Salat in Xiahe, Gansu Province

Timothy Grose 
Assistant Professor of China Studies  Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

The mosque in Xiahe, Gansu Province (locally referred to as the Xiahe 夏河 or Labrang 拉卜楞 Mosque), sits on the residential “outskirts” (Ch. tawa 塔哇; Tib. mtha’ba) of Labrang Monastery, one of the most important Buddhist institutions outside central Tibet. Originally built in 1854, the mosque was expanded in 1898, renovated in 1936,[1] and restored in 1983.[2] The current structure consists of a five-story minaret, a courtyard, ablution rooms, a prayer hall large enough to accommodate 800 worshipers, and living quarters for its imam.

Many of Xiahe’s Hui residents are descendants of traders and refugees from Linxia, China’s “Little Mecca.”[3] Attracted by Labrang’s thriving markets and the region’s relatively calm political climate, Muslim families from nearby Linxia, with permission from the monastery’s highest recognized incarnate lama (Tib. sprul sku), the Jamyang Zhépa, began to settle in the region in 1854.[4] The community has grown from sixty households (Ch. hu 户) in 1891 to 886 persons in 2008.[5]

Today, members of Xiahe’s Muslim community speak proudly of their Linxia roots. One middle-aged Hui restaurateur longed for his ancestral home’s (Ch. 老家) lush vegetation and bemoaned Xiahe’s desolate landscape and harsh climate. A third-generation Hui draper bragged that the history of every local Muslim family begins in Linxia. He proceeded by showing me images of himself posing in front of the Naqshbandi saint Ma Laichi’s (马来迟) tomb (Ch. Huasi gongbei 华寺拱北), which is located just outside Linxia’s city center.

Indeed, Xiahe’s local Muslim community, similar to elsewhere in Gansu, is a “patchwork” of Chinese Islam’s “three major sects” (Ch. san da jiaopai 三大教派) and four major Sufi tariqa (Ch. si da menhuan 四大门宦).[6] Perhaps since commerce rather than proselytization was the main driving force behind Hui migration to the region, Labrang’s various Muslim groups have coexisted peacefully. In fact, Labrang’s mosque is the only in Xiahe County to not be affiliated with a specific tariqa; it is listed as a si da menhuan mosque.[7]

Despite the several mystical strands of Islam in Xiahe, however, the Muslim community preserves elements of Sunni “orthopraxy.” The footage, recorded on July 5, 2015 (the eighteenth day of Ramadan) during the noonday prayer (Ch. 晌礼, 撇使尼, 撇师尼, or 撇开), captures the prescribed utterances of salat’s rakat (postures) cycles. The imam can be heard opening the prayer by reciting the takbir “God is great” (Allahu Akbar). He then utters, “God listens to the one who praises him” (sami Allahu liman hamidah) and repeats the takbir. He chants the takbir three times in succession signaling the completion of the rakat. After a brief pause, the cycle is repeated until the required rakat have been executed. The prayer ends with the blessing, “May the peace and mercy of God be upon you” (Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah).

During the prayer, the faithful move between six stations: standing (Ch. zhanli 站立), raising one’s hands to begin the prayer (Ch. taishou rubai 抬手入拜), standing with arms folded (Ch. zhanli chaoshou站立抄手), bowing (Ch. jugong 鞠躬), kowtowing (Ch. koutou 叩头), and kneeling (Ch. guizuo 跪坐).[8] While kneeling during the final rakat, the worshipper turns his head to the right as the imam says, “May the peace and mercy of God be upon you” and then turns his head to the left when the imam repeats the invocation. This gesture marks the end of the final rakat.


[1] Nietupski, Paul K., “Islam and Labrang Monastery: A Muslim Community in a Tibetan Buddhist Estate.” In Muslims in Amdo Tibetan Society: Multidisciplinary Approaches, Marie-Paule Hille, Bianca Horlemann, and Paul K. Nietupski (eds), (New York and London: Lexington Books, 2015), pp. 140 and 146

[2] Chen Shiming, Xiahe xian musilin jiqi qingzhensi jianjie [An Explanation of Xiahe County’s Muslims and Mosques], Zhongguo Musilin 3: pp. 35-36.

[3] Nietupski, Paul K., Labrang Monastery: A Tibetan Buddhist Community on the Inner Asian Borderlands, 1709-1958 (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2011), p. 54.

[4] Nietupski, “Islam and Labrang,” p. 140.

[5] Gong Baozhang, Labuleng Tawa de shehui wenhua bianqian [Socio-cultural Changes in Labrang’s Tawa], (Beijing: Minzu Press, 2009), p. 33. This figure indicates only those Hui living within the Labrang Tawa. The population of Hui living in Xiahe County is much larger.

[6] Lipman, Jonathan. Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China, (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1997), pp. 20-23. See also: Slobonik, Martin, “‘Muslim labtse’: Contemporary Forms of Hui Sufism in Tibetan Surroundings,” Zentral-Asiatiche Studien 37 (2008): 119-142.

[7] Chen, “An Explanation of Xiahe County’s Muslims,” p. 41.

[8] Musilin Daquan [A Comprehensive Reference Manual for Muslims], unpublished booklet.

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