The Niujie Mosque in Beijing is one of China's five largest mosques. Built in 996 during the Northern Song Dynasty and covering an area of 6,000 sq.m, it underwent four expansions during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties before reaching its present form. The main hall is constructed in the style of a Chinese palace, but its interior is typically Arabic in design. With a floor space of 600 sq.m, the hall can hold more than 1,000 worshippers.
Niujie (Ox Street) is a street where the Hui people live in a close-knit community. It is in the southern part of the city. More than 10,000 Hui people live here and they have their own Muslim butchers, shops, schools and a mosque.
The Niujie Mosque is on the east side of Ox street. The mosque is quite noticeable, and from the outside it looks more like a Buddhist temple than a mosque. It has curved eaves and colorfully painted supports and beams. The roofs are covered with glazed tiles. The layout of the mosque is also in a traditional Chinese palace style, with main halls in the center and minor ones stand symmetrically on both sides.
The mosque is built around three courtyards. Its main front gate is open only on ceremonial occasions; worshippers and visitors usually take the side gate. A passageway leads past the ablution rooms and living quarters of the imam and other religious personnel in the mosque. The entrance of the Prayer Hall opens to the rear courtyard, where there is a minaret from which the call to prayer is announced five times a day.
The Prayer Hall consists of three sections from three dynasties. The front one is an extension from the Qing, the inner hall dates from the Ming and the rear one with three vaulted chambers was built in the Song. The whole hall is paved with mats and can accommodate 1,000 worshippers. The inner hall is particularly striking with its gold-inscribed Arabic-style arches along the naves, its pillars which are inscribed in gold with sayings from the Koran in Arabic and lotus and arabesque patterns. But its ceiling is elaborately decorated in Chinese style. Examples of architecture from different dynasties and of both Arabic and Chinese styles is very rare indeed.
On one of the stone tablets in the mosque is inscribed: "It is declared that the governors of all the provinces should have anyone who spreads false tales about the Muslims executed and then report to me. All Huis shall follow Islam and may not disobey my orders." This was announced after the emperor received a report saying that the Muslims' preparation and celebration of the day of fasting was to signal the beginning of a rebellion. The emperor was not convinced by the story, so he disguised himself and paid a visit there. He found the accusation was totally groundless, hence the declaration.
Not far from the mosque is the headquarters of the Chinese Islamic Association in a building with three green cupolas and other features of Middle Eastern architecture.