Tibetan Muslims
Khache, Khazar
Tibetan Muslim family in Amdo, early 20th century
Regions with significant populations
 China (Tibet AR)5,000[1]
 India (Kashmir, Ladakh)1,500+[2]
Tibetan, Mandarin, Kashmiri
Related ethnic groups
Tibetan Buddhists, Baltis
Tibetan Muslims
Tibetan name
Chinese name
Literal meaningKhache (phonetic)
Alternative Chinese name
Literal meaningTibetan Hui
Second alternative Chinese name
Literal meaningGuge people

Tibetan Muslims, also known as the Khache (Tibetan: ཁ་ཆེ་, lit.'Kashmiris'), are Tibetans who adhere to Islam.[2][4] Many are descendants of Kashmiris, Ladakhis, and Nepalis who arrived in Tibet in the 14th to 17th centuries.[5] There are approximately 5,000 Tibetan Muslims living in China,[1] over 1,500 in India,[2] and 300 to 400 in Nepal.[3]

The government of the People's Republic of China does not recognize the Tibetan Muslims as a distinct ethnic group; they are grouped with Tibetan adherents of Buddhism and Bön. In contrast, the Chinese-speaking Hui Muslims are distinguished from the Han Chinese majority.[6]


In Tibet, Tibetan Muslims are known as Khache, literally "Kashmiris" in Tibetan, because many are descendants of pre-modern emigrants from Kashmir.[5] In Nepal, they are split into two groups: Khache, who have Kashmiri ancestry and therefore hold Indian passports; and Khazar, who have Nepali ancestry and therefore hold Nepali passports.[7]


Lhasa Great Mosque

Early history

The first contacts between Tibet and the Islamic world began around the mid-eighth century when it grew out of a combination of trade via the Silk Road and the military presence of Muslim forces in the Fergana Valley.[8] Despite the vague knowledge the Islamic world had about Tibet, there were a few early Islamic works that mention Tibet. One such source is from a work authored by Abu Sa'id Gardezi titled Zayn al-Akhbar. In it, the work mentions the environment, fantastical origin of the Tibetans (through the Himyarites), the divinity of the king, major resources (like musk) and a description of the trade routes to and from Tibet. Another source, Hudud al-'Alam (The Regions of the World) written by an unknown author in 982 or 983 in Afghanistan, contains mainly geography, politics and brief descriptions of Tibetan regions, cities, towns and other localities. This source has the first direct mention of the presence of Muslims in Tibet by stating that Lhasa had one mosque and a small Muslim population.[9]

During the reign of Sadnalegs (799–815), there was a protracted war against Arab powers to the West. It appears that Tibetans captured a number of Arab troops and pressed them into service on the eastern frontier in 801. Tibetans were active as far west as Samarkand and Kabul.[10] Arab forces began to gain the upper hand, and the Tibetan governor of Kabul submitted to the Arabs and became a Muslim about 812 or 815.[11]

Fourteenth century to present

Extensive trade with Kashmir, Ladakh, and Baltistan also brought Muslims to Tibet especially after the adoption or growing presence of Islam in these regions starting from the fourteenth century. The ongoing growth of Muslims continued as an effect of the Tibetan-Ladakhi treaty of 1684 in which the Tibetan government allowed trade missions from Ladakh to enter Lhasa every three years.[12] Many Kashmiri and Ladakhi Muslims joined these missions with some settling in Tibet.[13]

During the reign of the Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617–1682), a permanent Muslim community settled down in Tibet. They were permitted to elect their own council of representatives, settle their group's legal disputes with Islamic law, and some land was donated to them for the construction of a mosque close to Lhasa.[14] The community soon adopted aspects of Tibetan culture like dress, diet, and the Tibetan language.[15]

An influx of Kashmiri Muslims in Nepal (originally having trade contacts with their kin in Tibet) fled to Tibet starting from 1769 due to the invasion of the Kathmandu Valley by Prithvi Narayan Shah. As early as the seventeenth century, Ningxia and other northwestern Hui (Chinese Muslims) began to settle in the eastern regions of Tibet (like in Amdo). They intermarried with the local Tibetans and continued to have extensive trade contacts with other Muslims inside China.[13]

Another recent wave of new Muslim settlers began after the Dogra conquest of Tibet in 1841. Many Kashmiri, Balti and Ladakhi Muslim troops (who were taken as prisoners when fighting against the Dogra army) stayed behind to settle in Tibet. A few Hindu Dogras also settled in Tibet and subsequently converted to Islam.[13][15]

Among the many Hui subgroups, the geographical distribution of the "Tibetan Hui/Tibetan Muslims" is limited to the Tibetan area, and there are two main distribution areas in China – the "Tibetan Hui" in the Karigang area of the present-day Hualong Hui Autonomous County in Qinghai Province, whose original ethnic group was Tibetan, and due to their longstanding close economic dealings with the Hui around them, have been influenced by the Hui in their daily lives, which has led to their cultural integration of Hui religious beliefs and their conversion to Islam, and have been recognized as "Tibetan Muslims" and "Tibetan Muslims" by the surrounding ethnic groups. The Tibetan Hui in Lhasa (unlike other Tibetan Muslims living elsewhere) consider themselves to be very different from the Chinese Muslims and sometimes marry with other Tibetans (including Buddhists).[16]

Outside of the Lhasa area, smaller Muslim communities and mosques exist in Shigatse, Tsetang, and Chengguan.[5][17] Their forefathers were Hui, and because they have lived in the Tibetan area for a long time, they have borrowed the way of life of the Tibetans, as in the case of the Hui groups in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. They are called "Tibetan Muslims" and "Tibetan Hui" because they have lived and grown up in Tibetan areas for more than a century and have been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture, and their daily life is similar to that of the Tibetans.[18]According to a 2008 research, in recent years there has been a tendency among Tibetans in Shangri-La County to return to Islam, with the disappearance of spiritual beliefs such as Tibetan Buddhism, Dongbaism, witchcraft, and primitive beliefs, and a more devout belief in Islam.[19]

Question of citizenship

In 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru concluded that the Barkor Khache were Indian citizens.[20] The first letter written by the Barkor Khache community in Lhasa was to Tibetan Muslims in Kalimpong in 1959:[20]

It is vitally important for us to let you know that the Chinese Government, after the recent trouble in Lhasa, has threateningly asked us about our ancestry. In reply we declared ourselves with cogent evidence as Kashmiris and subjects of India. The Chinese Government is trying its best to subjugate us and make us Chinese Nationals.

The Chinese government attempted to coerce the Barkor Khache into accepting Chinese citizenship and giving up their claims to Indian citizenship.[21] They were initially prevented by China from emigrating to India.[22] The Chinese authorities harassed them, beat them, subjected them to arbitrarily high taxes and told them to attend "indoctrination meetings".[23] On 2 September 1960, Chinese leaders announced that the Barkor Khache would be allowed to leave.[24] The Barkor Khache began leaving later that month to India, via the Kingdom of Sikkim.[25] Whereas, the Wapaling Khaches decided to stay in Hebalin.[26]


The Tibetan Muslims, like Muslims elsewhere in China, are Sunni and, like other Tibetans, speak a local dialect of Tibetan.[27] The Balti people of Baltistan, who belong to the Shiite sect, also use a dialect of Tibetan (locally known as Balti) that is a mixture of other languages,[28] but is written in the Arabic alphabet, with many loanwords from Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, and the Balti people also use both Persian and Urdu.[29][30]

See also



  1. ^ a b "Tibet". United States Department of State.
  2. ^ a b c Zargar, Safwat (31 July 2019). "The Tibetan Muslims of Kashmir". The Diplomat. Retrieved 1 December 2023.
  3. ^ a b Hennig, Clare (11 July 2014). "A minority within a minority". Nepali Times.
  4. ^ "The Tibetan Muslims who have made Kashmir their home". BBC News. 1 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Cabezon, Jose Ignacio (February 1998). "Islam on the Roof of the World". Aramco World. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  6. ^ 郭家骥,边明社 (2012). 迪庆州民族文化保护传承与开发研究. 云南人民出版社: 昆明. ISBN 978-7-222-09611-0.
  7. ^ Sherpa, Duksangh (23 May 2018). "There are Muslims in Tibet, too". Nepali Times.
  8. ^ Snyder, J.C. (1997). After Empire: The Emerging Geopolitics of Central Asia. DIANE Publishing Company. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-7881-4666-4. Retrieved 13 May 2024.
  9. ^ Schaeffer, Kurtis; Kapstein, Matthew; Tuttle, Gray (2013). Sources of Tibetan Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 24–29. ISBN 978-0-231-13599-3.
  10. ^ Nagra, B.J.S. (2021). The Truth of Tibet: A Nation the World Lost. Notion Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-64983-961-9. Retrieved 11 March 2024.
  11. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia. A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages, 1987, Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02469-3, p. 14, 48, 50.
  12. ^ Warikoo, K. (2009). Himalayan Frontiers of India: Historical, Geo-Political and Strategic Perspectives. Routledge Contemporary South Asia Series. Taylor & Francis. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-134-03294-5. Retrieved 11 March 2024.
  13. ^ a b c Berzin, Alexander. "History of the Muslims of Tibet". studybuddhism.com. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  14. ^ Schaik van, Sam (2011). Tibet: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 128. ISBN 9780300194104.
  15. ^ a b Sheikh, Abdul Ghani (1991). "Tibetan Muslims". The Tibet Journal. 16 (4): 86–89. JSTOR 43300418.
  16. ^ Gladney, Dru (1996). Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic (2 ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 33, 34, 36. ISBN 0-674-59497-5.
  17. ^ Ga, Zangjia (2003). Tibetan Religions. China Intercontinental Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-7-5085-0232-8.
  18. ^ 张实,李红春编 (2012). 云南省香格里拉县藏回族群研究. 知识产权出版社: 北京. p. 25-26. ISBN 978-7-5130-1197-6.
  19. ^ 李红春 (2008). "关于云南"藏回"社会文化变迁的思考". 中国藏学 (2): 41–48.
  20. ^ a b Atwill 2018, p. 103-104.
  21. ^ Atwill 2018, p. 109.
  22. ^ Atwill 2018, p. 112.
  23. ^ Atwill 2018, p. 115.
  24. ^ Atwill 2018, p. 116.
  25. ^ Atwill 2018, p. 118.
  26. ^ Powers, D.S.; Tagliacozzo, E. (2023). Islamic Ecumene: Comparing Muslim Societies. Cornell University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-5017-7240-5. Retrieved 13 May 2024.
  27. ^ Klieger, P.C. (2006). Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the IATS, 2003. Volume 2: Tibetan Borderlands. Brill's Tibetan Studies Library. Brill. p. 204. ISBN 978-90-474-1145-1. Retrieved 11 March 2024.
  28. ^ (日)山口瑞凤等著; (1989). 国外藏学研究译文集 第6辑. 拉萨: 西藏人民出版社. p. 978. ISBN 7-223-00313-8.
  29. ^ (巴基斯坦)穆罕默德·尤素夫·侯赛因阿巴迪 (2011). 巴尔蒂斯坦(小西藏)的历史与文化. 北京: 中国藏学出版社. p. 258. ISBN 978-7-80253-336-3.
  30. ^ van Driem, G. (2022). Languages of the Himalayas: Volume 2. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 2 South Asia. Brill. p. 850. ISBN 978-90-04-51492-8. Retrieved 11 March 2024.


  • Akasoy, Anna; Burnett, Charles; Yoeli-Tlalim, Ronit. (2016). Islam and Tibet: interactions along the musk routes. Routledge, 2016. ISBN 978-1-138-24704-8.
  • Atwill, David G. "Boundaries of Belonging: Sino-Indian Relations and the 1960 Tibetan Muslim Incident." The Journal of Asian Studies 75, no. 03 (August 2016): 595–620, doi:10.1017/S0021911816000553.
  • Atwill, David G. (2018), Islamic Shangri-La: Inter-Asian Relations and Lhasa's Muslim Communities, 1600 to 1960 (1 ed.), University of California Press
  • Sheikh, Abdul Ghani. (1991). "Tibetan Muslims." The Tibet Journal. Vol. XVI, No. 4. Winter, 1991, pp. 86–89.
  • Siddiqui, Ataullah. (1991). "Muslims of Tibet." The Tibet Journal. Vol. XVI, No. 4. Winter, 1991, pp. 71–85.