the chieftain’s authority extended beyond the doctrinal sphere, to the social, political, economic and legal realms. Coupled by inadequate understanding of Salar socio-religious configuration by Qing officials, these developments led to escalating internal strife that had marked one of the grimmest chapters of Salar history.