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China plans to ‘Sinicize’ Islam as Muslims warn of eradication campaign

Sellers spanning three generations at the Sunday Pigeon Market. Uighur men and boys have been keeping pigeons for, according to some of those hobbyists, thousands of years. (Dan Lundberg/Flickr)
January 12, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China is developing a five-year plan for the “sinicization” of Islam, according to the country’s government-backed China Islamic Association.

Representatives from local Islamic associations from eight provinces and regions, including Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan, Yunnan, and Qinghai, discussed the plan at a meeting on Saturday, according to a report on the association’s official website.

The plan will focus on requiring mosques to to uphold “core values of socialism, traditional culture, laws and regulations,” Association president Yang Faming told the meeting, which was organized by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, which is tasked with co-opting groups and individuals outside the party to endorse its message.

Mosques will be told to “guide, mobilize and inspire” Chinese Muslims with lectures and training sessions on such topics, and which uphold the spirit of a sinicized Islam by using examples of notable figures, Yang said.

The move comes after Chinese authorities in the southwestern province of Yunnan raided and forcibly evicted local ethnic minority Hui Muslims from three mosques at the end of last month, saying they were engaged in “illegal religious activities.”

Local Hui Muslims blamed the crackdown on the local Islamic Association’s compliance with government directives.

U.S.-based Muslim student activist Sulaiman Gu said the “sinicization” program had been designed to target Hui Muslims in particular.

“The sinicization of Islam is mostly targeted at Hui Muslims,” Gu told RFA on Monday. “[They] know very well that there’s no point in using the rhetoric of anti-terrorism or separatism to justify it, but it’s still a form of cultural genocide.”

“The cultural genocide of the Hui Muslims is nothing new: it’s been a core government policy,” he said. “About 60 years ago, they persecuted the Hui scholarly elite, and started a campaign to raise pigs among the Hui.”

Gu said a period of relative peace had ensued for the Hui Muslims, but likened it to a frog sitting in warm water that will eventually boil.

“Now they are just adding logs to the fire,” he said.

A fundamental challenge

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for exile group the World Uyghur Congress, said the sinicization campaign is utterly coercive.

“China has always seen the beliefs of Islam as a fundamental challenge to Communist Party rule,” he said. “There is a plan; there’s an aim here.”

“The so-called Islamic Associations have no respect for religious beliefs or customs,” Raxit said. “They are planning to wipe them out for good.”

An ethnic Kazakh Muslim from the Aksu region of Xinjiang who gave only a single name, Yati, agreed.

“The meaning of the sinicization of Islam is that, in future, there will be no more Islam,” he said. “It’s a Chinese Communist Party euphemism for their plan to erase the Hui, and their religion.”

“Eventually, there won’t be any Muslims left [in China],” Yati said.

Repeated calls to the national headquarters of the China Islamic Association rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

The Global Times newspaper, sister paper to Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, said a set of guidelines for the sinicization plan would be released soon.

“China will soon release an outline on the sinicization of Islam, with Islamic communities urged to uphold the sinicization of their religion by improving their political stance and following the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party’s leadership,” the paper said.

Religious violence, nationalism

In an opinion article, the paper said a global religious revival and “immigrants of different religious beliefs” had caused social conflicts, citing the anti-migrant rhetoric of Italy’s hard-line interior minister Matteo Salvini.

“Fundamentalism has caused more religious violence and religious nationalism is threatening countries’ legitimate governments and leading to social instability,” it said, without giving examples.

“In Xinjiang, religious extremism has been effectively addressed. Peace and order have eventually been restored to the region,” the paper said, in an oblique reference to widespread criticism of the mass internment of at least one million Muslims in camps in the northwestern region.

Mass detentions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have drawn significant attention from the international community, and particularly from the U.S., where lawmakers have called for access to the camps and proposed sanctions against officials and entities in China deemed responsible for abusing the rights of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the chairman of the XUAR government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.

But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those held in the camps are detained against their will, are subjected to political indoctrination and rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

The atmosphere is more like a prison than any kind of school, multiple sources say.

‘Made-in-China Islam’

“The Chinese government is attempting to create a made-in-China Islam based on its atheistic and communist ideology,” said Uyghur American Association president Ilshat Hassan, speaking to RFA.

“The Chinese government’s final solution is to forcibly assimilate the Uyghur Muslims into China’s atheistic society by eradicating the Uyghur Islam, a unique cultural phenomenon blended with the Uyghur people’s centuries-long peaceful traditions and cultures.”

“[China’s policies] will justify the criminalization of Uyghur Islam,” agreed Uyghur Human Rights Project chairman Nury Turkel.

“This further indicates that the Chinese Communist Party has intensified its own war on Uyghur Islam. Ironically, the CCP is trying to utilize a religious belief that it is inherently against for political purposes.”

Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR.

In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are “at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million” Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.

Citing credible reports, U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in the XUAR “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”