The complex is beautiful and serene. I try to visit during the call to prayer, if possible. Dozens of men gather together at the entrance of the mosque, take off their shoes and enter the building. They chant and pray and then reemerge, enjoying both the serenity of the prayer as well as each other's company.
The mosque is housed in Xian's Muslim Quarter, a bustling and colorful section of the city with its own foods, spices and stores. I would describe the Muslim Quarter as 热闹, pronounced "rènào". This word does not have an English equivalent and is one of my favorite Chinese words. The best way to describe a place or situation that is rènào is lively, bustling with noise and color, or jovial. None of those words fully captures the essence of the word, but together they resemble the meaning.
Approximately 20,000 Muslims live in this section of the city. The streets are lined with trees and the buildings are modeled after Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture. This tight-knit community of devout Muslims is steeped in tradition and history. Most of the families have lived here generation after generation. Many of the older generation sit on cane seats, talking and relaxing. Men wear traditional white hats and women wear scarves on their heads or burkhas.
The children are the most fun "people watching" in the Muslim Quarter. They run around freely, without a specific adult caregiver taking care of them. This is because they are part of a strong community. There are eyes everywhere and they all look out for one another.
Come spend an afternoon or evening with me in Xian's Muslim Quarter. Step back in history and immerse yourself in tradition.