FW: XINJIANG: Strict control of China's Uighur Muslims continues
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From: mtohti@uyghurcanadian.org
To: Turdish <rukiye_t@hotmail.com>
Subject: XINJIANG: Strict control of China's Uighur Muslims continues
Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2006 14:26:46 -0700
XINJIANG: Strict control of China's Uighur Muslims continues

By Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org

This article was published by F18News on: 15 August 2006

In China's north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, control over
Islam continues to be much stricter than over other religions, Forum 18
News Service has found. However, the authorities' control over mosques
used by Dungans – a Chinese Muslim people - is less strict than over
mosques used by Uighurs. Many Uighur's are Muslims, and their
religiosity is often closely connected with separatism. Pressure – for
example on the texts of Friday sermons, and attempts to force
schoolchildren and state employees such as teachers to abjure Islam –
is applied more strictly in the north of the region. There is also a
ban in Xinjiang on the private Islamic religious education of children.
In response, Forum 18 has noted that Uighur parents often take their
children to other parts of China, where they can study freely at a
medresseh. Islamic movements such as Sufism and Wahhabism are
repressed, and the authorities are attempting to assimilate Uighurs
through economic inducements. This policy, Forum 18 has found, has made
some impact amongst Uighur Muslims.

In China's north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, control over
Muslim religious believers is much stricter than over believers of other
religions, Forum 18 News Service has found. However, the authorities'
control over Dungan mosques is less strict than over mosques used by
Uighurs, a Turkic people mainly found in Xinjiang but also in Central
Asian states. (The Dungans are a Chinese Muslim people also found in
Central Asian states.)

The reason for this is that the Chinese government presumes - with some
justification - that Uighur religiosity has a connection with advocacy
of a separate Uighur state. The Chinese government's great sensitivity
on this topic has been highlighted by the recent detention in
Uzbekistan and deportation to China of a Canadian citizen and refugee
from China, Huseyincan Celil, who is a Uighur activist and imam. On the
surface though, there is within Xinjiang an apparent state tolerance of
religious belief alongside tight state controls (see F18News 4 April
2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=537).

Many Uighur's are Muslims, which shows itself in, for example, the
widespread refusal by Uighur's to go to a Chinese restaurant because
the food is not prepared according to Muslim requirements. Many
devoutly Muslim Uighurs told Forum 18 that they do not think that they
have the right – in Islam – to accept living under the rule of China,
because "the Chinese are heathens." By comparison, in Central Asia when
it was part of the Soviet Union, such arguments were not heard amongst
devout Muslims, who had no hesitation in going to Russian restaurants.

Every Friday morning Xinjiang's imams are obliged to go to their local
state Religious Affairs Bureau, to discuss the text of their Friday
sermon with officials, Forum 18 learnt. At these Friday meetings, imams
receive only "general instructions and may improvise" in their sermons.
During the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, the authorities force
Muslim schoolchildren to have lunch. State employees are under similar
pressure. "I am a deeply believing Muslim, but I have to hide this from
my colleagues," one local Muslim teacher who preferred not to be named
told Forum 18. "As a school teacher I cannot wear a beard and perform
the namaz [Muslim prayers] at work. During Ramadan I have to eat with
the other teachers in order to hide my faith." The teacher added that
praying at home, without revealing this to others, would not cause
problems (see F18News 29 September 2005

One medresseh [Islamic religious school] teacher told Forum 18 that the
private teaching of religion to children is banned. "Children may
receive a religious education only after the age of 15 in the medresseh
in every district of Xinjiang or in the Islamic university in Urumqi,"
the teacher, who asked not to be named, told Forum 18 in Kashgar in
late July 2006 (see F18News 15 September 2004
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=411). "When students are
admitted their political views are investigated. During their studies,
alongside religious subjects the students also study the policy of the
Chinese Communist Party." This ban on the Islamic religious teaching of
children is not applied rigorously outside Xinjiang (see F18News 1
September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=641). In
response, Uighur parents often take their children to other parts of
China, where they can study freely at a medresseh.

Similar prohibitions on the religious education of children also apply
to the state-controlled Patriotic Catholic Church in Xinjiang (see
F18News 28 March 2005

The strictness of the authorities' control over Muslims also depends
directly on the level of religiosity of Uighurs in different districts
of Xinjiang. For example, in Hotan and Kashgar there is a notice at all
mosques to the effect that state employees and children are not allowed
to attend the mosque. In the yard of the mosque, detailed instructions
are posted about what one is not allowed to do in the mosque (see
F18News 28 September 2004
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=421). And in Hotan, where
the population is more religious than in Kashgar, the number of
instructions is greater.

However in Urumqi, Ghulja (the capital of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous
Prefecture, bordering Kazakhstan) and in Turpan (Eastern Xinjiang), as
well as in the Altai, - all regions in the north of Xinjiang - there
are no such notices. The reason for this appears to be that the local
Uighurs are less religious than those in the south. In Urumqi, Forum 18
observed children present at the mosque. "In principle the ban on
children attending the mosque is not applied too strictly and children
sometimes attend the mosque with their parents," the imam of the Usman
mosque in Kashgar, Emed haji Yusuf, told Forum 18 on 30 July.

By contrast, in Hotan the ban on children attending the mosque is
applied very strictly. For example, during the Friday prayers police
guard the mosques to ensure that children do not attend.

The Chinese government also wages a strict campaign against Islamic
movements such as Sufism and Wahhabism (followers of the form of Islam
practised in Saudi Arabia). Sufism is found mostly in southern Xinjiang
(in Hotan and Kashgar). The Sufi zikr ceremony (ritual songs and dances)
is banned, as are rituals at the graves of devout Muslims (see F18News
26 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=659).
Books by Sufi authors are banned and Chinese scholars assert in their
research that Sufism is a distortion of Islam. It is possible that the
reason for this position is that, in the 19th century, it was members
of the Sufi brotherhoods who resisted Chinese forces most fiercely.
(There was a similar situation in Central Asia and the Caucasus during
the 19th century Russian conquest.) In contrast, in the neighbouring
Central Asian states Sufism is often encouraged by the governments,
since the Sufi form of Islam which has become intertwined with local
traditions is seen an effective alternative to fundamentalists.

Just as in Central Asia, so-called Wahhabis appeared in Xinjiang in the
1990s when local Muslims had the opportunity to go on the haj
pilgrimage to Mecca, which is obligatory in Islam for those who are
able to perform it. "The Wahhabis were very easy to spot," imam Emed
haji Yusuf of Kashgar's Usman mosque told Forum 18. "They performed the
namaz a little differently from us. However, about five years ago the
authorities banned this movement on the grounds that it was causing
division among Muslims. After this the 'Wahhabis' completely ceased
their activities."

Some Muslims in southern Xinjiang are sympathetic to Wahhabism, Forum 18
found, but unlike in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan they have been frightened
into inactivity by the Chinese government's strict policy. As a result,
unlike in Uzbekistan, in Xinjiang there are no recorded cases of
criminal prosecutions against Wahhabis.

Three years ago the authorities conducted a major reconstruction of the
area around Kashgar's main Id-ha mosque, demolishing many small
mud-built restaurants and tea houses where Muslims met to talk after
prayers. In their place, modern buildings with a hint of Islamic
architectural style were built. Many Uighurs complained to Forum 18
that, since the reconstruction, the famous district around the mosque
"has lost its original spirit". Similar reconstructions have affected
other towns in Xinjiang, such as Hotan.

In Urumqi, the old mosque was demolished and rebuilt as part of a
shopping mall, including a Kentucky Fried Chicken branch and Carrefour
supermarket, as Quentin Sommerville of the BBC World Service noted on
29 November 2005. One Uighur told him that "It really isn't
appropriate. We come here to worship - but sometimes we can't hear our
prayers because of the music and singing from the bazaar."

It is notable that the Chinese government's policy of assimilating the
Uighurs has had an impact. The authorities are investing significant
sums in the region's economy and encouraging Uighurs to become involved
in business ventures, which many perceive there to be no alternative to.
The BBC World Service was told by one Uighur that "it's getting more and
more difficult for us to earn money now. Uighurs are doing anything they
can to make a living - there's no alternative." The change in the
economy is noticeable: ten years ago few cars were on the streets,
while today they form the main means of transport. This economic
revival helps to assimilate the Uighurs, many of whom now want to send
their children to Chinese-language schools, something unimaginable ten
years ago. Several Muslims who told Forum 18 in recent years that they
found it impossible to coexist with ethnic Chinese have since opened
their own businesses. Now, they have told Forum 18 that they are
prepared to submit to the Chinese government's religious and ethnic
policies, to advance their own economic position. (END)

For more background information see Forum 18's Xinjiang religious
freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=414;
the previous 2003 Xinjiang religious freedom survey is at

For analyses of other aspects of religious freedom in China, see

A printer-friendly map of China, including Xinjiang, is available from
Uyghur Canadian Association

416 825 8641

Uyghur Canadian Association

416 825 8641


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