The city of Beijing, which has a long and rich history that dates back over 3,000 years, is a melting pot of cultures. Not surprisingly, it is also home to many Muslims. A big population of Hui ethnic minority, one of the most important Muslim communities in China, lives in Beijing. The presence of large Muslim population in Beijing is an indicator of the city's historical and cultural Muslim connection. The city is a treasure for travelers to experience at first hand the link between Islam's history and Chinese culture.
Situated in the Niujie area, at center of the Muslim quarter, Niujie mosque is the oldest and largest mosque in Beijing. The ancient mosque was first built in 996SD and covers an area of approximately 10,000 square meters. It is said to be a popular place of worship for Muslims around the world. The main prayer hall is 600 square meters in area, and can hold more than 1,000 worshipers. The mosque is embellished with intricate Chinese royal palace elements and calligraphy on the outside but its interior is decorated with lots of Islamic scriptures and motifs. Some of the texts is written in the ancient Arabic characters of Al-Kufi, which reflects the rich diversity of the city's heritage.
Beijing's Muslim Food Culture
Travelers don't have to go far to experience Beijing's Muslim food culture. Wander around Niujie, or often translated as Ox Street, one can have it all from snacks and pastries to fresh beef. It is said that the best snacks in Beijing are found in Niujie. Hundreds of Muslim and Chinese snacks are produced at Niujie Snack Street, including glutinous rice, roasted wheat, and pancakes. Niujie's cultural significance can be easily recognized by the restaurant signs in Arabic scripts and Chinese characters, variety of Halal food choices and people wearing traditional Hui Islamic clothing.
Ramadan in Beijing
Niujie is also the best place in China to immerse oneself in the spirit of Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month in the religion of Islam marked by a long period of fasting. In Beijing, hundreds of Muslims gather at the Niujie mosque to enjoy iftar meal at the volunteer-run canteen where Hui and Uighur minorities, and a handful of other Muslims prepare and serve food for communal breaking of fast. During iftar, a sense of camaraderie is apparent as everyone gathers around to have their meal. By night-time, the Niujie mosque is filled with Muslims from all walks of life coming together to perform the Tarawih, a special night prayers performed throughout the holy month.
Beijing's second largest mosque is the Dongsi mosque and is also one of the most famous mosques. It is also the headquarters of the Beijing branch of the China Islamic Association. This well known mosque is believed to have been built during the Yuan Dynasty. The Mosque houses valuable Islamic manuscripts and cultural relics in its library. Among them is a handwritten copy of the Quran dating back to the Yuan Dynasty and believed to be 700 hundred years old. The prayer hall can accommodate 500 people and Quranic verses is inscribed on the hall's arches. Just like Niujie Mosque, Dongsi mosque's architecture is a combination of Chinese and Arabic.