|Regions with significant populations
|China (Tibet AR)
|India (Kashmir, Ladakh)
|Tibetan, Mandarin, Kashmiri
|Related ethnic groups
|Tibetan Buddhists, Baltis
|Alternative Chinese name
|Second alternative Chinese name
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Islam in China
|Islam portal • China portal
Tibetan Muslims, known in Tibet as the Khache (Tibetan: ཁ་ཆེ་, lit. 'Kashmiris'), are Tibetans who adhere to Islam. Many are descendants of Kashmiris, Ladakhis, and Nepalis who arrived in Tibet in the 14th to 17th centuries. There are approximately 5,000 Tibetan Muslims living in China and over 1,500 living in India.
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 Bon. In contrast, the Chinese-speaking Hui Muslims are distinguished from the Han Chinese majority.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. Many Kashmiri and Ladakhi Muslims joined these missions with some settling in Tibet.
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. The community soon adopted aspects of Tibetan culture like dress, diet, and the Tibetan language.
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.
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.
Outside of the Lhasa area, smaller Muslim communities and mosques exist in Shigatse, Tsetang, and Chengguan.
After the Chinese conquest of Tibet in 1950, the Tibetan Muslims faced brutal persecution just like their Buddhist brethren. Since then, Chinese Muslims (along with the Han and others) have settled in Tibet. The Chinese government classified the Tibetan Muslims as Hui. However, the Tibetan Muslims are often called Zang Hui (Tibetan Hui) as they speak Tibetan and have a material culture almost identical to their Buddhist counterparts. 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) instead of their fellow Muslims from China.
In 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru concluded that the Barkor Khache were Indian citizens. The first letter written by the Barkor Khache community in Lhasa was to Tibetan Muslims in Kalimpong in 1959:
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. They were initially prevented by China from emigrating to India. The Chinese authorities harassed them, beat them, subjected them to arbitrarily high taxes and told them to attend "indoctrination meetings". On 2 September 1960, Chinese leaders announced that the Barkor Khache would be allowed to leave. The Barkor Khache began leaving later that month to India, via the Kingdom of Sikkim. The Wapaling Khaches also demanded that they be allowed to emigrate to India, but the Chinese authorities refused.
After the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir granted permanent resident/state subject status to Tibetan Muslim refugees. Voting rights for the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly were also granted by the government.
Ironically, the Muslim refugees from Xinjiang and Tibet, who had migrated to Kashmir following the Chinese occupation of their countries in 1949 and 1959, respectively, have been granted "state subject" status, along with voting rights in the Assembly by the J&K government.
The Muslim refugees from Xinjiang and Tibet, who had migrated to Kashmir following the Chinese occupation of their countries in 1949 and 1959, respectively, have been granted state subject status, along with voting rights in the Assembly by the J&K Government.