The Hidden Messages of the Xi’an Great Mosque

Calligraphy in Islamic architecture is vastly used on the interior and exterior façade of Islamic
buildings such as mosques [1]. The calligraphy used is from verses that have been carefully selected
from the Quran to highlight particular messages to the worshipper. This is believed to create a
‘direct expression of the divine; by means of its carefully orchestrated use the building virtually
becomes “the Word of God”’[1]. This blog will establish the relationship between architecture and
the application of imagery in conveying a meaning through dissecting the Xi’an Great Mosque.

The Xi’an Great Mosque is located in China, built during the early Ming Dynasty (Great Ming Empire
Ruling) [2]. The mosque is the oldest built in China and was built in response to the cultural needs of
the Muslim Chinese community [2]. The Mosque selectively incorporated the tradition of Arabic
calligraphy in Islamic architecture to decorate the façade, inside and parts of the monumental
structures such as the prayer room, courtyard, ablution room, minbar and the mihrab [3] (image 1).

Image 1 Xi’an Great Mosque [5]

Image 2 Calligraphy on Ceiling [6]
Sino Arabic is a form of calligraphy commonly used in Chinese Islamic Architecture [2]. It is found on
a wooden plaque that’s located under the ceiling for the Xi’an Great Mosque [3]. The location of the
inscription contributes to a major element of the mosque as the attributes of God are inscribed
[3](image 2). Along the interior walls of the worship hall of the mosque, full texts of the Quran are
carved also using Sino Arabic calligraphy on large wooden panels starting from surah 1 to 114
[3](image 3). The surah’s are inscribed continuously just like the Quran without any breaks from one
surah to another, which are believed to be a masterpiece in Chinese Islamic art [3]. In the central
bay of the mosque hang down on wooden columns inscriptions written using calligraphy in the form
of couplets which are highlighted in gold paintings and a black background [3]. The Islamic creed
which a believer declares that there is only one God and Mohammad is God’s prophet, known as the
shahadah, along with the 99 names of God are inscribed along those wooden columns [3] (image 4).

Image 3-Wooden Panels with Entire Quran Carved 7[5]
Image 4 Wooden Columns with the Names of Allah Inscribed Using calligraphy [8]

Image 5 Mihrab [7]










The mihrab is an essential part of mosque architecture as it is the way worshippers face to pray [2].
The frame of the mihrab wall of the Xi’an great Mosque has wooden carvings similar to the interior
walls, using calligraphy and floral motifs (image 5) [3]. The interior of the niche is dived into two
sections by bands of wood carving [3]. The upper section has vertical triangles alternating from
coloured to plain which meet below the apex of the arch’s lotus while the lower section has carvings
of floral motifs [3]. A wooden curved panel frames the mihrab with floral motifs and inscriptions
inscribed using calligraphy which reads, God is amnesty, God is forgiving [3]. On top of the mihrab is
inscribed using calligraphy surat al-tawbah, which translates to repentance [4]. This has been
strategically positioned on top of the mihrab so the worshippers can read it and ask for forgiveness
during their prayers [4].

Inscriptions are also found of the walls of the Garden House of the Xian Great Mosque (image 6).
The Garden House is equipped with benches and a beautiful landscape designed to relax and rest
[3]. The concrete walls of the Garden House use calligraphy to inscribe verses from the Quran (table)
for the worshipper to “remember God, role of the mosque, confession of faith teaching of Islam
about good deeds, purification and the fear of god” [3].


Image 6 Garden House [8]
Table 1 Inscription on Garden House meanings[9]

The Xi’an Great Mosque is a solid example that portrays the role calligraphy plays in creating a visual
language to convey a message to the worshipper in Islamic Architecture. The Mosque shows how
verses are chosen and positioned with a through thought process in order to convey a direct and
deep message to the worshipper.




[1] Gee, John. “Islam and the Middle East in the Far East; At the Start of the Silk Road Lies
Xi’an’s Great Mosque.” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 22, no. 3 (2003): 45.

[2] Shi, T. A. O. “The Islam Architecture Character of China Hui Nationality-Analysis of Xi’an Great
Mosque [J].” Journal of Chongqing Jianzhu University 4 (2001): 001.

MOSQUE, CHINA.” Journal of Islamic Architecture 3, no. 1 (September 1, 2014): 39–48.

[4] Hoteit, Aida. “Contemporary architecttural trends and their impact on the symbolic and spiritual
function of the Mosque.” International Journal of Current Research 7, no. 3 (2015): 13547-

Image References
[5] The Grand Mosque of Xi’an. (2006). [image] Available at:

What were you looking for?

[Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

[6] The inscriptions below the ceiling of the Xi’an Great Mosque. (2018). [image] Available at: [Accessed 20
Apr. 2018].

[7] Mihrab. (2018). [image] Available at:
[Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

[8] The calligraphic inscriptions are carved on stone in form of fruit and flowers with floral motifs.
(2018). [image] Available at:
[Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

[9] The Inscriptions on Garden House. (2018). [image] Available at:
[Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].