The begin of Islam
Xi’an, today the capital of Shaanxi province located in the northwest of China, was one of the birthplaces of the ancient Chinese civilization located in the Yellow River Basin area (the site of the famous Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty) but also the Eastern terminal of the Silk Road.
The ancestors of today’s Xi’an Hui community were Arab and Persian Muslim settlers who came in several waves at the VIII Century as traders and soldiers during the Tang and Song dynasties. Today the Hui Muslim community ( 70 000 ) is the second most prominent nationality in China. The Hui community there is firmly integrated, speak Chinese, leave as Chinese but are Muslim.
The Muslim influence in Xi’an
In Xi’an the well-preserved ancient architectural buildings are situated in the Muslim Quarter. The great Mosque of Xi’an, one of the largest in China, is located near the Muslim quarter, lost in the middle of narrow streets with bazaars, shops, and restaurants, evoking the organization of the traditional Persian and Arab cities. Without a warning, no one could imagine this site as a Muslim temple. Built in 742 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the building was gradually completed under the Song dynasty (960-1279), Yuan (1280-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911).
Unlike most of the Muslim temple, this one is organized on a clean traditional Chinese model making it a quite unusual site. The mosque is located in a rectangular enclosure of 13 000 m2, divided into four garden courts. The ten pavilions there combine Islamic and traditional Chinese style architecture inspired by Chinese pagodas. Here, no minaret indicates the purpose of the premises; the call to the prayer is being launched at the entrance of the prayer room, as is the use of Chinese Pagodas. The Great Mosque welcome over 1,000 people each day and to access to its prayer hall, you must be Muslim if you want to enter during the prayer time.
The Muslim Quarter
In the Muslim Quarter, Hui people operate most of buildings and shops. The place is not only an attractive sight for tourist but is also considered as a famous food district by the local. You can find there sights familiar to both Chinese and Middle Eastern culture. Influences can be seen in the lamb dishes, the flatbreads, and the Middle Eastern spices like Cumin. One of Xi’an’s most famous dishes is Yangrou paomo, a lamb soup studded with small pieces of unleavened flat bread. It operates on the same principle as the Chinese chicken and dumplings, but the soup is spicier, has bits of meat, mushrooms, and a few soft glass noodles swirling around the broth to add texture. It’s a soothing dish designed for people who like lamb. No matter how hungry you are, you can expect to leave the district fully stuffed without spending very much.
Today the city of Xi’an is an important cultural, industrial and educational center of the Central-northwest region and is the most populous city in Northwest China and Western China. Since now over 1300 years, the Hui community is an integral part of the daily lives of Xi’an and the Muslim Quarter plays an important role, preserving the city’s rich heritage.