The Great Mosque of Xian serves over 60,000 Chinese Muslims in the Xian area. Founded in 742 during the Tang dynasty, the mosque was the religious center for Arab merchants operating in China. Unlike the mosques common to Arab countries, the Great Mosque of Xian has neither domes nor minarets. The style is almost wholly Chinese, except for the Arabic lettering and decorations that list the 99 names of God and verses from the Koran ( image 8 ).
Arabs have, for thousands of years, maintained more or less permanent trade routes with mainland China. With this long familiarity, it is not surprising that the first Arab Muslims reached China not long after the Prophet's death in the 7th century. However, the number of Arab traders operating in China was relatively small. It was not until the 13th century, when Kublai Khan expanded the Chinese Emperor westward, that the large numbers of Muslims were forcibly resettled in China as soldiers and artisans. Although most of these central Asian Muslims maintained their cultural heritage, they gradually mingled with the Chinese, creating a distinct minority known as the "Hui people".
Inside the Great Mosque are such treasures as hand-copied Korans from the Ming dynasty and a calendar stone called "the Moon Tablet". Although there is no minaret, the "Introspection Tower", a two story pagoda, serves the same function (this building is not shown).