Niujie Mosque

Niujie MosqueNiujie Mosque in Beijing’s Xuanwu District, the spiritual centre for the 10,000 Muslims living in the vicinity, is the biggest and oldest in Beijing.

The mosque is a mixture of Islamic and Chinese cultures. The outside shows the Chinese influence while the inside decoration is rich in Islamic flavour.

Founded in 996 during the Song Dynasty(960-1279) , the mosque was rebuilt in 1442 in the Ming Dynasty and expanded in 1696 under the Qing Dynasty. It consists of an observation tower, prayer hall, and minaret with a pavilion on each side. The observation tower is just behind the entrance. It was built and originally used for astronomical observations needed for drawing up the Islamic calendar. The hexagonal wooden structure is also Chinese outside but Islamic inside, with Arabic designs on the ceiling and the beams.

The prayer hall, with its courtyard to the east, consists of five major areas. The three central areas, running lengthwise, are divided into five bays, some narrow with coffered ceilings, and some wide with high-beam ceilings. The two side wings have plain ceilings with beams laid lengthwise. At the entrance of the hall, the ceiling bears the Arabic names of noted imams around the world. Farther in, Chinese flower and cloud paintings mingle with Arabic inscriptions and patterns on the coffered ceilings, and the chandeliers are slightly reminiscent of Venetian glass. There is an arch between each pair of pillars, gleaming with gold patterns.

The minaret (calling tower), a two-storey obelisk in the centre of the courtyard, was originally built as a script depository. Later imams used it as a calling tower. When prayer time came, they ascended the tower and recited the Koran, and Muslims living in the vicinity came to listen. On the ground floor is a large copper cauldron, which was used to prepare communal meals.

To the southeast of the tower lie the tombs of two Muslims who came from the Middle East and preached in the Mosque. The tomb for Ahmad Burdani was built in 1320, and the one for Ali in 1283. Both came from ancient Persia. The tomb stones bear Arabic inscriptions and have been set into a nearby wall.

In the imam’s library, there are Koran manuscripts and old wood-en printing blocks. The mosque used to be a printing house as well.

At the south of the courtyard are the men’s and women’s prayer-preparation bathrooms.
There are long-beaked kettles for the devout to use to wash their nostrils, ears, and mouths. It is considered sacrilegious to enter the mosque without cleaning oneself.
Muslims must wash their whole bodies on Friday, the major prayer day. They only need to wash their heads, hands and feet on other days.

Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day-at dawn, at mid-day, in the afternoon, at dusk, and in the evening. Adults who have no time to pray during their working hours come in the early morning before work and in the evening after work.

Non-Muslim visitors are also welcome, but they have to make arrangements in advance. They may have a look around and hear explanations from the imams or staff of the Islamic Society. But when prayer is going on, they must not enter the prayer hall.

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