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China Oppresses Muslims; Even Islamic Nations Look The Other Way

What has been happening in China for the past several decades is worse than dumping people Auschwitz-style and yet the comity of nations hardly speaks on the crackdown on Islamic culture in the Xinjiang province

There is something about communist states that the liberals and champions of freedom of expression across the world ignore their excesses in a manner as though they never happened. In the yesteryears, they never spoke of Joseph Stalin’s gulags while crying their voice hoarse over Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps. What has been happening in China for the past several decades is worse than dumping people Auschwitz-style and yet the comity of nations hardly speaks on the crackdown on Islamic culture in the Xinjiang province. The repression of Muslims is much wider, geographically and culturally, in China — suggests satellite imagery spanning two decades and other open-source material.

Take, for example, China’s Gansu and Ningxia provinces. Hui Muslims are the predominant class here. Muslims, known as Huijiao in China, are the largest demographic section among the country’s minorities.

While Mao Zedong, on proclaiming the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) permitted just four faiths on the mainland — Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism — refusing to improve the tolerance of Kuomintang predecessors. The persecution of religious minorities followed. In due course of the communist rule, out of 900 pre-1949 temples of different faiths, only 18 are left now, says independent scholar Ian Johnson. That is, 98% of temples in Beijing fell to disuse and disrepair over the past 70 years.

A South China Morning Post (CCP mouthpiece) report says the ruling party reached an accord with the Vatican in August 2016 for the appointment of bishops, mostly in Hong Kong. But this was hardly a show of its tolerance of faiths. It was a bid to keep the heads of the religion under the watch and control of Beijing. Further, it was to balance the leverage Taiwan enjoys in the Christian world.

The Global Times, another mouthpiece of the CCP, reported in September 2017 that all five religious groups have “agreed to Sinicize their religions by integrating (their) religious doctrines into Chinese culture”. The Catholic faith was the fifth religion added to all official documents.

Muslim names banned in China

In April 2017, the CCP prohibited 29 Muslim names in what was East Turkestan, now called Xinjiang. China considers these names ‘extremist’.

  • Islam
  • Quran
  • Mecca
  • Imam
  • Saddam
  • Hajj
  • Medina
  • Muhammad

The above are some of the Islamic names that cannot figure in the name of a citizen of China or his newborn child — a prohibition the atheist Han-dominated Chinese government imposed to subjugate the followers of Islam. Deputy spokesperson for China’s foreign-affairs ministry Zhao Lijian used to be called Muhammad Lijian Zhao once upon a time. Beijing told the diplomat in Pakistan to drop “Muhammad” from his name. Not only did he oblige, China’s client state Pakistan, otherwise infamous for practising a radical version of Islam, did not make even a squeak of a protest to this and worse instances of repression of Muslims in China.

China says it endeavours to curb terrorism and extremism on the mainland. Imagine even an inconsequential Indian politician making a similar suggestion. Heads of international groups from the Organisation of Islamic Countries to the United Nations, journalists from those in The Times of India to The New York Times, broadcasters from NDTV to BBC, will start jumping up and down as though their pants are on fire.

‘Don’t dare look Muslim’

The self-styled Chen Quanguo-led Chinese Communist Party set out new rules for ‘abnormal’ beards and full-body veils in March 2017. The Chinese government directed cops in public spaces like bus stands, railway stations and airports to ensure people who covered faces and had long, flowing beards were not allowed entry. The diktat, a clear infringement upon human and religious rights of ethnic Muslims, did not lead to condemnation of China anywhere in the world.

Xi Jinping’s rule in China began with Chen-like leaders coming down heavily on Muslims and Islamic culture. Police went door-to-door, forcing Muslims to Sinicize mosques. The Chinese government removes domes on mosques and minarets, the hallmarks of Islamic architecture, with flat roofs typifying Chinese architecture.

Witnessed in the Hui-dominated Muslim regions of Ningxia and Gansu, this rampant Sinicization seems to have caused a numbing sensation even in the local Muslim populace. They do not even sign petitions to the government. If one asks for the renovation of a mosque, the demolition squad arrives to demolish the dome of the mosque! The campaign has been on for many years now.

Islamic Republic of Pakistan grins and bears it

Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan feigns ignorance on the subject. When asked in a TV interview in 2019 about China’s clampdown on its Muslim minorities, he said, “I do not know the situation on this. Chinese have been a breath of fresh air in this doom and gloom. They have helped Pakistan in areas which they want us to be kept confidential. They have promised revival of the economy of Pakistan. I would not criticise China publicly.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese Special Economic Zones along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have no infrastructure other than accommodation for some drivers. Especially in PoK, the Chinese have taken over these SEZ buildings.

And imagine the dare! In CPEC, the Chinese took over a mosque in Sost and repainted its dome, which used to be white, red.

Khwaja Nazim

By Khwaja Nazim

Activist based in Hyderabad and former member of the Aam Aadmi Party