Ma Laichi (1681? – 1766?), (simplified Chinese: 马来迟;
traditional Chinese: 馬來遲; pinyin: Mǎ Láichí; Wade–Giles: Ma
Lai-chih) also known as Abu 'l-Futūh Ma Laichi, was a Chinese Sufi
master, who brought the
Khufiyya movement to China and created the
Huasi menhuan (
Sufi order) - the earliest and most important
Naqshbandi (نقشبندية，納克什班迪) order in Chinese
Ma Laichi's mausoleum (Hua Si Gongbei) in Linxia City.
1.1 Afaq Khoja's blessing
1.2 The great Hajj
1.3 The Khufiyya
Afaq Khoja's blessing
Ma Laichi came from a Chinese Muslim family with a military
background. His grandfather, Ma Congshan, was a general under the Ming
dynasty; his father, Ma Jiujun, passed imperial examinations on the
military track under the Qing, but instead of joining government
service, made a fortune in business. His home was in Hezhou (now
called Linxia), one of the main Muslim centers of Gansu.
According to the legend told by Ma Laichi's followers, Ma Jiajun was
still childless at the age of forty, and, desirous to have a son, he
went to Xining, to ask for a blessing from Afaq Khoja, a Naqshbandi
shaykh visiting from Kashgar, and a reputed miracle worker. After
reciting some prayers, the Kashgarian
Sufi master told Ma Jiajun to go
back to Hezhou and to marry a certain non-Muslim woman, who had
previously been engaged a number of times, but every time her fiance
died before the wedding. Ma Jiajun indeed married that 26-year-old
woman, and she bore him a son. Soon after, all Ma Jiajun's property
was destroyed by a fire, and he named his son "Laichi", meaning "[one
who] came too late".
Rendered destitute by the fire, Ma Jiajun became a tea peddler,
travelling in the region between Hezhou and Xining. His boy,
meanwhile, studied at the Koranic school run by Khoja Afaq's disciple
Ma Tai Baba (马太爸爸, "The Great Father Ma", 1632–1709) in the
nearby Milagou (米拉沟). (apparently, within today's Minhe Hui
and Tu Autonomous County).
Tai Baba's top student,
Ma Laichi had learned everything the school
had to offer by the age of 18. Tai Baba ordained the young Ma as an
ahong and initiated him into Sufism, passing onto him the barakah that
he had received from Afaq Khoja.
The great Hajj
According to Ma Tong's chronology of Ma Laichi's life, after 30 years
of religious work in the Hezhou region,
Ma Laichi left China in 1728
Hajj to Islam's holy places in the Middle East. In 1728-1733 he
studied under a number of
Sufi masters in the Arab World (primarily in
Mecca and Yemen; some versions of his biography also mention
Damascus). Due to the scarcity and imprecision of existing Chinese and
Arabic sources, different researchers have come up with different
versions and dates for Ma Laichi's great Hajj: the standard Chinese
account by Ma Tong tells of Ma sailing to Arabia from
studying for 3 months with a famous ahong there), and coming back by
the sea route as well; other accounts have him traveling to the west
by land, via Central Asia, and studying for a while in Bukhara. In
Mecca, his teacher was the head of the
Khafiya zawiya (Islamic school)
there, Muhammad Jibuni Ahmad Agelai (or Ajilai, in other accounts).
Another teacher who influenced him greatly was Mawlana Makhdum, who
Ma Laichi the name Abu 'l-Futūh. Not much is known about
Makhdum, but Joseph Fletcher surmised that he may have been an
After returning to China,
Ma Laichi established the Hua Si (华寺;
"Multicolored Mosque") school (menhuan) - the core of the Khufiyya
(خفيه) 虎夫耶 movement in Chinese Islam. The name of the
movement - a Chinese form of the Arabic "Khafiyya", i.e. "the silent
ones" - refers to its adherents' emphasis on silent dhikr (invocation
of God's name). The
Khufiyya teachings were characterized by stronger
participation in the society, as well as veneration of saints and
seeking inspiration at their tombs.
Ma Laichi spent 32 years spreading his teaching among the Muslim Hui
Salar people in
Gansu and Qinghai. He also converted to Islam
numerous Tibetan, Mongol, and Monguor-speaking communities in
Qinghai, sometimes after winning a religious debate with a local
"Living Buddha". Some of these communities still belong to the
Khufiyya, and their members still revere
Ma Laichi as the saint who
brought their ancestors into Islam.
On the grounds of Hua Si Gongbei
After the death of Ma Laichi, his position as the leader of the
Khufiyya was inherited by his son, Ma Guobao - an act that came to be
strongly criticized by the founder of the competing
Ma Mingxin. Ma Guobao was later succeeded by Ma Wuyi.
Ma Laichi's grave in
Linxia City was restored in 1986. The shrine
complex, which includes a mosque and is known as Hua Si Gongbei
(华寺拱北), continues to be the center of the Hua Si Khufiyya
Gladney, Dru C. (1996). Muslim Chinese: ethnic nationalism in the
People's Republic. Volume 149 of Harvard East Asian monographs (2
ed.). Harvard Univ Asia Center. ISBN 0-674-59497-5. (First
edition appeared in 1991).
Lipman, Jonathan Neaman (1998). Familiar strangers: a history of
Muslims in Northwest China. Hong Kong University Press.
Weismann, Itzchak (2007). The Naqshbandiyya: orthodoxy and activism in
Sufi tradition. Volume 8 of Routledge
Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32243-X.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Huasi Gongbei.
^ As it is often the case with the 17th and 18th-century Hui Sufi
figures, the chronology of Ma Laichi's life is not set firmly. Gladney
(1996) (p. 47) gives no birth year, and 1766 as the death year;
Weismann (2007) (p. 83), gives no birth year, and 1753 as the death
year. Lipman (1998) does not give exact years for birth and death, and
emphasizes differences between different historians' chronologies (p.
67); however, adding up lengths of time intervals in his biographical
account implies that Ma would be close to 48 in 1728. The Great
Chinese Encyclopedia (中国大百科全书, vol. 14 宗教
(Religion), p. 255) gives 1681-1766.
^ a b c d e Gladney (1996), pp. 47-48
^ a b c d e f Lipman (1998), p. 65-67
^ Lipman (1998), p. 66. Lipman's telling of the story does not mention
whether Ma Jiajun had been married already by the time of his asking
for Afaq Khoja's help. One would imagine that he was already married
or widowed, otherwise asking for divine intervention to get an heir
would make little sense. Thus, it is not clear if he had other wives
before, or simultaneously with, Ma Laichi's mother.
^ These days, Tibetan-speaking Muslim communities who have been Muslim
since the 18th century are officially included into the Hui ethnic
group, as there is no separate official designation for them. On the
other hand, should a modern Tibetan convert to Islam, he would still
officially remain an ethnic Tibetan. (Lipman (1998), p. 23)
^ Probably, including the group known now as Bonan. (Lipman (1998), p.
65, citing Ma Tong).
^ Lipman (1998), p. 179
^ Lipman (1998), p. 111
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