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Salar Muslim
The Islamic religious system under the Communist Chinese government was divided into: 1) the mosque area system, 2) "haiyi" system, 3) official school system and 4) Muslim religious communes, and so on. Among these, the mosque area system and school system are most universal. The mosque area system is the oldest and most universal religious system of Hui Islam as basically the same as the mosque community found in other Muslim areas. The "mosque area" is centered around a mosque, and includes the Muslim community living in area that worships there. Each mosque area has a Chinese-government-approved ahung (traveling Muslim teachers), "yimamu" (imam, leader), "haituibu" (coordinator), "mu'anjin" (approver) and other religious and administrative staff. In addition, there is a mosque management council (board of trustees) to manage the mosque administration. It ideally is led by an old man of noble character and high prestige who acts as the "managing squire" ("head of community" and "board chair"), who is responsible for managing the land, house property and other expense, income and expenditure of the mosque. He also makes arrangements for various kinds of activities and make decisions on the choice of ahung and other affairs of the mosque. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

A mosque is the political, economic and cultural center for Muslims in a given area. In addition to being a place of worship, it also a place for people to have meetings, discuss affairs and socialize. Mosque areas have different sizes, some are made up of less than hundreds households; others embrace several hundred or even thousands of households. But regardless of their sizes, all the mosque areas are, in theory anyway, supposed exist independently, and be equal to one another, with none being subordinate or superior to others.


Good Websites and Sources on Religion in China: Chinese Government White Paper on Religion ; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; Articles on Religion in China ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Council of Foreign Relations ; Brooklyn College ; Religion Facts; Religious Tolerance ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ; Academic Info ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies Christianity in China Christianity in China Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; History of Christianity in China Ricci Roundtable

Restrictions on Islam in China

There are a number of rules and restrictions regarding the practice of Islam in China. Many of them are directed at the Uighurs in Xinjiang--because some Uighurs and Uighur groups have espoused radical Islam and advocated independence for Xinjiang--not the Hui and other Muslim groups who have generally been more complaint with Beijing’s wishes.

There are severe restrictions of making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Only a few are allowed to go. Many more want to go and resent the fact they can’t. In many places the Chinese have banned muezzins---the loudspeakers that call the faithful to prayer. Instead the call to prayer is performed the old fashion way by a man who shouts at the top of his lungs from the roof a mosque. Schools that train Muslim clerics are carefully monitored and students have to undergo thorough background checks before they are admitted. Longtime clerics have been forced to enroll in Chinese patriotic programs and undergo annual licencing procedures. Many are on Beijing’s payroll.

In some places Muslims are prohibited from fasting and gathering at mosques during Ramadan. There are also rules prohibiting students from entering Muslim schools if they are under 18 or have not completed their education at regular Chinese secondary schools. Public schools in some Muslim areas insist that students eat during Ramadan. If they don’t eat they are disciplined. In Kasghar, tea kettles have been seized from students out of concern the students might use them for ritual morning ablutions before Muslim prayers.

Muslim are only supposed to worship at mosques that have been sanctioned by the state-supported Chinese Islamic Association. In some places Friday prayers are limited to 30 minutes with sermons scripted by Beijing. Mullahs who say something the government doesn’t like risk getting thrown in jail for 10 years. Government employees are not allowed to enter mosques and clerics at the mosques are supposed to report those that do. If workers are caught going to mosques they risk losing their jobs.

In 1995, the Chinese Islamic Association decreed: "No scripture studies or Arabic classes are to be held without permission." Signs and banners hung outside mosques in Hotam, Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang read: “Completely aided by the Communist Party’s religious policy. Actively lead religion towards a just socialist society.” Polygamy was outlawed by the Communists shortly after they came to power in 1949.

Repression of Islam in China

As part of Beijing's campaign against Muslim separatism and terrorism, young people are banned from mosques, foreign Muslims are banned from meeting local imams and mosques are routinely prohibited from issuing the call to prayer. Religious material has been seized and hundreds of mosques and Koranic schools have been shut down. Muslims have been arrested for preaching illegally and translating the Koran into local languages. Imam have been sent to re-education classes. Some Muslims complain that if they want to get ahead or land a good job they have to renounce their religion or at least not be so public about their religion.

The Communist government closely monitors religious activity and worries that mosques and other houses of worship might become centers for anti-government agitation. Mosques are sometimes empty because Muslims fear being blacklisted for going there. Many mosque are infiltrated by informers. In response to repression a number of underground mosques have opened up. Many believe these are more likely to be breeding grounds for Islamic extremism than ordinary mosques.

According to the U.S. State Department: In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR, the government cited concerns over “separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism” as a pretext to enact and enforce repressive restrictions on religious practices of Uyghur Muslims. Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities. It remained difficult to determine whether particular raids, detentions, arrests, or judicial punishments targeted those seeking political goals, the right to worship, or criminal acts. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, /|\]

There was increased pressure in official campaigns to dissuade women from wearing religious clothing and men from wearing beards. Officials singled out lawyers and their families in these campaigns. The Xinjiang judicial affairs department website posted a statement saying, “Lawyers must commit to guaranteeing that family members and relatives do not wear burqas, veils, or participate in illegal religious activities, and that young men do not grow long beards.” Authorities in Bulaqsui reportedly kept “stability maintenance” registers that included information such as whether female Muslims wore a veil. Uyghur sources also reported recipients of public welfare stipends were asked to sign a pledge not to cover their faces for religious reasons. Uyghurs in Kashgar and Turpan reported officials interfered with fasting during Ramadan. Hui Muslims in Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan provinces engaged in religious practice with less government interference than did Uyghurs. /|\

Authorities continued their “patriotic education” campaign, which in part focused on preventing illegal religious activities in XUAR. Human rights organizations asserted in some instances security forces shot at groups of Uyghurs in their homes or during worship. Authorities typically characterized these operations as targeting “separatists” or “terrorists.” The government reportedly sought the forcible return of ethnic Uyghurs living outside the country, many of whom had sought asylum for religious persecution. In some cases third countries complied with Chinese requests for forcible refoulementof Uyghur asylum-seekers. There were reports of imprisonment and torture of Uyghurs who were returned. The government’s control of information coming out of the XUAR, together with its increasingly tight security posture there, made it difficult to verify the conflicting reports. /|\

In the XUAR, tension between Uyghur Muslims and ethnic Han continued, as officials strengthened their enforcement of policies banning men from growing long beards, women from wearing veils that cover their faces, and parents from providing their children with religious education. Many hospitals and businesses would not provide services to women wearing veils. In September a Uyghur Muslim was reportedly beaten for praying on a bus and later detained by authorities. Tensions also continued among ethnic and religious groups in Tibetan areas, particularly between Han and Tibetans, and, in some areas, between Tibetans and Hui Muslims. /|\

Repressions is less severe in Hui areas in Ningxia than Uighur areas in Xinjiang. The Muslim schools there are full of eager students; Ningxia University offers classes in Arabic; and kindergarten students take classes in Islam. Some of the schools there are financed by Arab countries in the Middle East that supply China with oil and gas. In Qinghai and Gangsu, Hui Muslims go by Muslim names, eat at restaurants that refuse to sell alcohol or pork, openly express their fondness for Osama bin Laden and call the Chinese “godless people.” In some vilages most women cover their heads and most men wear Muslim-style skull caps, have beards and greet each other in Arabic. Dru Gladney, an expert on Chinese Muslims at the University of Hawaii, told Reuters, “In places like Qinghai and Gansu, where Islam is less politicized, the government is more open and more relaxed. Particularly in very poor areas, there is a lot of flexibility.”

See Chinese Crackdowns in Xinjiang, Xinjiang, Minorities

Chinese Government Restrictions on the Hajj, Ramadan and Islamic Schools

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Ma Jia Jun Army
According to the U.S. State Department: Media reported Muslims could apply online or through local official Islamic associations to participate in the Hajj. According to media reports in the country, approximately 11,800 Muslim citizens participated in the Hajj in the fall including 2,223 individuals from Ningxia; 2,228 from Gansu Province; 1,310 from Yunnan Province; and 236 from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. These figures included Islamic association and security officials sent to monitor Muslim citizens and prevent unauthorized pilgrimages. Figures were not available for pilgrims from the XUAR. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, /|\]

According to reports, Hajj pilgrims paid RMB 42,000 ($6,938) to participate, which included roundtrip flights, meals, and accommodations. Uyghur Muslims reported difficulties taking part in state-sanctioned Hajj travel due to the inability to obtain travel documents in a timely manner and difficulties in meeting criteria required for participation in the official Hajj program run by the Islamic Association of China. The government limited the ability of Uyghur Muslims to make private Hajj pilgrimages outside of the government-organized program. /|\

Authorities in the XUAR imposed strict controls on religious practices during Ramadan. The government barred teachers, professors, civil servants, and CCP members from fasting and attending religious services at mosques. Local authorities reportedly fined individuals for studying the Quran in unauthorized sessions, detained people for “illegal” religious activities or carrying “illegal” religious materials, and stationed security personnel in and around mosques to restrict attendance to local residents. Authorities reportedly hung Chinese flags on mosque walls in the direction of Mecca so prayers would be directed toward them. In the XUAR government authorities at times restricted the sale of the Quran. In March authorities in Kashgar reportedly detained a Uyghur Muslim without charge for 63 days for selling the Quran and study aids. /|\

There were widespread reports of prohibitions on children participating in religious activities in various localities throughout the XUAR, but observers also reported seeing children in mosques and at Friday prayers in some areas of the region. Islamic schools in Yunnan Province were reluctant to accept ethnic Uyghur students out of concerns they would bring unwanted attention from government authorities and negatively affect school operations. Kunming Islamic College, a government-affiliated seminary, posted an official announcement stating it was open only to students from Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou provinces or from Chongqing municipality. /|\

Officials in the XUAR, however, require minors to complete nine years of compulsory education before they can receive religious education. According to media reports, authorities in the Xinjiang town of Yining bar minors under the age of 18 from entering the city’s mosques. The law imposes penalties on adults who “force” minors to participate in religious activities. The teaching of atheism in schools is allowed. /|\

Curbs During Ramadan After the Riots in Xinjiang

In September 2009, after the riots in Urumqi, local governments in Xinjiang imposed strict limits on religious practices during the traditional Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, according to the Web sites of four of those governments. The rules include prohibiting women from wearing veils and men from growing beards, as well as barring government officials from observing Ramadan. One town, Yingmaili, requires that local officials check up on mosques at least twice a week during Ramadan. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 8, 2009]

The local governments administer areas in the western part of Xinjiang that have large numbers of Muslim Uighurs. The limits on religious practices put in place by local governments appear to be part of the broader security crackdown. The areas affected by the new rules are near Kuqa, a town struck by multiple bombings. [Ibid]

The Web site of the town of Yingmaili lists nine rules put in place to maintain stability during Ramadan. They include barring teachers and students from observing Ramadan, prohibiting retired government officials from entering mosques and requiring men to shave off beards and women to doff veils. Mosques cannot let people from outside of town stay overnight and restaurants must maintain normal hours of business. Because of the sunrise-to-sunset fasting, many restaurants would normally close during daytime for Ramadan. [Ibid]

In nearby Xinhe County, the government has decreed that Communist Party members, civil servants and retired officials must not observe Ramadan, enter mosques or take part in any religious activities during the month. Worshipers cannot make pilgrimages to tombs, so as to avoid any group event that might harm social stability, according to the Xinhe government’s Web site. In addition, children and students cannot be forced to attend religious activities, and women cannot be forced to wear veils. [Ibid]

County rules also emphasize the need to maintain a strict watch over migrant workers and visitors from outside the county. Companies and families that have workers or visitors from outside the county are required to register the outsiders with the nearest police station and have them sign an agreement on maintaining social stability. Shayar County, which includes the town of Yingmaili, said on its Web site that migrants must register with the police, and that any missionary work by outsiders was banned. [Ibid]

Efforts by Beijing to Make Muslims Eat During Ramadan

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a Hui in Yunnan
In the aftermath of violent protests in 2011 by Uighurs, authorities have deepened their campaign against religious practices---particularly during Ramadan. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At a teachers college in far northwestern China, students were irritated to find that their professors were escorting them to lunch last month---an odd occurrence since they were more than capable of finding the cafeteria themselves. There was an ulterior motive, students told travelers who recently visited the city of Kashgar: The college wanted to make sure that the students, most of them Muslims, were eating rather than fasting in daylight hours during the holy month of Ramadan. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, September 11, 2011]

“Then, something even stranger happened, the students said. When Ramadan ended late last month, launching the three-day Eid al-Fitr feast, all the restaurants and the cafeteria on campus were shut down. Students were barred from leaving the campus. On the next two days of the holiday, the cafeteria was open, but the students were locked in, unable to leave to celebrate with their families. "It was totally backwards," complained a 20-year-old Muslim student who was forced to skip the holiday.

For years, China has restricted observance of Ramadan for Communist Party members and government cadres. On one website for an agricultural bureau, for instance, employees were reminded "not to practice any religion, not to attend religious events and not to fast."

Residents of Xinjiang province say that Chinese policies regarding Ramadan have become steadily more draconian over the years. "It has been bad since 1993 and it is getting worse," said Tursun Ghupur, 33, who comes from Kashgar but has been living in Beijing. "Usually for ordinary people it is OK. You can pray and you can observe Ramadan. But if you go to school and have a job with the government, you can't be religious."

Political scientists say the government's strategy is likely to backfire. "Particularly with the government crackdown on religion in Xinjiang, this has made more people see religion as a form of resistance rather than personal piety," said Dru Gladney, a professor of anthropology at Pomona College specializing in Central Asia. "From the authorities' standpoint, it's really counterproductive."

At the very least, the restrictions on Ramadan undermine personal relations between Uighurs and Han Chinese. The Kashgar doctor related an incident involving his nephew, a student at a junior high school. During the holiday, the boy was given a piece of candy by his teacher, who is Han Chinese. "I'm doing well in school. The teacher likes me. She gave me candy," the boy told his father late that day. The father scoffed at the explanation. "She is only trying to tell if you're fasting for Ramadan."

Restaurants Forced to Stay Open During Ramadan

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after prayers
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In Kashgar the local Communist Party in Kasghar ordered restaurants to remain open during the day during Ramadan, even though chefs and most of their potential customers were fasting. Failure to keep their doors open made restaurants subject to fines of up to $780, the equivalent of several months' salary, so restaurateurs in the far northwestern Chinese city made token gestures to appear open, assigning one waiter to sit in the doorway and a chef to make a single dish that would be either eaten cold at night or discarded.

In Kashgar, across from the Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China, travelers described a bored teenage waiter in a Muslim skullcap sitting in the doorway of a darkened restaurant looking out onto the dusty sidewalk as if waiting for the customers he knew wouldn't come. Along the entire strip, restaurants were similarly unlit and empty, with none of the usual smells of roasting lamb wafting from the kitchens.

"They just offer what they can to avoid trouble," said a doctor in his late 20s, who asked not to be quoted by name for fear of retaliation. He described the compromise at one of his favorite restaurants, where the chef made only rice pilaf. "The chefs can't even taste the food to make sure it is delicious."

The policy extended deeper into Xinjiang province than just Kashgar. In Aksu, 250 miles to the northeast, the municipal website warned that restaurant owners "who close without reason during the 'Ramadan period' will be severely dealt with according to the relevant regulations."

Tensions Between Tibetans and Hui Muslims

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Muslim family with
Amdo Tibetan hats
Tibetans and Muslims, mostly Muslim Huis, are arguably the most bitter enemies in China. They get along even worse than Tibetans and Chinese. Animosity between Tibetans and Muslims was a major contributor to the tensions that produced the riots in March 2008. Many of the shops and restaurants that were attacked in Lhasa were Muslim owned.

Tibetans and Huis have often lived in close proximity and they have a long history of fighting, competing, intermarrying and collaborating. Muslim have traditional done butchering and tanning for Tibetans who eat meat and wear furs but are restricted by Buddhism from killing animals. The Huis also have a reputation for seeking their fortune in remote places that Han Chinese would never go and serving as intermediaries for illiterate Tibetans in markets.

Animosity between Muslims and Tibetans in Qinghai dates back to the 1930s when the Muslim warlord Ma Bufeng tried to establish an Islamic enclave in Qinghai. Tibetans were pushed off their land. Some were killed, or forced to convert to Islam. After the Communist takeover tensions were repressed.

Crowd Fights Chinese Police at Mosque Demolition in Ningxia

In January 2012 a crowd of Muslims fought with police who demolished a mosque in China's northwest, a police employee and the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. The violence erupted in Hexi, a town in the Ningxia region, after the mosque was declared an "illegal religious place" and about 1,000 officers arrived to demolish it. [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, January 3, 2011]

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said 50 people were injured and more than 100 detained after several hundred members of China's Muslim Hui minority tried to stop the demolition. It cited a villager as saying two people died, but said it could not confirm that.

AP reported an employee who answered the phone at the town police station confirmed that officers had fought with protesters and said about 80 people were detained but denied there were any deaths. Police demolished the mosque after the clash, said the employee, who refused to give her name. She said she did not know how many people were involved or why police demolished the mosque.

Clashes Between Tibetans and Muslims

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Hui Tungan rifleman
In recent years their have been dozens of clashes between Tibetans and Muslims in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces as well as in the Tibetan Autonomous region. Most of the incidents go unreported. Neither the Chinese or the Tibetans want the incidents publicized. The Chinese don’t want their claims of a “harmonious society” undermined and the Tibetans don’t want their international image tarnished.

In the mid 1990s, Tibetans in Lhasa began boycotting Muslim restaurants and calling Muslims cannibals after someone reportedly found a finger in a bowl of coup. Rumors also began spreading that Muslim cooks urinated in the food and added their bath water to it. Seemingly ridiculous or trivial concerns set off biter clashes.

In February 2008, an altercation involving thousands of people began after a Tibetan child complained of the high cost of balloons sold by a Muslim peddler. In 2003, a Tibetan and a Muslim died, with the Muslim being stabbed to death with a kebab skewer, and Chinese troops were called in, during a riot that began with a dispute over billiards game.

In the summer of 2007 Tibetans rioted in the town of Guojia in the Golog area of Qinghai Province after a dispute in a Muslim restaurant. The incident began when a Tibetan customer complained that was a tooth in her soup. The owner of the restaurant insisted it was just a piece of lamb bone. By that time a crowd of Tibetans had gathered. When someone screamed, “Let’s trash this restaurant” the crowd did exactly that---tables, chairs and a television were tossed and kitchen equipment was smashed with bricks---before the crowd moved onto other restaurants and did the same.

After that incident Tibetans refused to eat in Muslim restaurants and Muslim taxi drivers feared going into Tibetan parts of town. After the riots in Lhasa in March 2008 about 800 of the town’s 3,000 Muslims moved out. Of those that stayed, many men stopped wearing skullcaps, women wore hairnets rather than scarves and the religious-minded prayed at home because the nearest mosque had been burned down.

Twenty Tibetans were arrested in connection with the Guojia clash, including a senior monk fingered as the ringleader who was sentenced to death.

Reasons for Tensions Between Tibetans and Hui Muslims

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a Sufi Hui
A Tibetan doctor told the Los Angeles Times, “To be honest the Tibetans don’t have the business savvy of the Hui. The Tibetans have to sell their products to Hui. The Hui have to buy it from the Tibetans. I suppose because we are interdependent we resent each other.” It doesn’t help that the Huis often side with the Han Chinese in disputes involving Tibetans and support Chinese repression against Tibetans.

In some ways the Tibetans take their frustrations of being a minority on the Hui, another minority. London-based Tibetan scholar Andrew Fischer told the Los Angeles Times, “It is the dark side of Tibetan nationalism. It is as though the Tibetans are diverting their anger over their own situation towards another vulnerable minority.” A Muslim shopkeeper in Lhasa, said “they are used as a scapegoat for their grievances against the country.”

The increased mobility of people brought about by easing of travel restrictions have brought Muslim and Tibetans into contact with each more than ever before, creating more opportunities for tensions to rise compared to the Maoist era when travel restrictions kept them separated.

In Lhasa, many Muslims have bought Tibetan businesses and now own the majority of souvenir stands. Tensions over lost business opportunities are seen a major force behind the riots in 2008. A Tibetan businessman told the Los Angeles Times, You hear these stories about Muslims putting stuff in soup. But I think its all about business competition and economics.”

Image Sources: Wiki Commons, CNTO Nolls , Mongabey

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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