Identitiesof Modern Uyghur’s Mosque Art and Culture reflected from AncientUyghur People

Tableof Contents

Introduction 2

The History of Uyghur people 3

Mosque Structures and Uyghur People 4

Figure 1 6

Figure 2: Modern Mosque 7

Uyghur Culture and Ethnical Art 9

Primitivism of the Uyghur people 10

Figure 3 12

Other Cultural Identities of Uyghur People Reflected in Modern Days 12

References 17


Thereis always a way that we want our identities, feelings, culture,lifestyle and history to be represented in the society, whether it isthrough social activities like football, swimming, the lobster eatingcontest, or martial arts among others. This research paper examineshow Uyghur people have used visual arts to preserve their identitythrough various generations and how their culture is reflected todayin the modern world.

TheHistory of Uyghur people

Butbefore we begin, who are the Uyghur people? It is believed that theyare an ancient group of Turkic-speaking individuals who have lived inCentral Asia for a quite a long time, exactly along the ancient SilkRoad where they established their empire(Dani, Masson, Harmatta, Litvinovskiĭ, Bosworth, &amp Unesco,1999).Their empire was very instrumental in the Tang dynasty as it helpedthem through trade. But as time passed, the Uyghur Empire started tocollapse as a result of internal wrangles, weak kings and externalpolitical interference(Dani et al., 1999).

Also,the Tang dynasty contributed to their fall because they did not aidthem during the war. At these troubling times, their properties wereconfiscated, and some of their writings and paintings were burned(Daniet al., 1999).Some of Uyghur people were ordered to wear and behave like Chinesepeople as they had been defeated in war (Daniet al., 1999).The collapse of their empire denied the Uyghur people the chance toretain an influential position of power as one of the most civilizedsociety. But, that did not mean total collapse, as an endangeredcommunity they developed a regional influence in the area they were.So as to preserve their Uyghur fashion, they established IdiqutUyghur and Uyghur Qara Khanate (Daniet al., 1999).This reorganization and rebuilding lasted until the Mongol invasion.Many Central Asia communities were forced to change their traditionsand culture completely as a result of the new political and socialsystem, but the Chinese, Arabs, Persians and Mongols could notassimilate them apart from only influencing their religion to Islam.They thrived and persisted as a distinct ethnic group. They adoptedIslam in the 10thcentury, and they started to assimilate their culture in thedevelopment of their mosques. It was easy to assimilate this religionbecause they traded with Persian and Arabs, thus with time the Uyghurpeople became the Sunni Muslims.

MosqueStructures and Uyghur People

Peopletend to decorate their houses, for instance, you will choose a singlecolor that matches your floor, chairs, the carpet, and utensils. Tothe Uyghur people, their intrinsic pursuit of aesthetic has led tothe development of a series of exterior and interior decoration art.For instance, they have used furniture and other commodities toflaunt their visual arts. This can be supported by the presence ofexquisite colorful carpets in their mosques. Also, when you examinetheir structural design, you will realize that the mosque is usuallyhighly decorated with symmetric features of some structures, whichmagnify the architectural beauty (Smith,2013).Thus, the mosque attains beautification and decoration by emphasizingon the great looks of both the outside and inner structural design.For these people, religious belief is an inherent trait. Thus, theynaturally integrate the secular and sacred world, making it easy forthem in upholding their traditional artistic creation.

Thoughmosques have Arabic architectural designs and emotions, they havebeen able to integrate their decoration enabling these worshippingplaces to retain and assimilate Uyghur art traditional features(Smith,2013).Every culture, civilization and religion have a distinct view of thefuture as well as a characteristic way of remembering the past, whichimpacts its understanding of present existence. Historically, Uyghurhas influenced and shaped values, ideologies, arts, and theimagination of mosque buildings. Thus, Uyghur has become a majorsource of defining arts in mosque architectural design in their towns(Smith,2013).Conclusively, one can say that Uyghur mosque painting shows astylistic connection between them and their religion as their excessdecoration and beautification display the intensity of Uyghur cultureas a reflection of modern religion. Also, the use of their carpetsand mats in mosques coupled with their structural designs, show howUyghur people still retain and preserve their culture amidstmodernization. Urumqi town in China is occupied by the Uyghurelaborate mosque structures with Arabic letters in Uyghur languagesas its inhabitants are Muslims. The mosques are well maintained,spacious and well lit.

Tounderstand the modern Uyghur mosques, one must revisit the past. Whenwe examine the historical mosques of Uyghur, you will notice thatthey have great recognizable monumental architecture. They are madeof bricks, tall, pointed arches with courtyards vaulted andcylindrical minarets. Recognizable ancient mosques with suchcharacteristics are the Idgah and Emin Minare.



Currently,in China, there about 28000 mosques half of them are located inXinjiang. The modern mosques have retained the architectural designsof the ancient Uyghur people with various advancements such aselaborate decorations. The mosques are painted with floral andgeometric patterns which are repeated all over giving the mosque anattractive look. Also, they are constructed with wood and bricks withceramic tiles lining and Muqarnas decoration.

Theyalso have elaborate windows which point every direction providinglight and good ventilation to the mosque. Also, some mosques havespiral stairways which sometimes head to the top of the mosques.Furthermore, the mosques have rectangular admitting halls which arevery spacious enabling it to accommodate a big number of worshipperswith flat roofs as the region is not rainy. Also, some mosques haveframes that are made of slender beams and column inner walls. Inprominent tombs of the respected Sheikhs, domes are prominent. TheUrumqi town today is camouflaged with magnificent structures ofmosques which have become their social, religious and spiritualhomes. Thus, they have become a valuable heritage and therepresentation of the Uyghur as it communicates and shows theirarchitectural culture to the world.

Figure2: Modern Mosque

Thepreservation of the Uyghur people cultural identity across time isaccredited to some scholars and architectural designers who played asignificant role in protecting the Uyghur’s heritage(Whitfield, Sims-Williams, &amp British Library, 2004).The Uyghur people have continued to use visual art to express andrecord their feelings, culture, lifestyle and history. This is tomean that art has been used by these people as a mirror of worldexperiences of the past and current generations. Their art hasintegrated all the ethnic characteristics thus maintaining itsoriginality and confidentiality. They have expressed their visualarts through frescoes, rocks, sculptures, ornaments, dance, clothes,patterns of decoration, and architectural designs (Kamberi,2005).These visual arts depict history, events of worship, portraits ofmythological beings, and daily life experiences of Uyghur people.Also, their paintings are endowed with arrangements and motifcharacteristic of their culture. Some paintings have vessels, foods,garments, historical figures, and sitting postures such as thehierarchy of cross-legged and kneeling position, and segregation ofsitting places between women and men, which express Uyghur culture(Kamberi,2005).

Anothercommon characteristic of architectural works of the Uyghur mosques isthat they are similar to each other. They employed common techniques,and the material used a particular set of ideas, following a generalorganization of principles that made their work resemble each other,thus making it easy to preserve their ethnic culture (Kamberi,2005).Also, some paintings reveal various stratigraphies. They incorporatedfive layers which corresponded with the painting phasesunderdrawing, gilding, painting, detailing and supplying the bluebackground and used ink- pens or superbly fine brushes to add details(Kamberi,2005).When you examine the ancient drawing of the Uyghur people, you willrealize that most religious elect men were drawn wearing headgearsthat were tall with a wide flat front and narrow at sides. Moreover,the hierarchy of paintings was conveyed through various ways such assize difference, body positions, and placement. High placement andsitting location in pictures indicated importance where religioushierarchy was reflected in the position of figures in a painting. Theelects are placed higher on the picture plane to symbolize theadvanced spiritual rank (Kamberi,2005).

Decorativedetails incorporated standard halo elements such as flowers anddiamond shaped drawings. The paintings were dominated with a balanceddensity throughout. On the other hand, compactness was attained bythe light placement of decorative figures and through real andimaginary additions such as foliage textile, furniture halo and food.Scenes were also arranged symmetrically, and this effect was cleverlyaccomplished by even distribution of visual weights (Kamberi,2005).

UyghurCulture and Ethnical Art

Thoughthe visual arts today are not identical to that of the Uyghur peopleof the past due to modernization and other factors, they areconsistent in lifestyle, view of the sacred, language, and characters(Smith, 2013).Through their work, you can establish a close relationship betweentheir visual arts and religion. Also, they have shown theirenthusiasm, optimism, an open mind and magnanimity by transformingdifferent art styles that had roots from Arab and Persian countriesby displaying a mixture of visual features using bright, clear anddecorative patterns in their mosques (Smith,2013).Uyghur people have used concrete visual images such as motifs torepresent their unique formal style and special artisticcharacteristics. It is through this that they have remained consciousof their identity and avoided being assimilated by other communitieseven today (Smith,2013).

Thus,as they were influenced by Buddhism and Islam they still did upholdtheir features and emphasized on exaggerated visual flaunts forms toshow their artistic styles of their ethnic group in their religiousbuildings. Furthermore, when you examine Uyghur’s mosque art, youwill realize that it characterized by a strong decorative style withaesthetic perceptions such as magnificence, fervency, exaggeration,and over-elaboration. Therefore, this beauty has been translated intheir clothes, utensils, the carpet, and buildings whileover-elaboration and magnificence are correlated to their dignifiedand decent life in pursuit of art. It is difficult to talk aboutUyghur mosques without mention how their religion has influencedtheir ethnic culture.

Primitivismof the Uyghur people

Despitemodernization, they have remained primitive. They have persisted ontheir traditional attire. There are various clothes that are highlyassociated with the Uyghur culture which has been influenced by theirreligion and intent to preserve their culture. For instance, Atlashas become a very crucial cloth making material in the lives of theUyghur people(Xinjiang Travel).It resembles and is made in the same manner as silk. Commonly,clothes of Uyghur people are composed of sapphire, pink, purple,orange, yellow, black, white, and brilliant green colors. Also, theyare soft resilient and flexible. The Uyghur people have maintainedtheir decorative culture while sticking to beauty and modernism(Xinjiang Travel).These clothes are usually long and decent as recommended by theirreligion. The clothes are made such that they are fit for worship inmosques

Flowercap is also an attire that is associated with the Uyghur people, alsoknown as Multi-pa(Xinjiang Travel).This cap is the common attire for all Muslim men. It has beenconsidered as the heritage symbol of Uyghur people in the Xinjiangregion. The caps are of various varieties which are either silk knot,beaded, trellis, cruciferous, chain-like a fence, thorns, string,disk integrated, tie, silver and gold embroidery(Xinjiang Travel).Also, they employ different patterns such as asymmetric, Padanshavings, or floor top fall piece patterns depending on the type ofcap(Xinjiang Travel).The making of these caps is based on the ethnic, natural symbol ofUyghur people. They express customs, feelings, and the identity ofUyghur people. Worth to note, the world smallest flower cap accordingto the Guinness Book of World Records is the Yutian Uyghur cap(Xinjiang Travel).They remain to be people of the cap because they have only changedthe design since the Bronze Age.

Furthermore,their primitive nature is shown through the way they havecommunicated their identity to the world by manufacturing of carpets.These carpets have had a long standing history not only to the peopleof Uyghur but also to the world as they are usually used to elaboratethe decoration of mosques. They are smooth and soft with glossy andbright colors(Xinjiang Travel).The characteristics have enabled these carpets to retain theirdistinctive national features and strong colors. The production ofthis material has resulted in the reference of Xinjiang and naming ofthe carpet as the home of oriental and Xinjiang carpet respectively(XinjiangTravel).The color, style and the patterns of the Xinjiang carpet reflect avery rich culture of the Uyghur people of elaborating beauty ofmosques. By observing the carpet, you will take note of the fact thatthey have very strong color contrast and neat with symmetricalpatterns and clear rough lines. Another renowned carpet is the HotanCarpet, which is named after the town it is made in. It is made fromsheep wool fiber, and it has become an important cultural relic, justas a gold blanket collection(Xinjiang Travel). You can see some carpets and Uyghur in Figure 3 below.

Figure3OtherCultural Identities of Uyghur People Reflected in Modern Days

Theyalso treasure independence and long to be free this is supported bytheir most famous saying, “it is better to be head of a calf thanto be a hoof of an ox (Dani et al., 1999).” This ideology promotestheir basic principle, to think as an independent people not beingswayed by others, no matter their wealth and size. It is thisprinciple, which has enabled the Uyghur people to retain theirtraditions and religion and pass them over many generations as retaintheir ethnic identity. They also treasured education as a communityand encouraged each other to read (Dani et al., 1999). This can alsobe seen in the Uyghur people today. They have proven to be socialpeople who like to live their life without the influence of otherpeople. Though modernization is everywhere, they have tried to adoptit in enhancing their culture (Smith,2013).

Also,the ancestors of the Uyghur people treasured religion as it is foundin archeological manuscripts (Dani et al., 1999). This can besupported by the ritualized quality of the religious devotions andthe participation of the audience, making it a very crucial socialand cultural activity. The religious metaphors and texts capture themood and explain the significance of religious literature. The Uyghurpeople embraced certain religious institutional activities such asdaily prayer as well as offering religious teaching in the mosque,the temple, monastery and even streets (Dani et al., 1999). Theseteachings followed an established group participation tradition thatallowed people to be aware of the rituals of religion. Today, Uyghurpeople usually do a processional performance during religiousfestivals (Smith,2013).They are offered in respect for divine and the enjoyment of Uyghurculture, and they vary little as the group parade from one mosque toanother mosque and temple to temple. These rituals are used by Uyghurpeople to express their traditional religion to other people (Smith,2013).

Oneimportant ritual that is celebrated today is the Corban Festival. Itis celebrated on the 10th day of the second month according to theIslamic calendar (Smith,2013).During this time, Uyghur people express their faith and gratitude inIslam. As they are colorful people, they usually make sure that theyprepare well for this day by cleaning, slaughtering and waking upearly in the morning to worship at local mosques (Smith,2013).Meals are then divided between the owner, friends, and relatives, andthe rest is donated. They sing and dance in public, promoting harmonyand reinstating their tradition as Uyghur people (Smith,2013).

Uyghurpeople usually eat three meals per day and have upheld the culture ofdrinking tea (Smith,2013).They have continued to treasure watermelon as their favorite fruit.Just as their ancestors and due to the influence of Islam, they donot eat pig meat as it is considered unclean (Smith,2013).Also, they eat only meat from an animal killed by their people inUyghur way(Smith, 2013).This shows you how the community keeps on preserving its ethnicityover time because it avoids contamination by assimilating with othercultures.

Indressing, ancient portraits show that people used to wear decentclothes that were made from silk and cotton as they were involved inits trade(Whitfield et al., 2004).Today, despite modernization and a fashion of short dresses andexposed breast cleavage, Uyghur women dress in one piece dress withbaggy sleeves and bright vests with contrast colors, which arecomplemented by silk scarves (Smith,2013).Men wear gowns paired with scarves around their waist. Just as theirtraditional ancestors liked to wear caps, the difference being insizes and shapes, today, Uygur people never go anywhere without themand as explained in cap’s paragraph, and they usually decorate them(Smith,2013).These dressing styles have been influenced by their religion as thereis a certain dress code that must be worn in mosques.

Somemarriage traditions such as arranged marriages are still beingpracticed according to Uyghur Muslim. Marriage in the Uyghurcommunity still involves three stages, pre-wedding, wedding, andpost-wedding (Smith,2013).When people intend to marry, they go through marriage customs andinterviews (Smith,2013).These are customs of showing thoughtfulness and reverence formarriage. The bridegroom and his family members ask for consent tomarry the girl. After that, a tea ceremony follows where gifts aregiven to the bride’s family(Smith, 2013).The wedding lasts three days. These processes are used to ensure thatthe spouses know each other well and their families, and tolegitimize the marriage.

Funeralsare prepared and organized by an elected community leader accordingto Islam religion. The deceased is usually buried on the second dayafter death (Smith,2013).Men mourn by tying white girdles around their waist while women wearwhite kerchiefs on their heads (Smith,2013).The body is washed, and prayer rituals are performed. In the morningof the burial, the grave is dug inclined to eastward. The memorialservices are held on the third, seventh, fortieth and a year later.The culture advocates that it is not appropriate to cook in the houseof the deceased within three days before the memorial services(Smith,2013).Light is kept lit in the house of the deceased for 40 days, asrelative gather every night in that house praying and cooking amemorial round cake while relatives and friends bring food gifts.After one year, the memorial service is lifted (Smith,2013).The funeral rites have been easily preserved as they are coordinatedwith religious rites which have been passed down from one generationto another.

Onthe other hand, the Uyghur people are observant to various traditionsregarding birth of a child. They observe the naming, putting the babyin the cradle and circumcision ceremony. Previously, the pregnantwoman would deliver in their mother’s place, but with the emergenceof the hospitals these has changed (Smith,2013).The mother delivers her child in the hospital and then heads to hermother’s house. There they are taken care of as the baby isprotected from the evil within the first 40 days (Smith,2013).On the twelfth day, the baby is named with the husband and hisrelative visiting with gifts and meals. On the 40th day, the babywill be bathed with water that has been salted, sugared and wished bywomen, and then the hair and nail are cut (Smith,2013).The following childbirth will take place in the father house. Thebaby cradle ceremony takes place at the house of the young motherwhere parents of the husband bring gifts for the ceremonial laying.Also, female friends and relatives are also welcomed. The mother ofthe baby takes care of all the expenses of the rites. Thecircumcision is organized at the age of 5 to 7 years (Smith,2013).


Thus,the Uyghur people have preserved their ethnic art and religionthrough assimilating their ways into the modern ways (Smith,2013).Mosques in this research show how the Uyghur people have assimilatedtheir culture of decoration and beautification in worship andreligion. They have gone miles ahead and produced commodities thatconform to various modern products of the modern day (Smith,2013).These are clothes, caps, and carpet. The commodity has made sure thatit preserves its culture by providing its product that can beconsumed internationally and also by its local people promoting theirheritage (Smith,2013).On the other hand, when you look at culture, the Uyghur people havepreserved it and continue to share it with the world through variousscenes and platforms. They have tried to keep their ethnicity intactwith little contamination. This has been the principle upon theircontinual ethnic perseverance despite many external and moderninfluences.


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