Chinese Hui Muslims protest mosque demolition in Weizhou

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Originally published by Deutsche Welle on August 10, 2018

The grand mosque in remote northern China was slated to be demolished, according to local officials who said it had not been granted proper permits. A rare protest has been held to save the building.

Local sources said a sit-in protest by hundreds of ethnic Hui Muslims took place on Friday to defend the huge new mosque, which was built last year in the northern region of Ningxia.

Protests are rare in China, and news of demonstrations are difficult to verify. Most reports come via unverified social media.

Weizhou officials last week gave the mosque management a deadline of Friday to demolish the building, as they said it had not received the proper permits before it was built. Otherwise it would be forcibly taken down.

A government proposal to replace the mosque’s nine Middle Eastern-style domes and four towering minarets with Chinese-style pagodas was apparently rejected by mosque representatives.

The English-language South China Morning Post reported on Friday that local authorities had agreed to delay the demolition until a reconstruction plan could be agreed with the mosque representatives.

The Hui Muslim community questioned why, if the necessary paperwork was absent, the two-year construction project had not been halted.

Sinicization of religion

While China guarantees freedom of religion, concerns over possible radicalization in Muslim areas has led to stricter controls on Islamic communities since 2015 under the Sinicization of religion. This aims to bring religious groups into line with Chinese culture and under the authority of the ruling Communist Party.

Measures have included a ban on religious education for young people in mosques, a silencing of the call to prayer over loudspeakers and eradication of Arab elements in mosques.

Targeting the Hui?

The Hui Muslims are largely integrated into the local Chinese, Han community. Most of them speak Mandarin, and the only sign of a difference is shown in the white caps and headscarves worn by some traditional Hui Muslims.

But in recent months, controls over the Hui Muslims appear to have been increased as the central government targets another Muslim group, the Uighurs who live in the far western region of Xinjiang and have a far more distinctive and visible culture.

The 11-million-strong Uighur population have found themselves subject to increased surveillance with checkpoints, security cameras, and armed patrols controlling their movements. Thousands of religious buildings have been destroyed.

There have been reports of secretive, re-education centers where the human rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders say Uighur have been detained or forced to attend education sessions.

“Our findings show that, in the villages of Southern Xinjiang, about 660,000 rural residents of ethnic Uyghur background may have been taken away from their homes and detained in re-education camps, while another up to 1.3 million may have been forced to attend mandatory day or evening re-education sessions.”

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is to review China’s implementation of its international convention on Friday.


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