Conversion to Islam in Mongol-ruled Hexi (China): The Life and Times of Prince Ananda

Prince Ananda 阿难答 (d. 1307), Qubilai Khan's grandson, ruled the Anxi province and headed the Yuan garrison in the Hexi region (modern Gansu and Ningxia). The region was formerly under the rule of the Buddhist Xi Xia dynasty (1038-1227). Ananda was born a Buddhist; he had a Korean Buddhist wife and moreover, maintained a close relationship with a Buddhist monk, whom he had summoned to Anxi, probably for the service of his wife. However, according to the sources, in 1295 Ananda embraced Islam influenced by his Turkestani wet nurse among others. Ananda's conversion allegedly led to the conversion to Islam of about 150,000 soldiers, the majority of his troops. Furthermore, in the long run, the region, over which he ruled, is to this day one of the centers of the Chinese Muslims (the Hui). My paper examines the reasons for Ananda's conversion and its impact on this primarily Buddhist region. It highlights the influence of the pre-Mongol Muslim community as well as the forced and voluntary migrations of Muslims during the United Mongol Empire period on the Hexi region. I further examine what role, if any, the concurrent conversion of Ghazan Khan, ruler of the Mongol state in Iran (the Ilkhanate), played in Ananda's Islamization and how Ananda’s new religious identity affected his chances of gaining the Yuan throne after the death of the Yuan Emperor Temür Oljeitu in 1307. These questions will be addressed on the basis of a close reading of Chinese and Persian sources as well as on archaeological studies.