When you look at China, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Jet Li practising Kung-Fu in a Shaolin temple ? (just kidding!). But did you know that China is home to about 23.3 million Muslims? That is more than the population of Muslims in some Muslim majority countries.
According to traditional Chinese Muslim accounts, Islam was first introduced to China in 616-18 AD by the sahaba (companions) of Prophet Muhammad PBUH namely Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, Sayid, Wahab ibn Abu Kabcha and another Sahaba Wahab ibn Abu Kabcha (Wahb Abi Kabcha). It is noted in other accounts that Wahab ibn Abu Kabcha reached the sea of Canton in 629 AD.
So, it comes to no surprise that China is home to some of the oldest mosques in the world. Here are 5 of the most well-known mosques in China.
1. Id Kah Mosque
The Id Kah Mosque (Id Kah meaning 'a place of praying and celebrating in festivals’) is located at Kashgar, Xinjiang Uigur autonomous Region and is the largest mosque in China. Built in 1442 as a very small structure, it has been renovated many times but maintains a strong ethnic style and Islamic features.
Currently, the mosque occupies 16,800 square metres consisting of the courtyard, prayer hall and the gate tower, as well as other connecting structures.
Thousands of worshipers come here every day to pray and every Friday afternoon, worshipers from all over the region come for Friday prayers. Also during religious festivals, all the Muslims in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region come to this sacred place to celebrate. I guess that itself tells you which time you should be traveling here.
There is an admission fee charged and very limited visiting hours, so make sure you arrive there on time. Of course, if you’re Muslim, you are welcome to pray anytime ?
Admission Fee: CNY 20
Opening Hours: 08:50am to 10:00pm
Address: Jiefang North Road, Kashi 844500, China
2. Great Mosque of Xi'an
The Xi’an Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in China, built in the year 742 during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). Although the Xi’an Great Mosque was built during the Tang Dynasty, most of what you see today was built during the Ming Dynasty and further expanded during the Qing Dynasty.
Credit: ambar briastuti
Unlike the Id Kah Mosque, the Xi’an Mosque is completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic calligraphy decorations. In fact, you could be forgiven for mistaking this mosque for a temple at first glance.
[Add Xi'an to your bucket list! Here are 5 reasons why]
Credit: Gabriel Jorby
There is an admission fee charged to enter, but as usual, if you’re a Muslim, you are free to pray anytime.
March 1 to November 30 - CNY 25;
December 1 to end of next February - CNY 15
Address: Huajue Alley, Xincheng District, Xi'an 710043,China
3. Emin Minaret
The Emin Minaret or Imin Ta stands beside the Uyghur Mosque located in Turfan, Xinjiang. The minaret is 44 metres tall and is the tallest minaret in China. As the story goes, the Qing Empire conquered this largely Muslim region in the 1750s after defeating the Dzungar Mongols.
The Uyghurs under Emir Khoja joined the Qing Empire to receive protection from the Dzungar Mongols. The Qing Empire was very tolerant towards Islam and ruled the population with a light hand.
The minaret started construction in 1777 during the Emperor Qianlong (1735 – 1796) and completed a year later. It was built to honour the exploits of a local Turpan general, Emin Khoja, in which the minaret was named after. It is located along the ancient Silk Road near the site of the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves.
Credit: Allan Grey
You might mistake this mosque as a mosque in the Middle East. That’s because this is a Uyghur majority region, in which the Uyghurs are not related ethnically to the Chinese, but rather closer related to the Turkish culture. I like this contrast in atmosphere as it gives China a much broader cultural experience, which is awesome!
It goes without saying that if you’re Muslim, you are free to enter and pray. Otherwise entrance fees apply.
Entrance fee: CNY25
Opening hours: 8.30am to 8pm but closed during prayer sessions.
Address: Munage Village, Putao Country, Turpan 838000, China
4. Niujie Mosque, Beijing
Credit: Michal Huniewicz
The Niujie Mosque was built in the year 996 during the Liao Dynasty. Similar to the Xi’an Great Mosque, the Niujie Mosque was built by the local Chinese Muslim community using traditional Chinese Architecture.
It was originally designed by Nazaruddin, the son of an Imam. After it was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan in 1215, the Mosque was rebuilt in 1443 during the Ming Dynasty.
The Niujie mosque is frequently used by the Government of the Peoples Republic of China as a visiting site for delegates from Islamic countries. It is also popular among both Han and Hui Chinese tourist from all over China who come to visit the mosque.
As you have probably read in my previous article on Beijing, I have visited the mosque during my trip to Beijing. It is one of the most unique mosques I have ever prayed in, with unmistakable beautiful Chinese architecture resembling no mosque in Malaysia, where I’m from.
Entrance fee: CNY 10
Opening hours: 8am – 4pm
Address: No.18 Niujie Street, Xicheng District, Beijing 100053, China
5. Huaisheng Mosque, Guangzhou
Credit: By Ismaila1977 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Also known as the Lighthouse Mosque, the Huaisheng Mosque is the main mosque in Guangzhou. The mosque was rebuilt many times throughout history and is believed to be built 1,300 years ago, which would make it one of the oldest mosques in the world.
Old Chinese Muslim manuscripts state that the mosque was built in 627AD by Saa`d ibn Abi Waqqas who was an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, and supposedly came on his first Muslim mission to China in the 620s.
To the Chinese, the most unusual feature of the mosque is its minaret, the 36 metre high round tower with a pointed tip. The minaret may have served as a beacon for boats, which explains where it gets its name from (Guangta, literally meaning “tower of light”).
The other name, Huaisheng Mosque means “cherishing the sacred” or “cherishing the sage”, presumably referring to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH.
Being built by a person from the time of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH alone is a reason this mosque needs to be on top of the list of places to visit when you are in the region. Possibly up the list along with visiting Makkah and Madinah.
Admittance to the mosque is only for Muslims and tour groups. The tour usually takes about half an hour.
Opening hours: 8.30am – 5pm
Address: No.55 Guangta Road, Guangzhou 510180, China.
One last word…
Although some might dismiss China as being the last place on earth to find Islamic history, but in fact, it is one of the first regions that the Prophet Muhammad PBUH and his companions began to spread Islam to the world. I bet you will learn a lot when visiting the mosques in China and study the history behind the construction of the mosques.
Just keep an open mind and enjoy yourself learning history.