Sat, Aug 11, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Chinese decry mosque demolition plan

‘CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS’:Hundreds of ethnic Hui Muslims gathered at a huge new mosque that was to be forcibly demolished yesterday, as China seeks to sinicize religion

Reuters, BEIJING

Hundreds of ethnic Hui Muslims staged a sit-in protest in China’s western region of Ningxia against government plans to demolish a huge new mosque, amid tightening curbs on Islam to pull its practice in line with the Chinese mainstream.

China officially guarantees freedom of religion, but in recent years officials nervous about the possibility of radicalization and violence have tightened controls in heavily Muslim areas.

The Weizhou grand mosque, with numerous Middle Eastern-style domes and minarets, had not received proper permits before construction, officials in the town of Weizhou said in a notice on Friday last week.

The mosque was to be forcibly demolished yesterday, they said in the notice, widely circulated among Chinese Muslims on social media.

The order provoked anger among villagers, but talks between mosque representatives and officials have failed to reach agreement, as worshipers rejected a government plan to spare the mosque if its domes were replaced with pagodas more in keeping with Chinese style, one source in the area said.

Hundreds of villagers were gathering at the mosque yesterday morning and the town’s mayor was expected to hold discussions in the afternoon, said the source, who requested anonymity.

“If we sign, we are selling out our religious faith,” a Weizhou mosque supporter said in a note on messaging app WeChat, urging villagers not to sign on to the mosque rebuilding plan.

“I can’t talk about this issue,” mosque director Ding Xuexiao said when reached by telephone.

Mosque imam Ma Liguo said the situation was “currently being coordinated.”

There was a protest at the mosque yesterday, a man at a government religious office in the county confirmed, adding that the government only wanted the structure “renovated to reduce its scale.”

“The work with the public is ongoing. There has not been a specific consensus reached on the rectification plan,” said the man, who declined to be identified.

Reuters could not immediately reach the Weizhou government to seek comment and officials in the surrounding county of Tongxin declined to comment.

Videos on social media on Thursday, which Reuters could not independently verify, showed large crowds gathered outside the mosque and police vans parked nearby. The protest appeared to be peaceful.

Senior Chinese officials have urged Muslims to guard against creeping Islamization, such as foreign styles copied on mosques, and strive to practice their faith in a more “Chinese” way.

Well-integrated in society with decades of smooth ties with the government, many Hui have watched with detachment as authorities have subjected the far western region of Xinjiang and its Uighur Muslims to near-martial law, with armed police checkpoints, reeducation centers and mass DNA collection.

The treatment of Uighurs has spurred an international outcry, with US officials saying tens of thousands of people have been detained in Xinjiang’s detention centers.

However, China’s policy of “sinification” of religion has increasingly alarmed many Hui, who fear it is widening its strict measures in Xinjiang to additional Muslim areas, such as Ningxia and neighboring Gansu Province.

In the crackdown, the government has banned religious education for young people in mosques, ordered that the call to prayer over loudspeakers be silenced and sought to stamp out what it sees as Arab elements in mosques.

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