Thursday, February 21, 2019 | 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

News In Brief

Pak Provincial Assembly Speaker arrested AP, Islamabad  Pakistan's anti-corruption body says it has arrested the speaker of a provincial assembly and member of an opposition party headed by former President

Flynn pushed to share nuclear tech with Saudis: Congressional report

AP, Washington :Senior White House officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia despite the objections of ethics and national security officials, according to a

Palestinian President rejects tax money from Israel

Palestinian President rejects tax money from Israel

Reuters, Ramallah, West Bank :The Palestinian Authority (PA) will no longer accept tax revenues collected on its behalf by Israel following its decision to trim the sum over the

Putin promises Russians better living conditions 'within this year'

Putin promises Russians better living conditions 'within this year'

AFP, Moscow  :President Vladimir Putin promised Russians rapid improvements in their living conditions as he delivered his annual state of the nation address Wednesday under pressure from falling approval

Pakistan PM urges talks on Kashmir blast, warns India against attack

Pakistan PM urges talks on Kashmir blast, warns India against attack

Reuters, Islamabad :Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday Pakistan was ready to cooperate with India in its investigation of a deadly bombing in the disputed Kashmir region last

Japan trial to treat spinal cord injuries with stem cells

Japan trial to treat spinal cord injuries with stem cells

AFP, Tokyo :The health ministry approved Monday the world's first clinical test in which artificially derived stem cells will be used to treat patients with spinal cord injuries.A team

IS defends final pocket of dying 'caliphate' in Syria

IS defends final pocket of dying 'caliphate' in Syria

AFP, Baghouz (Syria) :Islamic State group jihadists were defending the last pocket of their "caliphate" in Syria on Monday, as EU foreign ministers meet to discuss the crisis after

Australia says 'state actor' hacked parties, parliament

Australia says 'state actor' hacked parties, parliament

AFP, Sydney :Australia on Monday said a "sophisticated state actor" had hacked the country's main political parties and parliament, just weeks before a closely fought election.Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Russia pioneering return of 'ISIS children'

Russia pioneering return of 'ISIS children'

AFP, Moscow :As the end nears for the IS enclave in Syria and the fate of jihadists' family members becomes a prescient issue, Russia can be seen as a

`Crime may have been committed` by Trump: Ex-FBI official

`Crime may have been committed` by Trump: Ex-FBI official

AP, Washington :Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said in an interview that aired Sunday that a "crime may have been committed" when President Donald Trump fired the head