Tucked away within ancient trees and surrounded by towering walls, the tomb of Saʿd ibn Abī Waqqās, sometimes referred to locally as the Shrine of Islamic Sage in Guangzhou, China, welcomes droves of visitors regularly to its hallowed grounds.
Some arrive to participate in religious services on site and to pay homage to their faith. But most come to pay respect to the missionary who first brought Islam to China over 1,000 years ago, who is said to have been laid to rest here.
During the early years of the Tang Dynasty in China, Saʿd ibn Abī Waqqās, an accomplished soldier and one of the very first converts to Islam, conducted regular diplomatic visits to China. He was a relative of the Prophet Muhammad through his mother, and is often referred to as the Prophet’s uncle. Saʿd ibn Abī Waqqās spread his faith in China, where he is revered and celebrated today, as evinced by the streams of worshippers who visit his burial site daily.
Anyone is welcome to visit the area but only people of Muslim faith may enter into the tomb itself, to pay respects. To get to it, visitors walk the stone pathways and through the myriad trees into centuries-old colorful buildings, passing by little gardens, gravestones, and signs with Chinese inscriptions. In a way, the area resembles something of a small campus, a place where people can walk a little and consider the significance of where they are. In this way, the shrine is a place for thought and introspection as much as it is for reverence.
The city of Guangzhou, which as of this writing is home to more than 14 million people, has grown and changed in vast proportions in recent years, but the shrine for the first Islamic missionary in China has remained intact and largely undisturbed for the last millennium, and counting.
Know Before You Go
There is more to see at this location besides the tomb. There is also an active mosque and extensive grounds and park space.