The exterior of the mosque
Take Line 1 of the metro and stop at Ximenkou Station, then walk among the narrow streets in the old city center, and you will find one of China's oldest mosques tucked away in Guangta Road. Looking up, you will see it can never really hide because of its magnificent silver minaret. This is Guangta Mosque's, literally the mosque of bright minaret in Chinese.
The mosque's official name is Huaisheng Mosque, to commemorate the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It is one of the four oldest mosques in China. It was built in 627 AD by Muslim merchants living in Guangzhou, lead by Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas, one of the important companions of Muhammad and one of the first to preach Islam in China. In its 1,300 year history, it has undergone four major renovations in the ancient times and another two after the founding of the People's Republic of China.
The mosque covers 2,966 sq. m of space and is comprised of several buildings including three major ones – the moon-observation tower, the prayer hall and the minaret. The layout follows the Chinese traditional symmetrical style with the axis pointing to the south.
Across from the main gate is the moon-observation tower. It is a typical Chinese construction. The Muslims use it to observe the phases of the moon, in order to confirm the time to start and end the Muslim festival Ramadan. The prayer inscribed on its north side reads "That is Allah, your Lord; there is no deity except Him, the Creator of all things, so worship Him."
You can also see the main hall for prayer. It looks like a Chinese palace, decorated with two eaves and green glazed tiles on the roof. The hall covers 1,858 sq. m of space and can hold over 1,000 persons for prayer. The interior of the hall is very solemn – white walls with little decoration, and traditional Islamic green carpet spread all over the floor.
The shops in Guangta Road
The minaret is in the southeast corner of the mosque. It is measures 36 meters in height. The cylindrical body and the pen-like top characterize the Arabic style of the minaret. The exterior of the minaret is garnished with lime, and inside it there are two spiral staircases to reach the top. Compared with traditional staircases in ancient China's pagodas, this technique of building spiral staircases is over 1,000 years old. In the old days, people yelled on the top to gather the Muslims for worship and would hang a light to guide ships at night. The minaret was built on soft soil, and has stood there for centuries, so it is leaning now, but the government has set up a plan to renovate it.
The minaret was originally built by the shore of the Pearl River. As the shoreline moves over years, the minaret is far away from the river now. But it seems that the Muslim community around the mosque has never changed. Nowadays the mosque still gathers a lot of Muslims. There are stores, supermarkets and butcher's shops for Muslim's food and daily necessities. There are also authentic Islamic restaurants. Wandering here and you can feel real Islamic scents in a far east city.
(By Lynus Tan and Richard Glauert)