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Islam in China

Islam was introduced to China via the Silk Road by Arabs from Tang Dynasty since China was highly tolerant of new religions and Chinese contact with foreign envoys flourished during that period. Although some believe that Islam may have arrived in China during the Sui Dynasty, the first official record of Islam's arrival in China occurred during the Tang Dynasty.

History of Islam in China

Uthman ibn Affan, the third Caliph of Ummah, sent the first official Muslim envoy to China in 650. The envoy, headed by Sa'ad ibn Waqqas, arrived in the Tang capital, Chang'an in 651 via the overseas route. Chinese Hui ethnic people who are Islam followers in China generally consider this date to be the official founding of Islam in China. The historic meeting is recorded, that the envoy greeted Emperor Gaozong of Tang and tried to convert him to Islam. Although the envoy failed to convince the Emperor to embrace Islam, the Emperor ordered the establishment of the first Chinese mosque in the capital to show his respect for the religion.

During the Tang Dynasty, a steady stream of Arab and Persian traders arrived in China through the Silk Road and the overseas route through the port of Quanzhou. Not all of the immigrants were Muslims, but many of those who stayed formed the basis of the Chinese Muslim population and the Hui ethnic group. The Arab and Persian immigrants introduced polo, their cuisine, their musical instruments, and their knowledge of medicine to China.

The Yuan Dynasty embraced Islam to a great extent. The Mongols dominated class elevated the status of Muslims to versus the Chinese, and placed many Muslims in high-ranking posts instead of Confucian scholars, relying on Muslims to administer the nation. The state encouraged Muslim immigration, as Arab, Persian and Turkic immigration into China accelerated during this period.

Islam in China

Muslims continued to flourish in China during the Ming Dynasty. The most obvious evidence is that the capital of Ming Dynasty, Nanjing , was a center of Islamic learning.

Mosques in Nanjing are noted in two inscriptions from the sixteenth century. Immigration slowed down drastically. However, and the Muslims in China became increasingly isolated from the rest of the Islamic world, gradually becoming more multi-culurized, adopting the Chinese language and Chinese dress. During this period, Muslims also began to adopt Chinese surnames. One of the more popular Muslim family names is Ma, a shortened form off Fatima.  

Muslims suffered a decline of their status during the Qing Dynasty. Numerous Hui rebellions, such as the Panthay Rebellion, sprung up during the Qing Dynasty in reaction to struggle with the repression policies.

In the Qing dynasty, Muslims had many mosques in the large cities, with particularly important ones in Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and other places. The architecture typically employed traditional Chinese styles, with Arabic-language inscriptions being the chief distinguishing feature. Many Muslims held government positions, including positions of importance, particularly in the army.

Today there are believed to be more than 4 million Chinese Muslims. One autonomous region, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, has been designated for Islamic adherents.

Mosque in China

Islam is against idol worship, so there is no human or animal picture or statue in mosque. Most of the characters in mosque are Arabic, and abstract prints are the main prints. There are two types of mosque in China. One is palace-style mosque with traditional Chinese architecture style. Most of mosques are courtyard, and a central axis goes through the mosque, the plane of the hall has three types, 凸 shape, 工shape and rectangle. The door of mosque is similar to Chinese other temples. It’s a combination of Islam culture and Chinese culture. Another type is Arabic style mosque that the representative Islam architecture with dome. There are a big half round and four small half round green domes in the hall. And a silver crescent is at the top of the mosque.

The most famous and important Mosques in China include Héytgah Meschit in kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur, with a history of over 500 years, the Xi'an Great Mosque, initially built in 742, Dongguan Great Mosque in Xian, the biggest mosque in China and able to accommodate 40,000 ~ 60,000 people, and Yinchuan Nanguan Mosque built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). 

Islam in China


Islam had great influence to Muslims’ history, culture, ethics, lifestyle, and customs. Islamic culture integrates with Chinese culture, which became an inseparable part of Muslim nationalies’ culture, besides, it really enriched Chinese culture. Islam not only adapted to Chinese culture, but also influenced Chinese culture. To some extent, traditional Chinese culture, Chinese Kungfu, Chinese architecture and other aspects are influenced by Islamic culture.