Population: 11 million in China, 1.5 million elsewhere
The Uyghurs are the ethnic majority of Xinjiang, China’s largest province in the northwest of the country. They are a hospitable people known for their zest for life: dance, song, art, colour and spices are some of the defining ingredients of their culture. Their Turkic heritage makes their appearance quite distinctive from other Chinese peoples.
Uyghurs settled in Xinjiang around the 9th Century and their homelands became part of the prosperous Silk Road trade route. Today they continue to rely on cotton and fruit agriculture for their livelihood. Much of Xinjiang is arid and inhospitable so they live predominantly in cities nestled in the foothills of dramatic mountain ranges.
There was a time between the 12th and 14th Centuries when the majority identified as Christian but the spread of Islam saw the last Christian Uyghurs converting to Islam around 1380. Renewed efforts to reach them with the gospel began again in the 19th Century but a staggering 99.99% of Uyghurs still identify as Muslim. In recent years the Uyghurs have come under oppressive control by the Chinese central government who are strongly restricting their cultural and religious freedoms. Gospel work in Xinjiang has also been curtailed, and very few workers have been able to remain.
Though circumstances might appear bleak at the moment, there is hope to be found amongst the Uyghurs, as local house fellowships grow across the region. There’s a prevailing sense that God is at work. The local Han church has thrived enormously over the years and is gradually waking up to the task of reaching its Muslim neighbours. The role of foreign workers is different now but it is still vital. There are continued opportunities for pioneering amongst the Uyghurs, and much to be gained through training, supporting and living out hope to the local church as they continue to witness to the Uyghurs.
Population: 14 million in China, 1 million elsewhere
Unlike the Uyghurs, the Hui are dispersed throughout China. They are one of the largest minority ethnic groups with communities in nearly every major Chinese city. The Hui are thought to have descended from early Arab and Persian merchants who travelled along the Silk Road trade route and intermarried with the Chinese.
In most respects the Hui are integrated with the Han Chinese population, but their Muslim identity and roots remain with a strong belief that ‘To be Hui is to be Muslim’. As a result they have developed a unique fusion of Chinese and Muslim heritage, intertwining Islamic beliefs regarding diet, daily routine and worship with ancient Chinese practices. They have created their own take on traditions such as Chinese medicine and martial arts, and worship at beautifully ornate oriental-style mosques. The Hui are known for their sharp business heads, incredible hospitality and excellent pork-free cuisine.
Despite many nominal adherents to Islam among the Hui, almost all strongly identify as Muslim and see no distinction between their ethnic and religious identities. As with the Uyghurs, there have been efforts to reach them with the gospel over the last 200 years, but today few workers are intentionally planting churches amongst them. It is estimated that only 0.01% of Hui are followers of Christ, and that of the 25 million Uyghurs and Hui in China there are merely 2500 believers. This calls for both prayer and action.
Due to their relative freedom to practice Islam, the Hui have been considered a ‘bridge people’ to other Muslim minority groups in China. Straddling the gap between Muslim and Han cultures they have the potential for incredible Kingdom impact amongst other Muslim peoples. Let’s ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers amongst the Hui, and to use them powerfully for the spread of his Kingdom to all Muslim peoples in China.