Ox Street Mosque 牛街清真寺

牛街
Part of A Better Guide to Beijing’s coverage of South of Qián Mén

Like many other mosques, this is known to the Chinese more commonly as Lǐbài Sì (礼拜寺, Temple for Worship). The name sounds tautological until the Muslim habit of praying five times a day is considered. Islam is considerably more hard work than other religions, as the Chinese clearly noted.

Its address, Niú Jiē, means ‘Ox Street’, which is said to refer to Chinese Muslims’ love of meat (except pork). This is the oldest mosque in Běijīng (possibly 10th century), and its exterior appearance at first seems little different from that of any Buddhist or daoist temple, almost as if it’s in disguise.

A low tower at the front had astronomical uses before the Jesuits replaced the Muslims as calendrical advisors to the court in the 17th century. The main worshipping hall has a particularly complicated roof and originally dates from 996, although it has been often restored since. It is splendidly decorated with large red and gold pillars, arches with obvious Muslim motifs, and beams painted in blue, green, and gold. They carry no images of animals, birds, or people, which offend Muslim sensibilities, but of flowers, trees, and verses from the Koran in Arabic script.

Attendants here claim there are 200,000 Muslims in Běijīng and 68 mosques of which this is the largest. There’s a history of the faith in China, and inscriptions commemorating two Arab preachers who were buried here, carved in Arabic and Chinese, can be found on very worn stelae in two pavilions. Another two-tiered pavilion is described as a minaret. The other buildings are in active use and not open to the public, so the open area is quite small but very quiet and dignified.

A shop sells Chinese-style ceramics with Arabic script on them, which make unusual souvenirs, and the mosque is the heart of a small Muslim quarter,, although one recently much altered by development (not without protest).

Niú Jiē Qīngzhēnsì, Niú Jiē, 9am–4.30pm, entry may be restricted on Fridays. Free. m Cài Shì Kǒu (Lines 4 & 7). b to 牛街礼拜寺: 10, 48, 626, 717.

South of the mosque and east along Nán Héng Xī Jiē (南横西街) there’s a wide choice of Muslim restaurants and at the junction with Jiàozi Hútòng (教子胡同) a more obviously Islamic domed building in green and white, which is a teaching institute. Turn left here and first right along Fǎyuán Sì Qián Jiē (法源寺前街), passing a hall for the Běijīng Acrobatic Troupe of China and various Buddhist teaching facilities, to reach the Fǎyuán Sì.

Next in South of Qián Mén: Islam in China (story)
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For discussion of China travel, see The Oriental-List.