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27 Feb 2024

What is the Han Kitab?

What is the Han Kitab?

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What is the Han Kitab?

The Han Kitab is a corpus of published books by Muslim Chinese scholars, and philosophers who aim to bring highlight the synonymity of Confucianism and Islam.

Confucianism, also known as Ru, is an ancient Chinese belief system, which focuses on the importance of personal ethics and morality.

This collaboration in philosophy and thought is reflected in the name, with ‘Han‘ meaning Chinese in Mandarin and ‘Kitab‘ meaning book in Arabic.

Using concepts of traditional Chinese philosophy, they tried to show that Islam is not distant from Chinese values.

The Han Kitab covers books written in approximately five Centuries, from the 1500s to the middle of the 20th century. Among these, the Han Kitab was translated into Persian and Arabic.

According to accepted academic views, the last Han Kitab is believed to be written in the 1940s.

There is a wide range of content in the Han Kitab, such as travel, memories of pilgrimage, calendar, astronomy, poetry, hadith, Islamic creed (aqaid), and Sufism.

Below is a transcribed interview between Dr. Qayyim Naoki Yamamoto and Dr. Elvida Ünal. 

Dr Yamamoto gives an example of how the Han Kitab highlights how Chinese civilisation is intertwined with Islamic philosophies.

To study Islamic civilization is to study such a complex web of languages and cultures.

‘We often tend to simplify the world and absolutize each other’s cultural lenses, but until we overcome these prejudices, we will never understand the richness of Islamic civilization.

‘Kung fu (功夫), mentioned in Han Kitab. Although kung fu is known as a martial art, martial art is a part of it. Kung fu is the means of training the soul (tarbiya al-nafs) to reach the truth.

‘Today, because of secularisation and orientalism, all traditional practices and ideas in Asia have been reduced to some sort of exotic culture stored in museums or consumed commodities.

‘However, not only martial arts, but also many other cultural practices in East Asia are actually the practices of kung fu, that is training of the soul.

‘This structure of the East Asian spiritual world cannot be understood simply by reading English translations of East Asian classics.

‘A good example of this would be the Japanese tea ceremony. Sadou (茶道) is translated as tea ceremony in English, but this may not be a correct translation. Sa (茶) means tea and Dou (道) means the way.

‘The Japanese tea ceremony is a way of spiritual practice to reach the truth by learning from a master how to serve tea to guests. In other words, the tea ceremony is kung fu!

‘However, unless you know that kung fu is [a way of] Tarbiya al-Nafs, you will not be able to understand its true meaning.’

The Han Kitab highlights and reminds us that Islam does not belong to a specific region.

As the Prophet (pbuh) said in his final sermon;

“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”

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