The ‘Great Mosque of Guangzhou’ is also known as Huaisheng Mosque
which means ‘Remember the Sage’ (A Memorial Mosque to the Prophet) and is also
popularly called the ‘Guangta Mosque’ which translates as ‘The Beacon Tower
Mosque’. Huaisheng Mosque is located on Guantgta Road (Light Pagoda Road)
which runs eastwards off Renmin Zhonglu.
Prior to 500 CE and hence before the establishment of
Islam, Arab seafarers had established trade relations with the “Middle Kingdom”
(China). Arab ships bravely set off from Basra at the tip of the Arabian Gulf
and also from the town of Qays (Siraf) in the Persian Gulf. They sailed the
Indian Ocean passing Sarandip (Sri Lanka) and navigated their way through the
Straits of Malacca which were between the Sumatran and Malaysian peninsulas en
route to the South China Sea. They established trading posts on the
southeastern coastal ports of Quanzhou and Guangzhou. Some Arabs had already
settled in China and probably embraced Islam when the first Muslim deputation
arrived, as their families and friends back in Arabia, had already embraced
Islam during the Prophet’s revelation (610-32).
Guangzhou is called Khanfu by the Arabs who later set up
a Muslim quarter which became a centre of commerce. Guangzhou’s superior
geographical position made it play an important role as the oldest trading and
international port city in China. Witnessing a series of historical events, China has become a significant place in history and one of the fastest growing regions in
the world enjoying unprecedented prosperity.
Whilst an Islamic state was founded by Prophet Muhammad,
may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, China was enduring a period of
unification and defense. Early Chinese annals mentioned Muslim Arabs and
called their kingdom al-Medina (of Arabia). Islam in Chinese is called “Yisilan
Jiao” (meaning “Pure Religion”). A Chinese official once described Mecca as being the birthplace of Buddha Ma-hia-wu (i.e. Prophet Muhammad).
There are several historical versions relating to the
advent of Islam in China. Some records claim Muslims first arrived in China in two groups within as many months from Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
Ethiopia was the land where some early Muslims first
fled in fear from the persecution of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. Among that
group of refugees were one of Prophet Muhammad’s daughters Ruqayya, her husband
Uthman ibn Affan, Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and many other prominent Companions who
migrated on the advice of the Prophet. They were successfully granted
political asylum by the Abyssinian King Atsmaha Negus in the city of Axum (c.615 CE).
However, some Companions never returned to Arabia. They may have traveled on in the hope of earning their livelihood elsewhere and
may have eventually reached China by land or sea during the Sui Dynasty
(581-618 CE). Some records relate that Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas and three other Companions
sailed to China in c.616 CE from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) with the backing of the
king of Abyssinia. Sad then returned to Arabia, bringing a copy of the Holy Quran
back to Guangzhou some 21 years later, which appropriately coincides with the
account of Liu Chih who wrote “The Life of the Prophet” (12 vols).
One of the Companions who lived in China is believed to have died in c.635 CE and was buried in the western urban part of Hami. His
tomb is known as “Geys’ Mazars” and is revered by many in the surrounding
region. It is in the northwestern autonomous province of Xingjian (Sinkiang)
and about 400 miles east of the latter’s capital, Urumqi. Xingjian is four
times the size of Japan, shares its international border with eight different
nations and is home to the largest indigenous group of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs.
Hence, as well as being the largest Islamized area of China, Xingjian is also of strategic importance geographically.
The Quran states in unequivocal words that Muhammad was
sent only as a Mercy from God to all peoples (21:107), and in another verse:
“We have not sent thee but as a Mercy to all Mankind…” (34:28)
This universality of Islam facilitated its acceptance by
people from all races and nations and is amply demonstrated in China where the indigenous population, of ethnic varieties of Chinese Muslims today is greater than
the population of many Arab countries including that of Saudi Arabia.
The history of Huaisheng Mosque represents centuries of
Islamic culture dating right back to the mid-seventh century during the T’ang
Dynasty (618-907) - “the golden age of Chinese history”. It was in this
period, eighteen years after the death of the Prophet, that Islam - the last of
the three monotheistic religions - was first introduced to China by the third Caliph, Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (644-656 CE/23-35 AH ).
Uthman was one of the first to embrace Islam and
memorize the Holy Quran. He possessed a mild and gentle nature and he married
Ruqayyah and following her death, Umm Kulthum (both were daughters of the Prophet).
Consequently he was given the epithet of ‘Dhu-n-Nurayn’ (the one with the two
lights). Uthman was highly praised for safeguarding the manuscripts of the Quran
against disputes by ordering its compilation from the memories of the
Companions and sending copies to the four corners of the Islamic Empire.
Uthman sent a delegation to China led by Sad Ibn Abi
Waqqas (d. 674 CE/55 AH) who was a much loved maternal uncle of the Prophet and
one of the most famous Companions who converted to Islam at the age of just
seventeen. He was a veteran of all the battles and one of the ten who it is
reported that the Prophet said were assured a place in paradise.
In Medina, Sad, using his ability in architecture added
an Iwan (an arched hall used by a Persian Emperor) as a worship area. He later
laid the foundation of what was to be the first Mosque in China where early Islamic architecture forged a relationship with Chinese architecture.
According to the ancient historical records of the T’ang
Dynasty, an emissary from the kingdom of al-Medina led by Sad Ibn Abi Waqqas
and his deputation of Companions, who sailed on a special envoy to China in
c.650 CE, via the Indian Ocean and the China Sea to the famous port of
Guangzhou, thence traveled overland to Chang’an (present day Xi’an) via what
was later known as the “Silk Route”.