BEIJING (AP) _ Imam al-Haj Salah An Shiwei, who rose from leading a Beijing mosque to head China's state-backed Islamic Association, is dead at 79.

The imam, who had been ill for several months, died Tuesday in Beijing, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

He was buried in accordance with Muslim tradition at a funeral Friday attended by religious leaders and Communist Party and government officials, Xinhua said.

A native of northern Hebei province and a member of the Muslim Hui ethnic group, the imam began studying the Koran at age 9. He became imam of a mosque in Beijing's Handkerchief Lane in 1948.

After the Communist takeover of China a year later, he served as imam in two other Beijing mosques. He started working for China's Islamic Association in 1956, becoming its vice president in 1980 and president in 1993.

He also served as a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top government advisory body, since 1978.