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Muslims in China

Today, there are about 25 million Muslims spread across China, scattered widely and concentrated in small groups. Islam is one of the four or five officially recognised religions in China. 

The Spread of Islam

Idgar Mosque in Xinjiang showing Islamic architecture Idgar Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang, shows Islamic architecture.

The first major Muslim settlements in China consisted of Arab and Persian merchants. Islam penetrated China’s interior during the Tang and Song dynasties, mainly along the silk route when there were frequent friendly exchanges between governments and many envoys came to do business. 

There were two silk trade routes, a land route and a sea route. These trade routes were a very important connection that formed the bridge that allowed Chinese culture to be introduced to the West and at the same time, transmitted the philosophical concepts of Islam and the West to China.

Muslim expansion continued during the subsequent dynasties. In addition to the new faith and culture that the Muslims introduced, they made substantial contributions in the field of medicine and also helped the rulers in defending the country at various times.

For more, see Islam in China.

Muslim Majority Provinces

Muslims live in all parts of China but the greatest numbers are found in the provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan. The Xinjiang region has the largest Muslim population in China. About 50% of the people there are Muslim.

The provinces with the highest concenteration of Muslims in China are Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, Gansu Province, Yunnan Province, Tianjin Municipality, Beijing Municipality, Henan Province, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and Hebei Province.

Muslim Ethnic Groups

The Hui people are the largest group of Muslims in China, followed by the Uyghurs. The Hui and the Uygur ethnic groups make up about 90% of the total Muslim population in China.

Of the 55 officially recognised groups of ethnic minorities, 10 are predominantly Muslim. They make up about 20% of the total ethnic minorities in China.

The Muslim ethnic groups include the Hui (48% of the officially tabulated Muslim population), Uygur (41%), Kazakh (6,1%), Dongxiang (2.5%), followed by the Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Salar, Tajik, Bonan and Tatar groups.

Mosques in China

Niujie mosque in Beijing showing traditional Chinese architecture Niujie Mosque in Beijing shows traditional Chinese architecture.

The mosque or masjid is the Islamic place of worship where Muslims say there prayers. It can also serve as a centre for information, education, social welfare and some other community affairs.

Mosques in China appeared in the Tang Dynasty and the Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou, Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou, Zhenjiao Mosque in Hangzhou, and Libai Mosque in Yangzhou were the oldest four mosques in China.

Mosques have unique designs following a distinctive Islamic architectural style. Characteristic features include a minaret which is a tower-like structure from where the call to prayer or Azan is made, one or more domes which may signify the vault of heaven, a semicircular niche in one wall indicating the direction to be faced when praying, and a prayer hall where the worshippers say there prayers.

Some mosques in China are built on the Islamic architectural design while others have some elements of traditional Chinese architecture.

Today, there are more than 39,000 mosques in China.

Halal Food

Halal food is available throughout China. Halal is an Arabic word which means permissible or lawful. In Chinese, halal food is called Qing Zhen Cai (清真菜) which literally translates to “pure food”. 

The most common Chinese Muslim restaurant is the Lanzhou lamian ('Lanzhou pulled-noodles' 兰州拉面) kind, which can be easily found in almost every city. In addition to Chinese halal cuisine, there are Turkish restaurants in many cities that serve a wide variety of halal dishes.

Muslim restaurants can be expected to be closed during Ramadan.

Muslim Holidays

There are two main festivals in Islam, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.

Eid-ul Fitr is celebrated at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast for the whole month. They refrain from eating and drinking from dawn till sunset everyday and are expected to spend as much time as possible in supplication. At the end of the month, Eid-al- Fitr is observed. 

Eid-ul-Azha is celebrated in commemoration of the great spirit of sacrifice of prophet Abraham. Sacrificial animals are slaughtered and the meat is divided into three parts, one part to be distributed among the poor, one part to be sent to relatives and friends and one part to be used at home.

During both festivals, the day starts with a special Eid prayer offered at the mosque or open place and then special meals are cooked, families gather together, celebrate and have a good time.

In addition to the two main festivals, some other days are also celebrated and have historic and religious significance. Ramadan is a holy month and all Muslims fast during this time. Mawlid-un-Nabi is the birthday of the prophet Muhammad and is celebrated in most sects though this celebration is regarded as an innovation in some. Ashura is a solemn day that marks the martyrdom of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Some of the important days in the Islamic calendar with dates are given below. As the Muslim calendar follows the lunar system, it is different from the Gregorian calendar and dates keep changing every year. As such, the dates given are not exact and are only approximate.

Holiday Islamic Date 2018 2019 2020
Islamic New Year 1 Muharram 11 September 31 August 20 August
Ashura 10 Muharram 20 September 9 September 29 August
Mawlid-an-Nabi 12 Rabi al- Awwal (Sunni sects) 20 November 9 November 29 October
Mawlid-un-Nabi 17 Rabi al Awwal (Shia sects) 25 November 14 November 3 November
First day of Ramadan 1 Ramadan 16 May 6 May 24 April
Eid-ul Fitr 1 Shawwal 15 June 4 June 24 May
Eid-ul Azha 10 Dhul- Hijja 21 August 11 August 31 July

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Dunhuang desert on the Silk Road Dunhuang's desert on the Silk Road

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