Muslims pray in the Xiguan Mosque of Lanzhou
Although Muslims only account for 1.5 percent of China's population, their absolute number is not to be underestimated: 20 million.
Muslim communities can be found throughout China, but most of them are in Northwestern China, especially in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Ten of the 56 ethnic groups in China believe in Islam: the Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz, Ozbek, Tatar, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar, and Bonan. There are more than 34,000 mosques and more than 45,000 imams in China. Most Chinese Muslims are Sunnis.
It was in the mid 7th century, not long after Mohammed died, that Arabic envoys and merchants began to bring Islam to the Middle Kingdom. Arabic and Persian merchants reached Southern and Southwestern China by sea, and reached Chang'an, today's Xi'an through the Silk Road.
With the permission of the Tang (AD 618-907) and Song (960-1127) dynasties, Arabs and Persians established communities in the cities of Guangzhou, Yangzhou, Quanzhou, Hangzhou, Chang'an, Kaifeng, and Luoyang. Abiding by Chinese laws, they kept their religion but intermarried with Chinese.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), hundreds of thousands of soldiers, craftsmen and religious scholars from West and Central Asia moved to China, which further helped the dissemination of Islam in China.
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) had the first written record of Chinese Muslims performing the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's holiest city. Some historians believe the famous Chinese Muslim mariner and diplomat Zheng He (1371-1433) performed the Hajj during his voyage to Arabia.
After the founding of New China in 1949, the China Islamic Association was established in 1953.
The number of Chinese Muslims who perform the hajj has been increasing in recent years. Last year, the number exceeded 10,000 for the first time.