Shanghai Today

Places of Interest

A window on city's Islamic heritage - May 05, 2014

AWAY from the iconic space-age high-rises, and often tucked away among residential areas, is evidence of an older tradition in Shanghai, the mosques that for hundreds of years have served as places of worship for the city's Muslims. Li Anlan reports.

In a city renowned for its gleaming, futuristic skyscrapers and a hectic vibe, it can be a surprise to chance upon the domes and minarets of Shanghai's mosques.

But Shanghai has long been a city where different culture and civilizations have met. When Muslims settled in the city, they built their mosques for worship and developed their communities around them.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) Islam was introduced to the Shanghai region. The city's earliest mosque was the Songjiang Mosque, which still exists today.

After Shanghai opened as a commercial port, more Muslims came to the city and built more mosques and formed new communities. In 1937, four mosques (including two for women) were destroyed during battles with Japanese invaders. Thousands of Muslims lost their homes and many Islamic organizations closed during the upheaval. 

After liberation, the Shanghai government assisted in the relocation and restoration of several mosques and provided financial and policy support.

A mosque is not only a place for prayer and religion education, but also a gathering place for Muslims, a center of Muslim communities. We visited four mosques to get a glimpse of their histories and place in city life today.

Shanghai Masjid Pudong (浦东清真寺)

Address: 375 Yuanshen Rd, Pudong New Area (浦东新区源深路375号)

Shanghai Masjid Pudong was founded in 1935, originally sited at No. 16 Wujiating, Pudong Avenue. It was small and intended to be temporary, even after expansion in 1984. Conditions were rough and facilities dated.

In 1995, with the support and funding from Pudong's district government, the masjid was moved to its current location and rebuilt with more facilities over a larger area.

Pudong Mosque is set in an open space, and stands out elegantly among the nearby modern buildings. It has a light-colored exterior, with contrasting green domes.

The main building is three stories high, in traditional Arabic style that is dignified, grand and bright, with geometric patterns such as arches. The dome above has a diameter of nine meters, with a crescent atop.

Three smaller domes are to the right and left sides of the main building, and the 40-meter tall azan tower, from where the call to prayer emanates, pierces into the sky.

There are three prayer rooms at Shanghai Masjid Pudong. The main room on the second floor can accommodate 500 worshippers, the back prayer room opens when Jum'ah (Friday prayers) and Eid and can hold 300, while the women's prayer room accommodates 50.

In the yard is a shop selling books, religious items, souvenirs and food prepared by the mosque. The freshly made mooncakes with different fillings are popular choices with worshippers and visitors alike.

Huxi Mosque (沪西清真寺)

Address: No. 3, Lane 1328 Changde Rd, Putuo District (普陀区常德路1328弄3号)

Visitors can feel that this is somewhere different from the surrounding area even before they enter the front gate. Outside the mosque are small restaurants and food carts selling Muslim food, as well as stalls providing produce such as dried fruit and nuts from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where most of the population are Muslims.

Many vendors wear the taqiyah, a short and rounded prayer cap for men.

Huxi Mosque is one of the best-known mosques in Shanghai. Built in 1922 at Yaoshui Lane (药水弄), it can accommodate 200 people in prayer.

When Putuo District decided to change the layout of Yaoshui Lane in 1990, the mosque was rebuilt on Changde Road, the first mosque rebuilt in Shanghai following the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

You can spot the distinctive architecture from a distance. The mosque is set in a residential area among many apartment complexes, but the white minaret shows that this is a place of worship.

The mosque is not big, about 1,125 square meters, but is well laid out. Standing in the yard, the two-story prayer hall is located on the west side; the first floor for men and the second for women. 

The minaret on the northeast side is 25 meters high. This example of modern Islamic architecture shows distinctive characteristics, including columns and fan shapes.

The prayer hall floor is covered in carpets and features a minbar, the pulpit where the imam, or prayer leader, stands to deliver sermons or lectures.

Huxi Mosque also runs a store in the entrance at the front gate selling food produced there, including beef and lamb items.

Xiao Tao Yuan Masjid (小桃园清真寺)

Address: 52 Xiaotaoyuan St, Huangpu District(黄浦区小桃源街52号)

Xiao Tao Yuan Masjid, in the past called the West Masjid, was built in 1917 by a man named Jin Ziyun who had bought the land. It was rebuilt in 1925 in the traditional Islamic style seen today.

The exterior of the mosque is painted green and white, which makes it stand out from its surroundings. The plate above the iron gate contains the Chinese characters for "mosque" - "qing zhen si" (清真寺) - by calligrapher Luo Junti.

Xiao Tao Yuan Masjid is in a quiet location, quite unlike the Huxi Mosque in its busy and noisy residential setting. 

Just outside Xiao Tao Yuan is a park where you can see people relaxing and exercising. When you enter the mosque, the two-story square prayer hall, which can accommodate 500 people in prayer, is on the west. The main prayer hall is on the first floor, a spacious room with arched windows.

Other distinctive features include the minaret and four domes at the four corners of the mosque.

Xiao Tao Yuan combines Islamic and Chinese style features. On the east side of the courtyard, is a three-story Chinese-style building, home to a lecture room, offices and ablution facilities.

Next to Xiao Tao Yuan Masjid is the Xiao Tao Yuan Masjid for Women built in 1920, the only one of its kind now in Shanghai. The renovated masjid - the central mosque - was opened in 1994 and hosts religious activities for Islamic women in Shanghai.

The Xiao Tao Yuan Masjid was the original site for the Shanghai Islamic Normal School which was later moved to Qinglian Street and renamed Pingliang Islamic Normal School. 

It is also the home of the Shanghai Islamic Association, established in 1962.

Fuyou Road Mosque (福佑路清真寺)

Address: 378 Fuyou Rd, Huangpu District (黄浦区福佑路378号)

Fuyou Road Mosque is located next to the famous - and very busy - Yuyuan Garden scenic spot in Huangpu District. 

Constructed during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it has been renovated and expanded three times: in 1897, 1905 and 1936. Built by local Chinese Muslims, it is also known as the North Mosque.

The first Islamic school in Shanghai's modern history, Wu Ben Primary School, was established here. It was also the home of the Shanghai Islamic Board of Directors, founded in 1909.

The doors, windows and mihrab, the niche that indicates the direction of Mecca, in Fuyou Road Mosque are in a Qing Dynasty style, unlike many mosques which show traditional Arabic style.

Fuyou Road Mosque is the smallest of the city mosques covered in this feature. 


There are very strict rules that must be follow when visiting these places of worship.

Dressing code: Islam requires people to wear clothes that show modesty and respect. Both men and women are supposed to wear clean clothes that cover the entire body. Women who come to pray at mosques also should cover their heads with a hijab. Visitors who go to a mosques also have to show respect and wear clothes that are appropriate.

Cleaning: There are rules on cleanliness in all mosques and it is one of the essential experiences of the worshippers. Before prayer, Muslims have to clean themselves following a certain process. For those who are just visiting and don't plan on praying, shoes cannot be worn inside the prayer hall. All mosques have facilities for prayers to clean themselves and places for storing shoes.

Manner: Everyone entering the mosques should show respect. Visitors should never talk in a loud voice or discuss inappropriate topics in the place of worship, nor disturb those who are praying. In mosques that don't distinguish by gender, prayer halls are segregated for men and women, even though this is not required by the Islamic law, traditional rules still apply in most cases.

Non-Muslims are welcome to visit the mosques in Shanghai, but it is crucial to follow the rules and show the respect. 

Non-Muslims are generally not allowed to enter the prayer halls, but are usually welcome to take a look at the architectures around the mosque.

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