Chinese Terms for ‘Mosque’

(Hui) Najiahu Mosque – Yinchuan City (Ningxia, China)

I am aware of two Chinese language terms used to describe a ‘mosque’ which are as follows:

  1. 清真寺 (Qing Zhen Si)
  2. 回教堂 (Hui Jiao Tang)

What is interesting is the level of ‘respect’ in the Chinese language used to refer to a ‘mosque’, and the obvious historical high regard with which the authorities and scholars of imperial China must have held Islam. This is because the most common term used to refer to a mosque is 清清寺 (Qing Zhen Si), with ‘qing’ (清) translating as ‘pure’ or ‘clean’, and ‘zhen’ (真) translating as ‘profound truth’, or ‘highest sincerity’. The Chinese term ‘si’ (寺) refers to a ‘temple’, as often found within Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism, and describes a special place of transcendent quality and function, where individuals and groups gather to receive expert guidance of a spiritual nature, and work upon the purification of their minds and bodies through dedicated self-cultivation. Whereas each Confucian, Buddhist or Daoism temple might have a different and distinguishing name – all mosques in China are called by the honorific ‘清清寺 (Qing Zhen Si)’, although each mosque is also usually distinguished in others ways – such as by the family name of the Islamic people who first founded the mosque, or who now administer the mosque – or by its location or ethnic group it serves. Another name used in a less general sense to refer to a mosque in China is ‘回教堂 (Hui Jiao Tang)’, and this specially refers to the ‘Hui’ (回) ethnic minority that are the descendants of Arab merchants who travelled to China hundreds of years ago, married Chinese women and settled in the country. A ‘jiao tang’ (教教) refer to a religious (i.e. 教 – Jiao) hall (i.e. 教 – Tang) used for worship and self-cultivation. This association explains why the Chinese term for ‘Muslim’ is often written as ‘回教徒’ (Hui Jiao Tu) – or ‘Hui Religion Disciple’, which can also be rendered as ‘Arab Religion Disciple’. Another Islamic ethnic group that live in North-West China are the ‘Uyghur’ (維吾爾 – Wei Wu Er), who are thought to have been, at least in-part, descended from Turkic ancestry, although many also claim Mongolian ancestry. Today, the Uyghur (who have not always been Muslims) live in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.

Varanasi Mosque – Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (PRC)

According to Chinese language sources, the familiar term ‘mosque’ derives from the Arabic – Persian مسجد masjid (singular), and مساجد masājid (plural). This is a religious place of worship used by Muslims, and although in theory any place can be used as a mosque, the Sunni tradition of Islam follows strict rules that limit the buildings that can be used due to specific religious requirements and concerns. A building used by Muslims for worship that is not a an official mosque is termed a ‘musallah’. The establishment of a mosque is a very serious and religiously profound process that is not taken lightly, as there are many formal restrictions, but once established, a mosque is usually a smaller part of a larger complex. Once a place is designated as a mosque, it must remain a mosque forever, never be destroyed, or allowed to be occupied by non-Muslims (in an aggressive or destructive manner).  Many mosques possess an exquisite dome, a minaret and a worshipping hall, with each often expressing a unique architectural style. The mosque originated in the Arabian Peninsula, and Muslim living in the Middle East today, can trace their Islamic ancestry to specific mosques in particular areas. For Muslims the mosque is a place of worship, but it can also be used to convey information, education and as a place of dispute resolution, as well as for other purposes. The congregation of the mosque is lead in prayer by an Imam.

Chinese Language Source:清真寺




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