Little Mecca in Canton: representations and resurgences of the graveyard of Sa’d ibn Abī Waqqās
Janice Hyeju Jeong – 2022
The tomb of Sa'd ibn Abī Waqqās, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad mythologized to have as having been buried in Canton, has attracted pilgrims from across China and beyond for the past three centuries. The repertoire on Abī Waqqās, an arriver from Mecca buried in Canton, is intriguing less for its factual veracity than the its manifold afterlives of the personage. This paper expands the scope of existing scholarship on Islam in China by directing attention to the previously unexamined textual corpus – stele inscriptions, imperial geographic surveys, mosque records, print periodicals, and recent unofficial historical surveys that date between from the fourteenth century and to the present. Transported between different mediums, Abī Waqqās as an ancestral figure has provided a powerful regenerative force for Chinese Muslims' historical consciousness that unfolds through a circular rather than linear time, and incorporates distant geographies without physical mobility. Moving beyond the textual realm, repetitions of the narrative materialized into a cemetery – a focal point that has mediated long-distance travels and donation networks; absorbed hybrid religious rituals ranging from ancestor worship grave rituals to dhikr practices; and capitalized on the Chinese state’s rhetoric of silk roads diplomacy. By unearthing rediscoveries of a symbolic figure through tides of time, the article shows how a supposedly unscientific myth narrativized conceptions of dual homes, here and elsewhere, and further established a regional Islamic hub, or a “little Mecca” in coastal China.