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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Two Ways to Practice Religion In China

Beijing prays it can keep religion under control - World - www.smh.com.au

Worshippers at Id Kah Mosque Kashgar XinjiangThis is a timely article given that the National People's Congress is currently on in Beijing, and more so because one of the basic platforms of this year's Congress is Human Rights and caring for the people.

There are two ways of practicing religion in China; the Government's way or no way.

If you play by their rules, that is the rules laid down by China's Religious Affairs department, then you can within certain limitations and depending on the religion, enjoy a certain amount of freedom.

For example the Uygur people in Xinjiang are Muslims and Xinjiang has more Muslims then the rest of China combined. Xinjiang has, it is reported by the Government, some 23,000 mosques or one for every 200 hundred Muslims.

That by anyone's standard is a fairly reasonable ratio in what is essentially an atheist state.>

There are two ways to practice religion in China: The Government's way or no way

-The Uygur Letter-

Muslims can worship at the Mosques, or Masjids as some prefer to call them, as per the dictates off the Quran, There are essentially few restrictions for practicing faith within "registered" mosques.

The only rider to that is that in Xinjiang boys under the age of 18 can not enter the prayer halls of Mosques even though the Islamic religion does allow it. This rule by the way only applies to Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang, Muslim boys elsewhere in China are allowed into mosques as soon as the Quran allows.

Why this double standard exists I can only hypothesize that it is because the Uygur are Caucasian and are considered by the regime to be "separatist" threats. It is said by some commentators as well that the government is attempting by the enforcement of this rule to break the "cycle" of religion and in doing so make the young less "Muslim". The Government to the best of my knowledge has never given a justification for this rule.

This aside where religious freedoms are impacted upon in China and Xinjiang in particular, is in the observance away from "registered" and "approved" sites and clerics.

Quran study groups are outlawed if they are not conducted at an approved location by approved clerics. Penalty for breaching this is imprisonment or worse.

The Uygur can not send their children to Quranic schools unless once again they are "approved"

Certain religious books are not "approved" or, as you will hear many Chinese citizens say when you speak to them,"forbidden" in the Uygur language though freely available to Chinese speaking Muslims.

For approved then read "controlled".

Clerics of approved sites for example must undergo "religious re-education" so that Islam is taught in a Socialist approved manner. Often these clerics are looked upon by the Uygur as being Han spies. They certainly tow the Socialist line in public as Profeesor Colin Mackarras found out in his recent trip to Xinjiang ( see the archived A Xinjiang Perspective )

As such whilst the Uygurs can observe their religion as per the dictates of the Quran there is no Islamic "community" centered around mosques as there would be in a protestant community based around a local church in say America.

The upshot of this is that religious culture is slowly being eroded. The Uygur call this one part of a policy of cultural genocide"; the killing of a culture by assimilation.

So, as the linked article states, there are two reactions to religion in China, that towards the "approved" and that towards the not approved. The latter can and does result in arrests, imprisonment and sometimes worse and with it the graphic pictures of bulldozers destroying "House churches" that the journalist alludes to.