At the end of the day, I decided to visit the Great Mosque of Xining, one of the largest in Western China, and the most important Muslim religious centre in Qinghai province. It is also known as Dongguan mosque, or East Gate Mosque, not surprisingly because it stands in the eastern part of town, at the edge of the Muslim neighbourhood of the capital of Qinghai province. Standing in front of the mosque, I saw a clearly recognizable religious building for muslims: two minarets towering above a green dome. However, as soon as I stepped in, and expected to be in a high hall with prayer mats, light coming in from above, and beautifully decorated ceilings, I found myself in an almost empty hall, less than 10 metres deep. When I stepped out on the other side, I found myself on a large square, with what looked like Chinese temples on both sides.
I walked on, and it appeared that in the two lateral buildings, men were studying the Koran in koran schools, while behind the buildings there were some low appartment blocks where the students lived. Actually, the Great Mosque is a major centre for religious education in the region. I reached the far side of the square, and here was the actual prayer hall. Much smaller than you would expect for one of the biggest mosques in the region! On one side, old Chinese moslims were sitting against the wall, talking quietly. As most moslims here, they were easily recognized: most had beards, many had oversized sunglasses, and all had white hats.
More and more moslims came in, and then there was the call for prayer. Most went inside, but some remained under the pillared corridors of the koran school buildings to pray, while the afternoon sun was setting on the mosque. At the end, people rushed out again, and one of the scholars invited me in so I could see their classroom. A very friendly guy, who explained that they all studied Koran in Arabic, and who told me about his ambition to become an imam and, one day, visit Mecca. He was even nicer when he guessed my age well 10 years below the actual age!
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Xining Mosque (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Xining Mosque. Read more about this site.