The Forbidden City. The Great Wall. Communism. Even Buddhism. These are synonymous with China. But a mosque built in the 10th century? Not so much. The Daily Vox takes you on a tour of Beijing’s oldest mosque.
Welcome to the Niu Jie Mosque, Beijing’s oldest mosque, built in 996AD. Located in the Muslim Hing quarter in Beijing, the sublime structure is a sweet blend of Chinese and Arab artistry – long wooden beams, calligraphy, tiled roofs and even animal charms adorn the mosque.
China may have become a Communist state in 1949 – and the state’s relationship with people of faith, including Muslims, became tense, with temples and mosques being demolished – but don’t forget, Islam’s relationship with the country dates back to the 7th century.
Over the past few years, China’s strict control over the Uyghar Musims in the Xinjiang province has come to light, particularly during the time of Ramadaan, where there is a ban on fasting during the holy month. Xinjiang has a long history of discord with Chinese authorities and human-rights groups have long described systematic repression in the province. Activists say the strict rules on religious education, fasting and the building of mosques are part of China’s bid to control the province, which borders eight countries, including Afghanistan.
But in Beijing, the situation is rather different. Hui Muslims face less restrictions. Minorities in China, including Muslims, are allowed to have up to two children in urban areas and three to four in rural areas. Many Hui Muslims decide on one child voluntarily in a bid to fit in better into Chinese society.
The Muslim quarter around Niu Jie Mosque is a confluence of food and Islamic dress; it is like stepping into another world.
The Niujie Mosque covers an area of about 10,000 square metres and the main hall can hold up to 1,000 people.
The mosque was destroyed in the 13th century by the Mongols, rebuilt in the 15th century, and expanded in the 17th century.
China has about 24 million Muslims, or almost 2% of the population and links with Islam go back to the 7th century.