Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Muslim Chinese Figure: 馬來遲 Ma Laichi

Assalaamu'alaikum wa rahmatullah

Ma Laichi Mausoleum

Think that we had already talked about two Muslim Chinese figure whom are Imam Hu Songshan and General Omar Bai Zongxi. So, now we continue the section on Muslim Chinese figures about this person whose name is Abu al-Futuh Ma Laichi.


Ma Laichi lived around 16-17th C so I don't know where can I find his photograph. His father, Ma Jiujun was a businessman who married his mother, a Han Chinese. Their home was in Hezhou which is now located in Linxia city of Gansu province. His grandfather served Ming dynasty as a general and known as Ma Congshan.

There is a legend told by Ma Laichi disciples where Ma Jiujun who is the father of Ma Laichi had no child until the age of 40. He desired to have a son to inherit the family. So, he went to Xining and asking the blessings of Afaq Khwaja. Afaq Khwaja was a Naqshabandi Sheikh who visiting the area from Kashgar. The Khwaja recited blessings and supplications for Ma Jiujun and told him to return to Hezhou. Then he have to marry a certain Han woman who had previously been engaged many times but had her fiance died before the wedding. Ma Jiujun married to a 26 years old woman and they had a son. Ma Jiujun property was later destroyed by a fire, and he named his son Laichi which means one who came too late.

Because of the fire, Ma Jiujun became a poor man. He has to peddle and selling tea traveling in region between Hezhou and Xining. He sent Ma Laichi to study Quran in the madrasah ran by the disciple of Khwaja Afaq who was known as 馬太爸爸 Ma Tai Baba near Milagu. Ma Laichi became a prominent student in the madrasah and he finished everything taught in the school by the age of 18. Tai Baba then ordained Ma as an imam beside initiating him into the branch of Naqshabandi and blessings.   

Pilgrimage to Mecca

From the narration of Ma Tong about Ma Laichi life, he had performed religious work in Hezhou region for about 30 years. Then he left China around 1728 for pilgrimage in Mecca beside visiting other holy places in Middle east. Around 1728 until 1733, he studied under supervisions of various tasawwuf teachers beginning from Mecca and Yemen and some had also mentioned about Cairo and Damascus in Syria. There are not so many sources about this figure either in Arabic or Chinese so quite difficult to determine precise dates for his pilgrimage or studies. Standard account by Ma Tong narrated according to chronology:

1. Ma Laichi sailed for Arabia from Guangzhou after stayed there for three months and studied with a famous imam there. He returned to China by sea route too. Other accounts mentioned that he traveled to the west through land route via Central Asia and studying for a while in Bukhara.

2. His teacher in Mecca was the head of Khafiyya Zawiyya known as Muhammad Jibuni Ahmad Agelai. Another teacher who influenced him was Mawlana Makhdum who gave him the name Abu al-Futuh. Not much being exposed about Mawlana Makhdum but a researcher, Joseph Fletcher suggested that he might be a northern Indian. 

3. Ma Laichi established the 華寺 Hua Si school which became the step stone for Khafiyya movement in China. Khafiyya means the silent ones which refers to people who perform silent dzikrs and invocations to the God. It also involves strong participation of members into the society as well as respecting saints and getting lessons from meditation and visiting the tombs of religious persons.

4. He spent 32 years spreading teachings to Hui and Salar people in Gansu and Qinghai. He performed da'awa to neighboring Mongols, Tibetans and other ethnics in Qinghai. He was also involved in debates with local Living Buddha. Some of Muslim Tibetans and Mongols still respect Ma Laichi as a person who introduced them to Islam. There was another opponent tasawwuf school which was called as Jahriyya. Sadly, both of Khafiyya and Jahriyya fought each others. Salar ethnics in Western China had turned to Ikhwan since late 19th C.


After Ma Laichi passed away, he was succeeded by his son, Ma Guobao. Ma Guobao succession as the leader of Khafiyya was strongly criticized by the founder of the school of Jahriyya, Ma Mingxin. Then, Ma Guobao was succeeded by Ma Wuyi. The tomb of Ma Laichi in Linxia was restored in 1986. There is also a mosque and the tomb was known as Huasi Gungbei. It still a center for the Khafiyya school for Naqshabandiyya Order in Western China.

Further Readings

- Gladney, Dru C. (1996). Muslim Chinese: ethnic nationalism in the People's Republic. Vol. 149 of Harvard East Asian monograohs (2nd ed.). Harvard University, Asian Center. 

- Lipman & Neaman, J. (1998). Familiar strangers: a history of Muslims in Northwest China. Hong Kong University Press.

- Weissman, I. (2007). The Naqshabandiyya: orthodoxy and activism in a worldwide Sufi tradition. Vol. 8 of Routledge Sufi series. Routledge.

Sealed with prayers for mercy, peace, and love, amin!

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