Islamic mosques

Islamic mosques
Since the Yuan dynasty (1276–1368), Chinese Muslims have referred to mosques as qingzhensi (temple of purity and truth)—centres for worship, education and varied religious activities. In central China, varying degrees of Chinese and Arabic influence on the exterior and interior of mosques have their origin in history and in Muslim cultural diversity. However, common to most Chinese mosques is the siheyuan structure, a compound with buildings framing a courtyard. Main features include main gate, prayer hall, minaret, classrooms (jiangtang) and ablution facilities. Courtyards are beautified with flowers and trees, and steles tell of mosque history.
Some mosques are palatial in size, boasting pavilions, steles, stone carvings, gardens and even ponds with Chinese-style bridges. Prayer halls in the more affluent mosques impress with painted pillars, carved beams and decorative patterns, often playing on both indigenous and Arabic cultural motifs. Their influence can be seen in decorations on the yaotian (arch inside the prayer hall, in the direction of Mecca), on eaves and ceilings, or on the xuanyutai (platform for sermons in the corner of the prayer hall). Stone tablets carry Chinese, Arabic and Persian writing; and scrolls featuring couplets hang from pillars supporting spacious halls. Where the local congregation is poor and donations minimal, mosques are in contrast simple and crude, little better than a common family house. Whereas the interior of mosques in its Arabic style reflects Islamic cultural origins, most mosque exteriors, built during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) or earlier, share in the predominant stylistic idiom of their locale. Since the 1980s, mosques rebuilt or built anew in both Gedimu and Yihewani traditions show up predominantly Arabic architecture and Islamic aesthetic, and thus illustrate a radical departure from previous concessions to Chinese host culture.
The structure of women’s mosques is similar to (men’s) mosques, although comparatively smaller as of more limited socio-religious function. Certain differences need noting: women’s mosques have no minaret, no yaodian and xuanyutai in the prayer hall and most women’s mosques are built in Chinese-style architecture. Only after the 1980s have some new or rebuilt women’s mosques adapted to Arabic conventions.
The mosque and its congregation constitutes an independent jiaofang (parish; also called fang). An ahong (religious leader), invited to the position by the mosque administrative committee, is responsible for leading prayer, training hailifan (Islamic students), giving religious lectures, holding weddings and funerals. Women ahong are not permitted to perform wedding and funeral rites; some female ahong wash the female corpse before burial.
Mosque affairs, such as appointing an ahong, ensuring religious education, managing welfare and finances, are overseen in men’s and women’s mosques by several elected, Muslim dignitaries. Called shetou, xuedong or xianglao, after 1958 these elders were organized into a mosque administrative committee. Similarly, whereas before 1958 the mosques of Islamic menhuan (Sufi groups) were controlled by jiaozhu (succession by inheritance), and in many traditions strict hierarchy subordinated smaller to larger mosques, after the movement for religious reform mosques were placed on an equal and independent footing—religiously, socially or politically. Most women’s mosques, however, continued to be subordinate to (men’s) mosques in economic and financial affairs. However, since 1993, when mandatory registration allowed registered women’s mosques independent status, the trend for autonomy among women’s mosques has been on the rise.
See also: Islam and women; Islamic art (Arabic-Chinese hybrid designs)
Dillon, M. (1996). China’s Muslim. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ma, Q.C. and Ding, H. (1998). Zhongguo Yisilan wenhuade leixing yü minzu tese. Beijing: Zhongyan minzu daxue chubanshe.
Qiu, Y.L. and Yu, Z.S. (1992). Zhongguo Yisilanjiao jianzhu. Beijing: Zhongguo jianzhu gongye chubanshe.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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