Entrance fee: 20 Yuan. Although, we managed to get exempted from it by mentioning that we want to go inside for prayers (in which, you should be Muslim). Visiting is not allowed during prayer time.
Id Kah mosque is said to be the largest mosque in Xinjiang and China. At least all over internet says so (additional info: it can accomodate 10,000 up to 20,000 worshippers). Although, in reality, we are rather surprised that it’s not as big as we thought. The mosque consists only a small portion of covered physical building (which is the prayer hall) and huge portion of open-air landscape, all surrounded by walls with the iconic huge entrance gate (pic above). Which later we have come to learn that the huge gate is a significant feature in every old mosque in Xinjiang, which is probably the closeness to those in Central Asia.
It’s easy to recognize the mosque as the center of Kashgar town. It has a huge yard which most of time is a public common area – you can see people walking around, children playing and cycling, and the elder men sitting and talking to each other. This space can be filled completely during Eid prayers (just Google Image for Id Kah mosque Eid prayer to see how it looks like!). It’s a pity that we couldnt come here during Eid, so I was wishing that I could watch the same crowd for weekly Friday prayer also, let’s see.
The common sight of elder men sitting in the mosque yard talking to each other really gets our attention. They’re typically wearing coats and trousers (despite the midday heat), identical Uyghur caps, and seem to be spending here all day in between prayer times. A very laid back lifestyle, I can say.
The Azan (prayer call) is not as loud, but each time, these men would gradually disperse and walk towards mosque. When they’re done with prayers, they would come back to sit in groups again and continue the chat.
There are row of shops selling religious books and items as well as skull caps next to the entrance gate. In a corner, there seems to be a permanent ice cream stall (2 yuan per cup!) with chairs provided. I would get one every time I wait for Az praying.
Shops around the mosque area, and at the edge of the yard, we’re excited to see a row of shoe shine people busy serving the customers. Note: Kashgar men are all wearing leather shoes and it seems an obligatory for them to ensure they’re clean and shining. Az is eager to try out but we’re in sports shoes (who would wear formal leather shoes when traveling??) so nevermind.
Let’s go back to the mosque. The whole complex has several entrance gates apart from the main one. Az points out that the main door’s padlock has this significantly big padlock with Arabic sript carvings. When we enter the main gate for the first time, we’re surprised to see nothing but open-air garden with many trees – inside the mosque. There’s no prayer area yet – you have to walk further down the small path in between the garden, and there’s a not-so-proper covered area which I understand the prayer area for those who can’t make it to the main prayer hall (whether it’s full or they’re late). Walk further for the part where the actual building starts. It’s the main prayer hall.
When we’re about to step in, an old man with unfriendly face points out that we need to go back to the entrance and buy ticket. Az forgot to wear his kopiah which is understandable if the old man couldnt see we’re coming to visit and perform prayer. After saying that we’re Muslims, he lets us in and guides us along. We’re brought in an area inside (not the main prayer hall) where it seems the place tourists are taken and given briefings about the mosque. We, on the other hand, request to perform Zuhur and Asar prayer in the very place.
The main prayer hall, photo taken by Az during other prayer time (women are not allowed to pass this area). By proportion, the physical building area is rather small than the whole Id Kah mosque area with the garden inside and yard outside, yet it’s labelled as the biggest mosque in China. The mosque is said to be almost 600 years old, although the structures might have been renovated since.
It’s probably the culture, but the mosque does not provide prayer area for women. Az would join the congregational prayers, and at first I had to wait outside. When I notice a few women enters the gate during azan, I couldnt help but follow them as well. It turns out that these women (only four of us) had to pray on an old rug in the back of the garden.