If we hear the word China we often think about Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Atheism, temples, pork containing foods, incense, etc, as if there isn’t any Islamic life there. Maybe it is the reason why many people do not know a man named Cheng Ho, even a Chinese who lives in People’s Republic of China do not know about this born a muslim man.
Cheng Ho, also known as Zheng He or Ma He (Ma is the Chinese transcription for Muhammad) or in another Chinese dialect called Sam Poo, was a devout muslim. He was born in 1371 AD in Yunnan province, western part of China. His father was a devout muslim who had done Hajj. When Ming Dynasty did invation to Yunnan, his father was killed then Cheng Ho was arrested, castrated and trained to be eunuch. He was still 11 years old then. Due to his good characters, the imperial family trusted him, so that in a war he was one of the leaders and he could show his remarkable ability in military. After the war finished, the first time the new king of Ming Dynasty did was to sponsor Cheng Ho’s expedition to explore the world in order to show the splendor of Chinese empire.
Cheng Ho did the first voyage when he was 34 years old in 1405, or almost 90 years prior to Christopher Columbus did his first voyage in 1492. It was the largest maritime expeditions that were ever seen on this planet. While the western sailors were still learning how to understand map, Cheng Ho had led about 317 ships and organized 28,000 people to visit 31 countries in Asia and Africa. The treasure ships carried items that would be provided for trading and offering to the kings of kingdoms they visited.
Although the ships also carried weapons but those weapons were used in order to protect Cheng Ho’s expeditions, such as a battle to combat pirates who took control Malacca strait. While western expeditions were to seize Asian products and then to colonize the countries they visited, Cheng Ho offered peace relationship. It was said that killing weapons were not many in the fleets, otherwise “good mind weapons” which would be delivered to the kings where Cheng Ho and his men landed their ships. As a muslim he did dawah bil haal, that is dawah with good behavior. Hamka, an Indonesian prominent figure who wrote a number of Islamic scientific works, said that a Chinese muslim who had relationship with the progress of Islam in Indonesia and Malay land was Admiral Cheng Ho.
Cheng Ho died during his last expedition when he was 62 years old. The official records of his expeditons were burned by the new imperial after Ming dynasty ended. His expeditions were retold and written by the people who got involved in his expeditions. Since he was so kind to the people of the countries where he visited without regarding their religions, Buddhism and Taoism followers who met him built shrines in order to honor him. Also muslims in muslim countries he ever visited built masjid named his name in Chinese architecture dominated in red and green.Reading the life of Cheng Ho has given us spirit and thought that in this modern world, when our children are easily amazed with fantasy figures, we need to introduce Cheng Ho’s story to our children. From his story, we and our children can learn to be brave, to be strong and to be sincere muslims, to be trusted persons, to do dawah with our good behavior, to keep our faith and have big confidence so that we can achieve good achievement although we live in non muslim society. Hopefully we can imitate Cheng Ho’s good behavior and any other great figures so that we can be better and better muslims that can brighten ourselves and people around us like what Cheng Ho did. Aamin.