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The Oldest Mosque in China

When people think of some of the earliest mosques in the world, they think of places like Mecca, Medina, Damascus, and Jerusalem. One place most people don’t think of is Xi’an (Chang’an). This port city in the province of Shaanxi, is home to China’s oldest mosque, the 1,300 year-old Huaisheng Mosque.

The mosque was given the name Huaisheng, meaning “remember the sage”, in remembrance of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It was allegedly built and named by his maternal uncle Sa’ad ibn Abi Waqqas (Wan Gesi). Hadhrat Uthman ibn Affan (ra) is reported to have sent the envoy in 650 A.D. to invite the Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty to join Islam. The Emperor declined the invitation, but respected Islamic teachings, and believed it to be compatible with his Confucian life philosophy. He even granted permission for the Muslim envoy to build a mosque in the city.

The Huaisheng Mosque became the first in China, and made Xi’an an important settlement for the Arab (Ta’Shi) and Persian (Po’Shi) merchants who travelled there along the Silk Road. The buildup of the settlement populations, and the mixing with the ethnic Turks and Chinese created an integrated populace that now forms the base of the Hui ethnic group.

The mosque has undergone a few rebuilds over its history, notably in 1350, when it was entirely rebuilt under the orders of Zhizheng (1341-1368), the last Emporer of the Yuan Dynasty. It was again rebuilt in 1695 under the orders of Emperor Kangzi, of the Qing dynasty, after being destroyed in a fire. Most recently, in 1935, the prayer hall underwent reconstruction, when the halls floor was converted from a dirt floor to concrete.

During the reconstruction in 1350, an inscription was added to the mosque baring the following, “beneath white clouds and where the mountain turns, there stands a brilliant stone pagoda in the style of the Western Regions. Handed down by Emperor Gaozu of the Tang dynasty to the present, its style is unknown in the Central Region”. It suggests a minaret was built at the site of the mosque, in the style of a pagoda, sometime between 650 and 700.

The minaret stood at 36 feet tall, and instantly became the earliest free-standing minaret in China. It also was the tallest structure in Xi’an for centuries, and became the main architectural landmark for the city. While the minaret, with it’s balcony atop, served mainly as the location for the azhan (call to prayer), over time, it began to serve a dual role as a lighthouse. The light from the balcony helped to guide the boats on the Zhujiang River at night. It is said that ships sailing along this segment of the river considered the tower as the sign that they had arrived at the beginning of the "maritime silk road". Sailors often climbed up top the minaret to observe the weather conditions. While this fact may seem insignificant unto itself, consider that the first western-style lighthouse in China was not built until sometime between 1864 and 1865 at the Guia Fortress. This secondary function became so popular with the people; the mosque took on the name, Lighthouse Mosque.

The mosque constitutes an area of 30002 m (322922 ft), and true to feng shui architectural design, is built along a north-south axis, with the red-bricked gate entrance at the south end, facing the Zhujiang River. The entrance is a U-shaped corridor enclosing a courtyard with a large Bangke tower to the north, followed by the prayer hall. The gateway tower bears an inscriptive plaque in Mandarin that reads: "Religion that holds in great esteem the teachings brought from the Western Region."

Huaisheng mosque features six important buildings, the Imam Hall, the Wangyue Attic, the Covered Corridor, the Storehouse of Islamic Scripture, the Stone Steles Pavilion and the Minaret.

It is also recognized as one of the four most well-known mosques in China, the other three being Yangzhou Crane Mosque, Quanzhou Kylin Mosque and Hangzhou Phoenix Mosque.
Huaisheng Mosque still plays a very important role in Muslim life in Shaanxi, welcoming Muslims from all over the world, including many of the businessmen who attend the Chinese Export Commodities Fair - Canton Fair, to worship.

Today, it stands as an icon of Islam in a country generally not recognized for its Muslim population. Huaisheng stands tall among the 30,000+ mosques, and thousands of halal restaurants and grocery shops that now litter the streets of China.

References
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_China#Number_of_Muslims_in_China
2, http://www.archnet.org/library/sites/one-site.jsp?site_id=9141
3, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guia_Fortress
4. http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/01780/architecture/index.htm
5. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangdong/guangzhou/huaisheng.htm
6. http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_aboutchina/2003-09/24/content_25224.htm
7. http://jameswongwingon-online.blogspot.com/2006/11/imam-wang-of-guangzhous-huaisheng.html


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11 comments:

Arab Sis said... November 8, 2008 at 9:28 PM

JK for sharing this!

Anonymous said... November 9, 2008 at 3:01 AM

Thats cool

Anonymous said... November 9, 2008 at 3:53 AM

Hey, this is really interesting! I had no idea there was a functioning 1300-year-old mosque here in China. My inner pedant is compelling me to point out that Xi'an is actually in Shaanxi province; Guangzhou, where the Huaisheng mosque is located, is a city in the province of Guangdong. Otherwise, great post.

Islamoblogger said... November 9, 2008 at 11:36 AM

Thanks for the correction and the feedback. I'll rectify the mistake.

islamblog.org said... November 10, 2008 at 11:58 PM

Great post masha'Allah.

Anonymous said... November 18, 2008 at 12:42 AM

Il y a un terme [pacifique] qui m'agace dans le texte suivant:

La plus ancienne mosquée de Chine Une fois n'est pas coutume, penchons nous sur l'histoire de l'Islam. Ce document, découvert sur Islamoblog, m'a beaucoup intéressé parce qu'il atteste de l'ancienneté de la présence [pacifique] de l'Islam en Chine : une mosquée qui remonte à un...

Faut il croire que l'islam principal et une affaire de meurtres, de terreur, de violences et de conquêtes, on ne réagissant pas à cette gentille bombe on ne fait que corroborer le bluff et les calomnies des sionistes.

Amicalement vôtre

Anonymous said... November 18, 2008 at 12:53 AM

There is a term [peaceful] that bothers me in the following:


The oldest mosque in China Just for once, let us on the history of Islam. The document, discovered on Islamoblog, I was very concerned because it attests to the antiquity of the [peace] of Islam in China: a mosque dating back to a ...

Should we believe that Islam principal is a case of murder, terror, violence and conquests, if we keep ignoring such [kindl] bombs, we voluntarily endorse the lies, slander and bluffs of the Zionists

Abu Hassan said... August 15, 2009 at 9:46 AM

I have visited the mosque and did my prayer there. its actually in guandong province in the city of Guangzhou (formerly Canton). Shaanxi is another province and the capital is Xian where there is another old mosque 'The Great Mosque of Xian'

Abu Hassan
Singapore

Anonymous said... January 22, 2010 at 11:06 PM

hi there,

i'm using your post for my research on mosques in China.

Thanks for the info! :)

SilverNeedle said... July 14, 2010 at 1:17 PM

The 1,300 year-old Huaisheng Mosque is in Guangdong (Canton) some 800 miles south of Shaanxi.

The Great Mosque of Xi'an is in Shaanxi.

Candle said... May 10, 2011 at 9:14 PM

(AL SALM ALAYKOM) every one,
I’m about to visit Beijing after 2 weeks, I’m really interested to visit all the Islamic places, especially if there are a places for the friends of our prophet (Mohamed SALA ALLAH ALYEH WA SALAM), near to Beijing.

So, can any one please provide me with some details and where these places? Please advice me where to go

Thank you so much
Kh. Candle
kh.candle@gmail.com
SHOKRAN (AL SALAMO ALAYKOM)

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