The Huaisheng Mosque, also known as the Lighthouse Mosque, is the main mosque of Guangzhou. Rebuilt many times over its history, it is traditionally thought to have been originally built over 1,300 years ago, which would make it one of the oldest mosques in the world. It was named in memory of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
The most unusual (in the Chinese context) feature of the mosque is its "calling tower" (minaret). The round tower is 36 meters tall with a pointed tip. The minaret may have served as a beacon for boats, which may explain its name (Guangta, i.e. literally "Tower of Light"). Guangta may also be translated as "Smooth Tower", referring to the unadorned surface of the minaret. From the tower, the mosque itself got its alternative name (Guangta Si, i.e. literally either "Smooth Tower Mosque" or "Lighthouse Mosque"). Somewhat similar "minimalist" minarets can be seen outside of China, e.g. at the Khan's Mosque in Kasimov, Russia.
The other name, Huaisheng Mosque (Huaisheng Si), means "Cherishing the Sacred" or "Cherishing the Sage", presumably referring to Muhammad. This name has been Romanized in various ways, such as Hwai Sun Su Mosque, Huai-Sheng Mosque, Huai-Shang Mosque, and Huai-Shang Si Mosque. The mosque is also referred to as the Great Mosque of Canton, and as Ying Tong Mosque.
The Huaisheng Mosque and its minaret/tower (background)
Old Chinese Muslim manuscripts state that the mosque was built by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas who was an uncle of Prophet Muhammad, and supposedly came on his first Muslim mission to China in the 650s. Although modern secular scholars don't find any historical evidence that Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas actually visited China, they agree that the first Muslims must have arrived to China within the 7th century, and that the major trade centers, such as Guangzhou, Quanzhou, and Yangzhouprobably already had their first mosques built during the Tang Dynasty, even though no reliable sources attesting to their actual existence has been found so far.
It is certain that the mosque existed during the Tang Dynasty, or in the early years of the Song Dynasty. The mosque was rebuilt in 1350 then again in 1695 after being destroyed in a fire. The Huaisheng Light Tower or minaret was built at an earlier period.