By Lhamkog (See the orginal article in Tibetan)
Whilst the spread of Islam in other countries and among other ethnic groups has been strong, there has been no development of Islam amongst Tibetans. Were there any official restrictions on the spread of Islam in Tibet? This has been one of my longstanding doubts. The following is from a recent conversation between a friend of mine and his Muslim prison mate.
A group of young Tibetan Muslim migrants in Kalimpong, India. 1965
(See more photos, click here)
My friend told me that not only did his Muslim prison mate claim his ancestors were Tibetan, he also claimed that he was a Tibetan Muslim and showed respect to Tibetans and regarded Tibetan monks with high esteem. Furthermore it is said that when the Muslim was happy he would sing some Tibetan Lu (Amdo folk songs) and Lashey (Amdo love songs) that many urban Tibetan youths have never heard of in order to console himself. Another amusing remark was that the Muslim looked down on Chinese speaking Muslims by calling them Gyahui (Chinese Muslim).
My friend told me that when he asked the Tibetan Muslim if he could read and write Tibetan, he answered that many boys and girls from his village went to Tibetan medium schools and achieve a high standard of Tibetan. My friend told me he was moved when the Tibetan Muslim conveyed his sense of Tibetan belongings in such a manner.
When I heard this I had mixed feelings. I was happy because if Tibet as an ethnic minority [under the Chinese rule], raises its population by even one head this is vital to rescuing Tibet from extinction. I was sad because there are already numerous religious disputes within Tibetan society, although the different Buddhist sects share the same root. Therefore the fact of establishing a different religion in Tibetan society would be a cruel reality.
Generally speaking, Tibetan ethnic origin is defined primarily on the bases of biological factors such as lineage and race rather than religion. However, since we are narrow minded with one’s own religious sects, I sense that Tibetan politicians would put the ethnic issue aside when it comes to religious matters. What are your opinions on this, my dear friends?
I would like to make a note here that some might charge me with criticism by citing names of countries where Islamism does not exist. However, my argument is based on the fact that some parts of Amdo in Tibet have been neighbours to Muslims for many years, there have also been close trading relationships with them.
1. By Riggyam: Dear friend, this is not a surprising issue. There should be room for religious diversity within an ethnic group. There have been practitioners of Christianity and Islamism in Tibet a long time ago. Tibetan Christians are inhabited in Yunan regions and some Tibetan residents in Lhasa practice Islamism and they are called Bopa Khache (Tibetan Muslims). Many Tibetan Muslims live along the Machu (the Yellow River) in Amdo. These are people who rather practice a different religion but speak only Tibetan and many of them send their children to Tibetan medium school for education.
2. By Free: What the above blogger said is true. I visited Northern Ladhak in India and met many Tibetan Muslims there. They said they are descendents of Lhasa Khache (Lhasa Muslims) and they are studying Tibetan and speak standard Tibetan. At the time, they invited the Dalai Lama at their mosque to preach teachings. I was utterly surprised about the fact of encountering a new group of Tibetan who I had never heard of practising a different religion. Where I live now there is Tibetan Muslim girl who is called Sabira . A Tibetan boy asked her: what her name was and she told him her name. The boy said ‘Sounds very Muslim name to me. Is your husband a Muslim?’ Sabira said ‘My entire family believe in Islamism but we are Tibetan’. The boy was shocked as well as embarrassed.