Muslims take great pride in citing a hadith that says "Seek knowledge even if it is in far away China." It points to the importance of seeking knowledge, even if it meant traveling as far away as China. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), China was considered the most developed civilization of the period. Islam in China began during the caliphate of 'Uthman ibn Affan (Allayhi Rahma, ra), the third caliph. After triumphing over the Byzantine, Romans and the Persians, 'Uthman ibn Affan, dispatched a deputation to China in 29 AH (650 C.E., Eighteen years after the Prophet's death), under the leadership by Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqaas (Allayhi Rahma), Prophet Muhammad's (Salla Allahu wa Allahai wa Sallam, pbuh) maternal uncle, inviting the Chinese emperor to embrace Islam. It is recorded in Chinese history that Tang Dynasty Emperor Gaozong met Waggaas in Chang’an (present-day Xian) and officially agreed the practice of Islam in China in 652.
The very first mosque built in China is believed to be the Huaisheng Mosque (also called Guangta Mosque) in Guangzhou. Huaisheng in Chinese means in memory of Prophet Mohhamad. Huaisheng Mosque is also one of the earliest mosques build in the world by Prophet Mohhamad’s uncle Sa’ad Abi Waqqaas soon after the Tang Dynasty emperor approve the practice of Islam in 652.
The second oldest mosque in China may be Xian’s Great Mosque. Though currently buildings of Xian Great Mosque are mostly left from the Ming Dynasty, a stone tablet unearthed in the Xian Great Mosque suggests that it was built during the Tang Dynasty in 742. If you have been to a Confucius Temple, the layout of Xian Great Mosque is just like one of the Confucius Temples built in China, with four courtyards, pavilion, corridors, towers and stone tablets. However, the interior decoration is very different, very Arabic. The prayer hall of Xian’s Great Mosque has a collection of one of oldest wooden carved Qurans.
Beijing’s Niujie Mosque is an other historical mosque in China. Niujie means ox street. Apparently, there used to be many stores in this area selling beef and local people call the area Ox Street. Why there was a street with many stores selling beef? Simply because Muslims lived in this area. Beijing Niujie mosque was originally built by Nasruddin, the son of an Arabic priest who came to China to preach the Islamic faith in 996 (Northern Song Dynasty). Major renovation projects were carried out in 1442, during the time of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722). After the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 Beijing Niujie Mosque was entirely repainted and redecorated.
Other historical mosques in China include Qingjing Mosque in Quanzhou, Phoenix Mosque in Hangzhou, Xianhe Mosque in Yangzhou, Songjiang Mosque in Shanghai, Najiahu Mosque in Yongning of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Dongguan Mosque in Xining.