Huaisheng Mosque: Oldest mosque in China?
In the list of old mosques, which continue to exist to this day, a name that must figure close to Masjid Quba, is located surprisingly outside of what used to be known as the ‘Islamic world’. The mosque is in Guangzhao, the capital city of Guandong in southern china. It is known by several names: Huaisheng Mosque, the Lighthouse Mosque and the Great Mosque of Canton.
Timeline of Huaisheng Mosque
It was built during the Tang Dynasty. Which was in power between 619 and 907 CE. Quoting an old Chinese Islamic document, many scholars claim the mosque was constructed in 627 CE. If that is indeed true the mosque is only five years younger to Masjid Quba, built in 622 CE. According to some other sources, the mosque was built Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas. One of Prophet Muhammads uncles. Abi Waqqas is said to have visited the region during the reign of emperor Gazong. Who was on the throne from 649 to 683. Either way there it can hardly be disputed that Huaisheng Mosque was built sometime in the 7th century CE. By the way this mosque must not be confused with the Abi Waqqas Mosque in the same city. It is believed to have in its precinct tombs of many important Islamic clerics, including that of Abi Waqqas.
Scriptures inside Huaisheng Mosque
This old Lighthouse Mosque is strikingly different from most other mosques built in medieval times. It is a curious mix of Chinese and traditional Islamic architecture. While not particularly known for its grandeur it looks more like a Chinese Temple. Not a traditional mosque with domes. The mosque is designed with beautiful Arabic calligraphy on its walls and pillars. Even this calligraphy follows more Chinese calligraphic patterns than usual Semitic scripts.
On the other hand, noted scholar Hamada Hagras informs us in an article, titled “The functions and symbolism of Chinese minarets: A case study of the Huaisheng Guangta”, “The minaret of the mosque is one the surviving earliest examples of Islamic architecture in China.” Incidentally, Hagras also claims that the mosque was built in 627. Hagras tells us that the mosque went through major renovations twice. The first was during the 10th years of the reign of emperor Zhizheng. Who ruled between 1341 and 1370. The next major renovation was done during the rule of emperor Kangxi, whose reign was from 1662 to 1722.
Why is it called Lighthouse Mosque?
The minaret of the mosque is 36 metres tall, and said to have served as a lighthouse to boats sailing along the Zhujian River. Hence the name Lighthouse Mosque. The main prayer hall of the mosque is built with red bricks. On both sides of the arched door are inscribed Arabic words, but in Chinese characters. Huaisheng Mosque is by far the oldest mosque in China, and as such holds a very special place in the hearts of Chinese Muslims. Over centuries the mosque has also become one of the top tourist attractions in southern China, for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)