China’s Most Ancient Mosque

The Huaisheng Mosque, also known as the Lighthouse Mosque and the Great Mosque of Canton, holds a central position in Guangzhou as its primary mosque. Over the course of its history, the mosque has undergone multiple reconstructions, with its origins believed to trace back over 1,300 years.

Historical accounts in old Chinese Muslim manuscripts attribute the mosque’s construction to Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, who is said to have arrived in China in the 620s. While modern secular scholars have not found concrete evidence of Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas’s visit to China, they concur that the first Muslims likely arrived in China during the 7th century.

A distinctive feature of the mosque is its pointed minaret, known as the Guangta or Kwangtah, which stands at an impressive 36 meters in height and comprises two stories. Until the early 20th century, it held the distinction of being the tallest structure in the city. Remarkably versatile, the minaret served various functions in the Middle Ages, functioning as a lighthouse, a wind vane, and even a control tower.

Historical records suggest the existence of the mosque during the early years of the Song dynasty. In 1349, the mosque’s cemetery became the final resting place for Ramadan ibn Alauddin, recognized as the first named Korean Muslim. Following its destruction by fire, the mosque was rebuilt in 1350 and later underwent reconstruction in 1695.

The Huaisheng Light Tower, or minaret, predated these renovations, serving as a significant landmark in Guangzhou until the 19th century, marking the city’s skyline.