Along the ancient trade routes of the silk road, many goods and resources were traded, but along with that came many ideas and philosophy. Xi’an, at the time, was one of the most western edges of Chinas influence in culture. At this meeting point of the silk road, many persians and arabs directly interacted with the chinese culture. Many actually began to set up shop in Xi’an and use it as a trading post for their western goods. Along came with it their religion, Islam.
Today as you walk around the vibrant, and surprisingly modern city of Xi’an, you would be sorely missing out if you didn’t check out the Muslim Quarter. It might not be the very orderly, religious, mosque filled quarter you may picture. Instead it is made up of rows of quaint little streets that come alive during meal times with men and women wearing their traditional islamic head gear, whipping up some of the most delicious food you will ever smell, or eat. The streets are filled with smoke from the countless barbecues, the sound of hammers smashing the peanut brittle, and the smell of the herbs and spices being poured into the stews over hot fires. The large quantity of food, the fun atmosphere, and the abundance of choices brings out hundreds of people that fill the streets.
Amidst this crazy market atmosphere, you will find a few arched doorways leading to the sacred Mosques. There is the old mosque and the new grand mosque. If you have been to other Islamic countries before, you will be shocked when you first enter the Mosque grounds. You will think you had entered another Buddhist or Tao temple because of the very similar, chinese style architecture. But throughout the courtyard there will be quiet old men and women covered from head to toe sitting peacefully in the Mosque. At the end there is a giant prayer hall that is roped off from tourists, to maintain it as a sacred place. So amidst the very commercial streets of the Islamic quarter, there is still a deep religious heritage that runs through this area, despite the oppression throughout the Chinese communist rule.