A newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday said that no religion is above the law in China, urging officials to stay firm while dealing with a rare protest over the planned demolition of a massive mosque in the nation’s northwest.
The Global Times said that local officials in the town of Weizhou in Ningxia, a region that is home to many ethnic minority Hui Muslims, must act against what it described as an illegal expansion of a religious building.
Thousands of Hui gathered at the towering Grand Mosque on Thursday and Friday to prevent authorities from demolishing the structure, residents contacted by reporters said.
“People are in a lot of pain,” said Ma Sengming, a 72-year-old man who was at the protest from Thursday morning until Friday afternoon. “Many people were crying. We can’t understand why this is happening.”
Ma said the group shouted “Protect faith in China!” and “Love the country, love the faith!”
The protest came as faith groups have seen their freedoms shrink as the government seeks to “Sinicize” religions by making the faithful prioritize allegiance to the officially atheist CCP. Islamic crescents and domes have been stripped from mosques, Christian churches have been shut down and Bibles seized, and Tibetan children have been moved from Buddhist temples to schools.
Such efforts were clearly behind the planned demolition of the mosque in Weizhou, where dozens of men, women and children milled about on the mosque steps, on plastic chairs and in the large dirt parking lot yesterday before dawn prayers. Above them hung long banners from the second story of the mosque that read in Chinese: “Stick to directives of Sinicized religion.”
The mosque, a white building lit at night with gold, green and yellow, dwarfs the surrounding dim warren of brick and concrete homes. Its architecture of four minarets and nine domes tipped with crescent moons would be at home anywhere in the Islamic world, save for the large red-and-yellow Chinese flags fluttering from the ramparts and the wide central staircase.
The residents of Weizhou were alarmed by news that the government was planning to demolish the mosque, despite initially appearing to approve its construction, which was completed last year.
The authorities now planned to take down eight out of the nine domes topping the mosque on the grounds that the structure was built larger than permitted, said Ma Zhiguo, a resident in his late 70s.
However, community members were standing their ground, he said.
“How could we allow them to tear down a mosque that is still in good condition?” he said, adding that the mosque conducts prayers attended by about 30,000 Muslims and was built using believers’ personal funds.
Officials in the county and city propaganda offices said they were not aware of the situation.
Other local authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Global Times said in an editorial yesterday that the authorities had to send a message to all religious groups that none of them are above the law.
“Demolishing the mosque is sure to earn the ire of local religious followers. However, if the local government does not react to the illegal act, it will fuel the idea that religions are superior over China’s laws,” the paper said.
In May, the county disciplinary inspection commission published a notice saying that Weizhou authorities had failed to properly inspect what it said was illegal expansion in the construction of the Grand Mosque.
As a result of lax supervision, four mosques in the county had received a total of 1.07 million yuan (US$156,148) in foreign donations, the notice said.
It did not specify whether the Grand Mosque was among the four.
Ma Sengming said protesters remained at the mosque through the night from Thursday to Friday and were twice visited by a local official who encouraged them to go home.
The official did not make any specific promises, but tried to assure the protesters that the government would work with them on the matter, Ma Sengming said.
More than 100 police officers surrounded the mosque, but did not attempt to stop the protest, he said.
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