Xi'an Great Mosque
The Great Mosque, Xi’an
We bimbled through the busy market streets in the Muslim Quarter, went through a small gate, paid a small entrance fee, were handed a little guide book, passed a stall selling taqiyah (hats), the other souvenirs then looked up at an impressive, old gate. We were in a calm, peaceful and holy place away from all the outside bustle.
Next to the gate a map of the Great Mosque area.
Our free little guide reads: According to the historical records carved in the stone tablets which are still preserved in it, the mosque was set up in 742 AD during the Tang Dynasty. So it has already had a history of over 1,300 years. The mosque was restored and widened in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Especially after the founding of New China, and owing to the correct policies for the minority nationalities by the Communist Party and the People’s Government, the authorities concerned allocates special funds for the renovation of the mosque every year. So that, the mosque has gradually become such a large and brilliant complex of the historical architecture. With many beautiful storied buildings, platforms, pavilions, and halls, it is planed and laid out so well that it looks very solemn and respectful.
The mosque covers a total area of more than 13,000 square metres with the buildings covering over 6,000 square metres. It was built in the shape of a rectangle from the east to the west, and is divided in to four courtyards.
In the first courtyard, there is an old wooden archway standing opposite a huge screen wall decorated with the clay – brick – carvings. It has special upturned eaves, many layers of brackets, and glazed roof tiles, so that it is very magnificent. The archway was built at the beginning of the 17th century, dating back over 390 years. On both sides of the archway, there are several side houses, in which there is some old furniture on display made in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
A pretty garden, fish in a tiny ewer and the Five-Room Hall.
Through the Five-Room Hall, in the middle of the second courtyard, there stand three connected stone memorial gateways supported by four pillars. On the top of the main gate, there is a title inscribed in Chinese calligraphy. It says; “The Court of The Heaven”. There are stone carved fences around the gateways with the two passages on both sides. This stone complex was built in the ing Dynasty. Behind it, two stone tablets are erected there with the decorations of carved dragons. Both of them are carved with the inscriptions about the repairings of the mosque at the imperial orders in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. At the backs of them are also inscribed with some big Chinese characters written respectively by the two famous calligraphers. These writings are regarded today as some of the best works of art in China.
The Imperial Hall in the third courtyard is the oldest building in the mosque. There is a piece of stone, called “The Moon Tablet”, in it with an inscription in Arabic. It was written by a late famous imam, and was about the way of the calculations of the Moslem Calendar. Now this stone tablet is a very variable record about the development of Islamism in Shaanxi Province.
Going from an information board by Chixiu Hall: a prayer hall in the Southern Song Dynasty treasures with stones tablets in Chinese, Arabic and Persian inscriptions and a plaque “Pai Yan Tian Fang” (means that the Islamism in China originates from Arab countries inscribed by Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908).
It is said that Ma Fuxiang (1876-1932 AD, courtesy name: Yun Ting, a general of Chinese Muslim, a Hui person from Hezhou, Gansu Province) today Linxia)) was a bodyguard of Empress Dowager Cixi when the latter was escaping to the west. He asked Empress Dowager Cixi to write the inscription of “Pai Yan Tian Fang” for the Grand Mosque when leaving Xi’an.
In the middle of the courtyard, “The Introspection Tower” serves as the minaret, which is the tallest building in the whole mosque for calling Moslems to pray. With two storeys, three layers of eaves, and an octagonal roof, it stands high and solid so that it is very impressive. On the southern side of the minaret is the Official Reception Hall, while on the northern is the Lecture Hall, in which the hand-written copy of “The Holy Koran” of the Ming Dynasty and the map of Mecca City of the Qing Dynasty are well preserved.
Stele of Merits and Virtues: Erected in the fourteenth year of Emperor Jiaqing in Qing Dynasty (1809 AD) the south stele is engraved with a couplet “Mi Tian Cheng Yi Ji Bei” (in Chinese) inscribed on the bricks of the pavilion housing the stele, with “Ming Zhen Guan Zhong” on the top scroll.
Through the three connected doorways decorated with the fine brick carvings, that is the last courtyard. What visitors would view first is “The One God Pavilion”. It is a very special building with a combination of the Chinese traditional archway and pavilion.
The pavilion as the main body in the middle is shaped in a hexagon with its eaves upturned and its top protruded. While, both of its side parts are shaped in triangles and are upturned like archways. The whole architecture seems to be a beautiful phoenix which is opening its wings and is about to fly. As it is very lifelike, that is why it is also named “The Phoenix Pavilion”. Under the eave of it, a small board with the decorations of carved dragons is hung over there. Its inscriptions, “One God”, were written by a high ranking official in the Ming Dynasty. There are some side houses on both sides of the pavilion too. The southern side ones were built specially for receiving those officials and generals who came to announce the edicts from the emperors in the successive dynasties. Today in these houses, there are many historical and cultural relics of the Ming and Qing Dynasties on display, such as a beautiful fishbone-inlaid screen made of the 12 species of boxwood, some old tables, chairs, porcelains, paintings and so on. In the northern houses, there is now preserved an old stone sundial and several stone tablets with the important inscriptions about the mosque of the Tang and other Dynasties.
When you walk further and take the stairways to the big and wide platforms, the lofty and magnificent hall for worship would appear in you sight. With the huge eaves and brackets, its roofs are all covered with blue glazed roof tiles, while its ceilings are eaved with over 600 classical scriptures, in which all the letters are shaped in the colourful decorative patterns of grass and flowers.
The Prayer Hall is seven rooms wide and nine rooms deep, the Koran is embedded around the hall which has a concave wall on the west – the direction of holy Mecca in Saudi Arabia. A small attic called “Khutbah Tower” on the north side.
Around the hall inside, all the pages of “The Holy Koran” are carved in the 600 pieces of huge wooden boards, 30 of them are in Chinese, the others are in Arabic. There are really marvellous carvings of art, and are rarely seen in the other mosques of the world. The hall can hold a thousand believers to do their religious services at the same time.
In 1956, the mosque was decreed to be an important historical and cultural site under the protection of the Shaanxi Provincial Government. In 1988, it was further promoted to be one of the most important sites in China. Since we opened the gates of China to the world in 1978, this mosque has received over 10,000,000 visitors, and Muslim brothers, whom came from over 100 countries and areas of the world. It has also received many heads of states and governments. After you visit, you would surely have the better understanding of this old mosque and the religious life of the local Muslims in Xi’an.
Pictures we took as we walked down the left-hand side as we bimbled back to the entrance of the mosque.
A board read: The Five Pillars of Islam. There are called “Shahada, Salat, Saum, Zakat, Hajj” for short.
Shahada: It is the primary task of Muslims. Shahada, is also known as “Testimony of Faith”, refers to the saying with conviction “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammad is the Messenger of God”. It is obligatory for all Muslims to recite it at least one time in their lifetime or beneficent for frequent recitation. It is the profession and purification of faith for all of those who believe.
Salat: The obligatory prayers are performed five times (i.e. Dawn, Mid-day, Late-afternoon, Sunset and Nightfall) a day. All Muslims should face Mecca in Arabia when praying. It also includes the prayer held every Friday: Eid al-Fitr on Oct 1st and Eid al-Adha on Dec 10th in the Islamic calendar each year.
Saum (Ramadan): Each year in September of the Islamic calendar, all Muslims fast from dawn until sundown – abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations.
Zakat: For Muslims whose property amount reaches “Man Guan” 2.5% of the amount shall be paid as the Zakat. “Man Guan” refers to personal property that has reached a certain amount, excluding those used for basic needs (such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation and relevant utensil apparatus). For example, accumulated gold is about 90g and silver is about 700g, or personal property value is equal to or greater than the accumulated value of gold or silver. In these cases, 2.5% of property amount shall be given to the needy whose property hasn’t reached the “Man Guan” yet.
Hajj: The Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca is required at least once in a lifetime for those who are physically and financially able to perform it.
These are the so-called Five Pillars of Islam for the Muslims.
Islam – A Religion of Peace. A wise man can judge whether or not a religion is peaceful based on its scriptures and teachings. The Koran is the sacred scripture of Islam. Here are some presentations and sentences extracted from this book:
1. Worshipping Allah is always the fundamental principle of Islam. Supreme Allah is the unique that cannot be questioned. He has 99 names, one of which is Salam (Peace). The Koran says: “He is Allah, besides whom there is no god; the King, the Holy, the Giver of peace....” (59:23).
2. Some scriptures about “peace” and its derivative included in The Koran take up a total of 133 sections. This shows that peace and harmony ideas play a very important role in Islam’s scriptures and teachings. Therefore, The Koran says: “O you who believe! Enter into submission one and all.” (2:208).
3. The Koran also declares that moving forward to the peaceful and bright road is all Islamists’ most promising result: “With it Allah guides him who will follow His pleasure into the ways of safety and brings them out of utter darkness into light by His will and guides them to the right path.” (5:15-16).
4. Muslims are messengers of peace, every time they meet each other blessing “May Allah give you peace, love and good luck”.
ALL IN ALL LOVELY TO SEE A TREASURE THE CITY HAS ALWAYS CARED FOR
A REALLY INTERESTING, OLD AND BEAUTIFUL MOSQUE