Ni­u­jie Mosque in Bei­jing — a sym­bol of tol­er­ance

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

AB­DUL LATHEEF DUL LATHEEF / CHINA—As the Is­lamic holy month of Ra­madan be­gan last week, the tra­di­tional greet­ing of Ra­mazan Mubarak poured in from friends and fam­ily. One of my friends in the United Arab Emi­rates, though, was cu­ri­ous about how or even whether Ra­mazan is ob­served in China. The rea­son for his anx­i­ety was me­dia re­ports that sug­gested China doesn’t al­low its Mus­lims to ob­serve fast­ing.

I told him Ra­mazan is very much ob­served through­out China. In Bei­jing, mosques have been spruced up for the oc­ca­sion with new car­pets and lights. His call, how­ever, sparked a new in­ter­est in me to look into the deep his­tory of Is­lam in China.

It turns out that China was among the first coun­tries where Is­lam was es­tab­lished af­ter the reli­gion was founded in present-day Saudi Arabia more than 1,400 years ago. Suc­ces­sive Chi­nese dy­nas­ties have whole-heart­edly wel­comed Is­lamic schol­ars to the coun­try.

China’s first mosque, the Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou, the cap­i­tal of Guang­dong prov­ince, was es­tab­lished in AD 627, some 11 years af­ter Is­lam was in­tro­duced to the coun­try. It was one of the first mosques built out­side of Saudi Arabia. Thou­sands more have been built across China since then.

One that stands out is Bei­jing’s Ni­u­jie Mosque, one of the old­est in China. Orig­i­nally built in AD 996, the mosque is an ar­chi­tec­tural won­der, com­bin­ing Chi­nese and Arab styles. The in­te­rior de­sign is pretty much Arab, while the ex­te­rior is Chi­nese. Cov­er­ing more than 6,000 square me­ters, it is the big­gest mosque in Bei­jing.

It is so well known in South­east Asia that there are travel com­pa­nies of­fer­ing “Mus­lim tours” of Bei­jing with the Ni­u­jie Mosque as the cen­tral at­trac­tion of the trip.

I vis­ited the mosque last week for Fri­day prayers. As it was the first Fri­day of Ra­madan, the mosque’s prayer halls and court­yards were filled with thou­sands of wor­ship­pers — some of them ex­pa­tri­ates and vis­i­tors, but mostly Bei­jing res­i­dents.

Af­ter the prayers, many vis­ited the Ni­u­jie mu­seum that ex­hibits nu­mer­ous Is­lamic trea­sures, while oth­ers took pho­tos. One ex­hibit that drew par­tic­u­lar visitor in­ter­est was a huge cop­per caul­dron, built in 1702. It is dis­played in the main court­yard.

In olden days, an in­scrip­tion says, it was used to pre­pare meat con­gee on the night of the 27th of Ra­madan. That is the holi­est night on the Is­lamic cal­en­dar, the night Mus­lims be­lieve the first verses of the Qu­ran were re­vealed. Con­gee is an in­te­gral part of the Ra­madan diet through­out Asia, and is pre­pared in a num­ber of ways de­pend­ing on the coun­try. Ni­u­jie’s caul­dron is a tes­ti­mony to how far the au­thor­i­ties went to make it eas­ier for the area’s Mus­lims to fast. Ra­madan Mubarak to all!

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