Tuesday, October 23, 2018 | ePaper

Thousands in China mosque standoff over demolition plan

  • Print


Chinese Hui Muslims pray during Eid al-Fitr prayers at Niujie Mosque in Beijing. Authorities in northwestern China were poised to begin demolition of a mosque on Friday.

AP, Beijing :
Thousands of Muslims gathered at a mosque in northwestern China on Friday to protest its planned demolition in a rare, public pushback to the government's efforts to rewrite how religions are practiced in the country.
A large crowd of Hui people, a Muslim ethnic minority, began congregating at the towering Grand Mosque in the town of Weizhou on Thursday, local Hui residents told The Associated Press by phone.
"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 comes as faith groups that were largely tolerated in the past have seen their freedoms shrink as the government seeks to "Sinicize" religions by making the faithful prioritize allegiance to the officially atheist ruling Communist Party. 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.
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 just last year.
The town's Communist Party secretary had even made a congratulatory speech at the site when the mosque's construction began, said Ma Zhiguo, a resident in his late 70s.
The authorities planned to take down eight out of the nine domes topping the mosque on the grounds that the structure was built larger than permitted, Ma said. But community members were standing their ground, he added.
"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. Photos online show the mosque to be a palatial white structure, with towering columns, vertical windows and a Chinese national flag erected out front.
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.
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. Ma said the official did not make any specific promises, but tried to assure the protesters that the government would work with them on the matter.
More than a hundred police officers surrounded the mosque, but did not attempt to stop the protest, according to Ma.
Public demonstrations are rare in China, where the government is often quick to quash any hint of dissent. Under President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party is cracking down on religious expression and attacking what it calls radical ideas among the country's more than 20 million Muslims.
In the far west region of Xinjiang, following sporadic violent attacks by radical Muslim separatists, hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur and Kazakh Muslim minorities have been arbitrarily detained in indoctrination camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party.
Compared to those ethnic groups, the Hui are culturally much closer to China's Han majority, similar in appearance and speaking a variation of the mainstream Mandarin language.
But recently, reports said authorities have shut down Hui religious schools and Arabic classes and barred children from participating in Muslim activities.
James Leibold, a scholar of Chinese ethnic policies at Melbourne's La Trobe University, said the proposed demolition of the Weizhou mosque appeared to be part of a recent "far more assimilatory policy" toward ethnic minorities.
"The ultimate agenda is to erode minority identity and create a sense of belonging and connection to Chinese identity and Chinese culture," Leibold said.

More News For this Category

Trump to cut Central America aid as migrant caravan rolls on

Trump to cut Central America aid as migrant caravan rolls on

AFP, Mexico :President Donald Trump said Monday the United States will start cutting aid to three Central American countries as a caravan of thousands of mostly Honduran migrants rolled on

US warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions

US warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions

Reuters, Washington  :The United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday in the second such operation this year, as the U.S. military increases the frequency of transits

France's ban on full-body Islamic veil violates human rights: UN rights panel

Reuters, Geneva :The U.N. Human Rights Committee said on Tuesday that France's ban on the niqab, the full-body Islamic veil, was a violation of human rights.France had failed to make

S Korea approves N Korea deals amid conservative opposition

S Korea approves N Korea deals amid conservative opposition

AP. Seoul :The government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday formally approved the rapprochement deals he made with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.The step is

Torture in Palestinian jails 'systematic': HRW

Torture in Palestinian jails 'systematic': HRW

AFP, Ramallah  :The Palestinian security forces "systematically" abuse and torture prisoners in what could amount to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.The rival authorities of the Palestinian Authority

News in brief

Top scientists warn of consequences of BrexitAP, LondonTop scientists from around Europe have warned that Britain leaving the European Union without an agreement on future relations would harm research across

Turkey turns up heat on Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi

Turkey turns up heat on Saudi crown prince over Khashoggi

AFP  :Turkey's pro-government media published new claims on Monday linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to

Honduran migrants prepare to march on after Trump vows to halt them

Honduran migrants prepare to march on after Trump vows to halt them

AFP  :Thousands of Honduran migrants whose trek toward the United States has triggered tirades from US President Donald Trump prepared to continue their march Monday after a second night in

King says Jordan to reclaim land held by Israel under 1994 deal

Al Jazeera News :Jordan has told Israel that it intends to reclaim two tracts of territories remained in Israeli private ownership under a 1994 peace treaty, King Abdullah II has

US security chief Bolton in Moscow for talks on nuclear treaty

US security chief Bolton in Moscow for talks on nuclear treaty

AFP :White House national security advisor John Bolton on Monday began two days of meetings with senior Russian officials following Washington's weekend announcement of its withdrawal from a Cold War-era