Mention Tibet, and the first thing that comes to mind is the Dalai Lama and Buddhism. However, Muslims have been as much a part of the fabric of Tibetan culture as their Buddhist counterparts.
It is hard to distinguish Muslim Tibetans from their Buddhist compatriots since they share the same language, food, clothing, culture and heritage. Tibetan Muslims have also contributed to the preservation of Tibetan culture wherever in the world they have settled. It is only their faith that sets them apart.
Historically, Muslim traders from Kashmir and Ladakh settled in Tibet in the 17th century, during the time of the fifth Dalai Lama. They were granted permission to build mosques and have burial ground along with other privileges such as being able to buy land and continue their trade. They started marrying Tibetan Buddhist women, who later converted to Islam. As the community expanded, it later included Tibetans of Nepali origin.
Lhasa still has four mosques, the first of which Bada Masjid was built in 1716 with a smaller one built in the 1920s. The remaining two mosques are in Gyangda Linka, where the burial ground is located. There are two more mosques in Xigatse and Changdu.
Tibetan Muslims in Lhasa were always allowed to freely practice their religion. But after the Chinese annexation in 1950, most Muslims migrated to Nepal and lndia with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans.