(part 1 of 2)
The ‚Great Mosque of Guangzhou‘ is also known as Huaisheng Mosque, which means ‚Remember the Wise‘ (a mosque in memory of the Prophet), and it usually becomes that Called ‚Guangta Mosque‘, which translates as ‚The Signal Tower Mosque‘. The Huaisheng Mosque is located on Guantgta Street (Light Pagoda Road) which leads east out of Renmin Zhonglu.
Before 500 AD and thus before the founding of Islam, Arab seafarers established trade relations with the „Middle Kingdom“ (China). Arab ships bravely departed from Basra at the head of the Arabian Gulf and also from the city of Qays (Siraf) on the Persian Gulf. They sailed through the Indian Ocean past Sarandip (Sri Lanka) and navigated through the straits of Malacca, which lie between the Sumatra and Malaysia peninsulas, towards the South China Sea. They set up commercial warehouses in the southeastern ports of Quanzhou and Guangzhou. Some Arabs were already settling in China and presumably adopted Islam when the first Muslim delegation arrived, just as their families and friends in Arabia had done during the Prophet’s revelation (610-32).
Guangzhou is called Khanfu by the Arabs, who later established a Muslim quarter that became a commercial center. Guangzhou’s preferred geographic location made it play an important role as the oldest and most important trading port city in China. As a witness to numerous historical events, China has become an important place in history and one of the fastest growing regions in the world that enjoyed unique prosperity.
While the Prophet Muhammad founded God’s blessings and peace on him, an Islamic state, China went through a period of unification and resistance. Early Chinese yearbooks mention Muslim Arabs and named their kingdom Al-Madinah (from Arabia). Islam also means „Yisilan Jiao“ in Chinese (that means „Pure Religion“). A Chinese official once described Mecca as the birthplace of Buddha Ma-hia-wu (ie the Prophet Muhammad).
There are different historical versions that describe the arrival of Islam in China. Some reports claim that the Muslims first arrived in China in two groups from Abbessinia (Ethiopia) within several months.
Ethiopia was the country where some early Muslims had fled to Mecca from persecution by the Quraish tribe. Among this group of refugees were one of the daughters of the Prophet Muhammad, Ruqayya, and her husband Uthman ibn Affan, Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and many other well-known companions who had emigrated to him on the instructions of the Prophet. They were successfully granted asylum by the Abyssinian king Atsmaha Negus in the city of Axum. (AD 615)
However, some of the companions never returned to Arabia. They may have traveled in the hope of making a living elsewhere, and could possibly travel to China over land or from the sea in the Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE). achieved. According to some reports, Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and three other companions are 616 AD. sailed from Abbessinia (Ethiopia) to China with the support of the King of Abbessinien. Sad then returned to Arabia and brought back a copy of the Quran to Guangzhou about 21 years later, which is exactly what Liu Chih reported, which wrote „The Life of the Prophet“ (in 12 volumes).
One of the companions who lived in China is believed to be AD 635. died and was buried in the western part of Hami. His tomb is known as “Geys‘ Mazars” and it is revered by many in the area. It is in the northwestern autonomous province of Xingjian (Sinkiang) and about 400 miles east of the capital of the latter, Urumqi. Xingjian is four times the size of Japan, shares its international borders with eight different nations and is home to the largest local group of Turkish-speaking Uyghurs. Therefore, Xingjian is both the largest Muslim region in China and strategically important geographically.
The Quran clearly says that Muhammad was only sent as God’s grace to all people (21: 107) and in another verse:
„We only sent you out of mercy for all worlds …“ (34:28)
This universality of Islam facilitated its adoption by people of all races and nations and is widely demonstrated in China, where the ethnic variations among the indigenous population among Chinese Muslims today is larger than the population of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.
The history of the Huaisheng Mosque represents centuries of Islamic culture back to the mid-seventh century during the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) – „the golden age of Chinese history“. It was during this period, eighteen years after the Prophet’s death, that Islam – the last of the three monotheistic religions – was first introduced in China by the third Khaliph, Uthman Ibn ‚Affan (644-656 CE / 23-35 AH) has been.
Uthman was one of the first to adopt Islam and memorize the Holy Quran. He was gentle and kind and married Ruqayya and after her death Umm Kulthum (both daughters of the Prophet). That is why he was given the nickname ‚Dhu-n-Nurayn‘ (the one with the two lights). Uthman is responsible for preserving the Quran manuscripts against quarrels by ordering them to be compiled from the companions‘ memories and sending copies to the four corners of the Islamic Empire.
Uthman sent a delegation to China, led by Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas (674 AD / 55 AH), a beloved maternal uncle of the Prophet and one of the most famous companions who had already adopted Islam at the age of seventeen. He was a combat veteran and one of the ten the Prophet said was assured of a place in paradise.
In Medina, Sad used his architectural skills by adding an Ivan as a place of prayer (an arched hall used by a Persian emperor). He later laid the foundation for what was to become China’s first mosque, where early Islamic architecture merged with Chinese architecture.
According to ancient T’ang dynasty historical accounts, a delegation from the Kingdom of Al-Medina, led by Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and his companion delegation, was on a particular route through the Indian Ocean and the Chinese Sea to China to the 650 AD famous port of Guangzhou, from where they traveled overland to Chang’an (now Xi’an), later known as the „Silk Road“.
(part 2 of 2)
Sad and his delegation brought gifts and were warmly welcomed to the royal court by T’ang ruler Kao-tsung, (r. 650-683) 651 AD, despite an aid alliance with the Shah Peroz (ruler of the Sassanids in Persia) against the Arabs. The latter was the son of Yazdegerd, who had established their embassies in China with the Byzantines over ten years earlier. Together they formed the two great powers of the West. A similar alliance that had been offered to the ruler Tai Tsung (r.627-649) against the simultaneous expansion of the Muslim forces was rejected.
The first news of Islam reached the royal court of T’ang during the reign of Tai Tsung, when he was informed of the message of the Sassanian king of Persia and also of the Byzantine cry for help from Islamic power. Both asked for protection from China. Nevertheless, Kao-tsung’s second year in government marks the first official visit by a Muslim emissary.
The ruler asked questions about Islam and then generally agreed to the new religion, which he considered compatible with Confucius‘ teachings. But he felt that the five daily prayers and one month of fasting were too strict for his taste, and he did not become a Muslim. He allowed Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and his delegation to freely propagate their faith and expressed his admiration for Islam, which accordingly had a firm foothold in his country.
Sad later settled in Guangzhou and built the Huaisheng Mosque, which was an important event in the history of Islam in China. It is the oldest surviving mosque in all of China and is more than 1,300 years old. It survived various historical events that inevitably took place at the doorstep. After repairs and restorations, this mosque is still in excellent condition in modern Guangzhou.
Da Qingzhen Si (the Great Mosque) of Chang’an (now Xi’an) in Shaanxi Province was founded in 742 AD. It is the largest (12,000 m²) and best early mosque in China and has been beautifully preserved as it has expanded over the centuries. The current form was designed by the Ming Dynasty in 1392 AD, a century before the fall of Granada, under its (apparent) founder Hajj Zheng. A stone tablet in the mosque was donated to his memory for his generous support from the grateful ruler.
A fine model of the Great Mosque with all the walls surrounding it and the grand, elegant appearance of its pavilions and courtyards was placed in the Hong Kong Museum right next to the model of the Huaisheng Mosque. I was lucky enough to be able to visit the real mosque for the Asr prayer last year and then I met the imam who showed me an old, handwritten Quran and presented me with a white cap.
Walking through the prayer hall is like walking through an oriental oasis in a city forbidden to the impure. A dragon engraved on the doorstep opposite the prayer hall symbolizes the encounter between Islam and Chinese civilization. All in all, it is an overwhelming encounter between the architecture of Oriental China and the indigenous, fascinating taste of Harun ar-Rashid (147-194 AH / 764-809 AD) from Baghdad – a newly founded city that, fifty years after Harun’s time, should be the largest between Constantinople and China.
The Sheng-You Si (Mosque of the Holy Friend), also known as the Qingjing Si (Mosque of Purity) and Al-Sahabah Mosque (Mosque of the Companions), was built in 1009 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) Built in granite. Its architectural design and style mimicked the Great Mosque of Damascus in Syria (709-15) and so this couple of the oldest surviving mosques (in their original form) survived until the 21st century.
Qingjing Mosque is located at “Madinat al-Zaytun” (Quanzhou) or in German: “City of Olives” in Fujian Province, where two companions of the Prophet who accompanied Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas‘ delegation to China are buried . They are known to the locals by their Chinese names: “Sa-Ke-Zu and Wu-Ku-Su”.
The Zhen-Jiao Si (True Religion Mosque), also known as Feng-Huang Si (the Phoenix Mosque) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, is believed to be from the Tang Dynasty. It has a portal with many stories that serves as a minaret and platform for observing the moon. The mosque has a long history and has been rebuilt and renovated on numerous occasions over the centuries. It is much smaller than it was before, especially due to the widening of the street in 1929, and it was partially rebuilt in 1953.
The other old mosque is located in Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province, one of the most troubled trading cities during the Song Dynasty (960-1280). Xian-He Si (Mosque of the Immortal Crane) is the oldest and largest in the city and was built in 1275 AD by Pu-ha-din, a Muslim preacher by the descendants of Prophet Muhammad in the sixteenth generation.
According to Chinese Muslim historians, Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas died in Guangzhou, where he is believed to have been buried. Arab scholars disagree, however, claiming that Sad died in Medina and was buried with other companions. One grave does exist, while the other is purely symbolic, only God knows whether it is in China or in Medina. As you can see, the spread of Islam in China has indeed been peaceful. The first delegation reached the southeast from the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River), and later contact was made by land from the northwest. Muslim communities are present in a wide geographic area in China these days, including remote locations such as Tibet, where I once met on a trek in the middle of nowhere among Tibetan Muslims.