Tibetan Muslims

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Tibetan Muslims
Khache, Khazar
Muslim family of Amdo with Tibetan-style hats.jpg
Tibetan Muslim family in Amdo, early 20th century
Regions with significant populations
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China (Tibet AR)5,000 [1]
Flag of India.svg  India (Kashmir, Ladakh)1,500+ [2]
Flag of Nepal.svg    Nepal 300–400 [3]
Tibetan, Mandarin, Kashmiri
Related ethnic groups
Tibetan Buddhists, Baltis
Tibetan Muslims
Tibetan name
Tibetan ཁ་ཆེ་

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 Bon. 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 Mosques in Lhasa.jpg
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. 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. [8]

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. [9] 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. [10]

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. [11] Many Kashmiri and Ladakhi Muslims joined these missions with some settling in Tibet. [12]

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. [13] The community soon adopted aspects of Tibetan culture like dress, diet, and the Tibetan language. [14]

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. [12]

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. [12] [14]

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). [15]

Outside of the Lhasa area, smaller Muslim communities and mosques exist in Shigatse, Tsetang, and Chengguan. [5] [16] 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. [17] 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. [18]


The Tibetan Muslims, like Muslims elsewhere in China, are Sunni and, like other Tibetans, speak a local dialect of Tibetan. [19] 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, [20] 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. [21] [22]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tibetic languages</span> Subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan languages

The Tibetic languages form a well-defined group of languages descended from Old Tibetan. According to Tournadre (2014), there are 50 languages, which split into over 200 dialects or could be grouped into 8 dialect continua. These languages are spoken in the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas in Gilgit-Baltistan, Aksai Chin, Ladakh, Nepal, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bhutan, and the Kachin State of Myanmar. Classical Tibetan is the major literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ladakh</span> Region administered by India

Ladakh is a region administered by India as a union territory and constitutes an eastern portion of the larger Kashmir region that has been the subject of a dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947 and India and China since 1959. Ladakh is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region to the east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the south, both the Indian-administered union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan to the west, and the southwest corner of Xinjiang across the Karakoram Pass in the far north. It extends from the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram range to the north to the main Great Himalayas to the south. The eastern end, consisting of the uninhabited Aksai Chin plains, is claimed by the Indian Government as part of Ladakh, and has been under Chinese control.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leh</span> City in Indian-administered Ladakh, Kashmir region

Leh is a city in the Indian Union territory of Ladakh. It is the largest city and the joint capital of Ladakh. Leh, located in the Leh district, was also the historical capital of the Kingdom of Ladakh. The seat of the kingdom, Leh Palace, the former residence of the royal family of Ladakh, was built in the same style and about the same time as the Potala Palace in Tibet. Since they were both constructed in a similar style and at roughly the same time, the Potala Palace in Tibet and Leh Palace, the royal residence, are frequently contrasted. Leh is at an altitude of 3,524 m (11,562 ft), and is connected via National Highway 1 to Srinagar in the southwest and to Manali in the south via the Leh-Manali Highway.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Balti language</span> Tibetic language of Baltistan, Pakistan

Balti is a Tibetic language natively spoken by the ethnic Balti people in the Baltistan region of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, Nubra Valley of the Leh district and in the Kargil district of Ladakh, India. The language differs from Standard Tibetan; many sounds of Old Tibetan that were lost in Standard Tibetan are retained in the Balti language. It also has a simple pitch accent system only in multi-syllabic words while Standard Tibetan has a complex and distinct pitch system that includes tone contour. Due to effects of dominant languages in Pakistani media like Urdu, Punjabi and English and religious impact of Arabic and Persian languages, Balti, like other regional languages of Pakistan, is continuously expanding its vocabulary base with loanwords.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baltistan</span> Region of Pakistani-administered Kashmir

Baltistan also known as Baltiyul or Little Tibet, is a mountainous region in the Pakistani-administered territory of Gilgit–Baltistan. It is located near the Karakoram and borders Gilgit to the west, China's Xinjiang to the north, Indian-administered Ladakh to the southeast, and the Indian-administered Kashmir Valley to the southwest. The average altitude of the region is over 3,350 metres (10,990 ft). Baltistan is largely administered under the Baltistan Division.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kargil district</span> District of Indian-administered Ladakh, Kashmir region

Kargil district is a district in Indian-administered Ladakh in the disputed Kashmir-region. It is one of the two districts comprising the Indian-administered union territory of Ladakh. The district headquarters are in the city of Kargil. The district is bounded by the Indian-administered union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to the west, the Pakistani-administered administrative territory of Gilgit–Baltistan to the north, Ladakh's Leh district to the east, and the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the south. Encompassing three historical regions known as Purig, Dras and Zanskar, the district lies to the northeast of the Great Himalayas and encompasses the majority of the Zanskar Range. Its population inhabits the river valleys of the Dras, Suru, Wakha Rong, and Zanskar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skardu</span> City in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

Skardu is a city located in Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan. Skardu serves as the capital of Skardu District and the Baltistan Division. It is situated at an average elevation of nearly 2,500 metres above sea level in the Skardu Valley, at the confluence of the Indus and Shigar rivers. The city is an important gateway to the eight-thousanders of the nearby Karakoram mountain range. The Indus River running through the region separates the Karakoram from the Ladakh Range.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Balti people</span> Ethnolinguistic group native to the Kashmir region of South Asia

The Baltis are a Tibetic ethnic group who are native to the Pakistani-administered territory of Gilgit−Baltistan and the Indian-administered territory of Ladakh, predominantly in the Kargil district with smaller concentrations present in the Leh district. Outside of the Kashmir region, Baltis are scattered throughout Pakistan, with the majority of the diaspora inhabiting prominent urban centres such as Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Ladakh</span>

Ladakh has a long history with evidence of human settlement from as back as 9000 b.c. It has been a crossroad of high Asia for thousands of years and has seen many cultures, empires and technologies born in its neighbours. As a result of these developments Ladakh has imported many traditions and culture from its neighbours and combining them all gave rise to a unique tradition and culture of its own.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Suru Valley</span> Valley in Ladakh, India

The Suru Valley is a valley in the Kargil District in the Union Territory of Ladakh, India. It is drained by the Suru River, a tributary of the Indus River. The valley's most significant town is Sankoo.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ladakh Range</span> Mountain range in India and Pakistan

The Ladakh Range is a mountain range in central Ladakh in India with its northern tip extending into Baltistan in Pakistan. It lies between the Indus and Shyok river valleys, stretching to 230 miles (370 km). Leh, the capital city of Ladakh, is on the foot of Ladakh Range in the Indus river valley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zorawar Singh (Dogra general)</span> Dogra general of the Sikh Empire (1784–1841)

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brokpa</span> Ethnic group in Ladakh

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Minsar</span> Village in Tibet Autonomous Region, Peoples Republic of China

Minsar or Moincêr is a village and the centre of a township in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet region of China..

Central Tibetan, also known as Dbus, Ü or Ü-Tsang, is the most widely spoken Tibetic language and the basis of Standard Tibetan.

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The Dogra–Tibetan war or Sino-Sikh war was fought from May 1841 to August 1842, between the forces of the Dogra nobleman Gulab Singh of Jammu, under the suzerainty of the Sikh Empire, and those of Tibet, under the protectorate of the Qing dynasty. Gulab Singh's commander was the able general Zorawar Singh Kahluria, who, after the conquest of Ladakh, attempted to extend its boundaries in order to control the trade routes into Ladakh. Zorawar Singh's campaign, suffering from the effects of inclement weather, suffered a defeat at Taklakot (Purang) and Singh was killed. The Tibetans then advanced on Ladakh. Gulab Singh sent reinforcements under the command of his nephew Jawahir Singh. A subsequent battle near Chushul in 1842 led to a Tibetan defeat. A treaty was signed in 1842 maintaining the status quo ante bellum.

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