By Yasir Habib Khan
November 17, 2017
I recall this scene from Beijing; a large group of children wearing round caps, walking briskly and pouring into a building. When I looked around, I saw similar scenes everywhere. Large groups of people of all ages headed towards a big gate which bore some words in Islamic calligraphy. It was then that I realised that it was Friday and the building was Niujie mosque, which is situated in Oxen street in Xicheng district.
These people were flocking to the mosque to offer their Friday prayers. And they did so in a free and comfortable environment. Their faces were calm and content. Their body language did not reveal any anxiety.
When I had been under the influence of a tide of misinformation about the shrinking state of religious freedom for Muslims in China, I spoke to a young Chinese Muslim named Idrees Ali. I wanted to ask him about the real situation of Chinese Muslims. Idrees smiled as he answered my question. He told me that Chinese Muslims enjoyed complete religious freedom, that they could receive conventional Islamic education at Madaris, could offer prayers at mosques, fast during Ramadan and observe both Eids without any significant difficulty. He even said that there are many restaurants which serve Halal food.
It is my belief that seeing is believing. If I hadn’t seen such scenes with my own eyes, I would not have believe the facilitations being provided by the Chinese government to Muslim communities. Physical presence and an analytical eye always make a difference. My recent visit has dispelled the impression that China has been suppressing the religious freedom of it’s Muslim community.
The fact of the matter is that there are numerous western influenced propagandists behind this news. Their intention is to subvert Sino-Pak relations. They have been spreading mala fide news about Muslim’s suffering in China which is completely disjointed from reality. Ever since CPEC became a reality, such unfounded and fabricated news has been in full swing. The 2016 International religious freedom report is a glaring example of this.
The report presented one-sided stories and twisted facts. Most of them were found to be completely overblown. For example, the Chinese government’s action to register places of worship was misinterpreted as the Chinese government exercising illegitimate control over religious groups and their activities. Steps regarding “maintaining legality, curbing illegality, blocking extremism, resisting infiltration and attacking crime thwarted Islamic radicalisation successfully but such measures are described as state’s undue control on religious freedom.
As per new regulations, unregistered religious groups are prohibited from establishing schools. The government will slap fines up to 300,000 Yuan ($46,400) for holding unapproved religious events. Facilitators who helped to organise such gatherings will have to face a 200,000 Yuan fine.
Honestly speaking, the majority of Muslim countries; including Pakistan also have strict regulations regarding exercising Islamic obligations. Under the National Action Plan, the government plans to regulate religious seminaries despite fierce criticism by clerics. Use of loudspeaker is also banned. A plan is afoot to bind all mosques to read uniform Friday sermons during the Jumma prayer. Strict crackdowns were conducted to discipline various Islamic groups that wanted to enforce their own so-called Shariat, challenging the writ of the government.
Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a militant group, held sway in Swat in 2007. Sufi Muhammad who founded it in 1992 was once an active member of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). TNSM is blamed for supporting Islamist terrorist groups in China’s Xinjiang province. An army operation had to be launched to root out TSNM. Operation Rah-e-Najat, Rah-e-Raast, Al-Mezan, operation Rah-e-Haq, operation Sher-e-Dil, operation Zalzala, operation Sirat-e-Mustaqeem, operation Koh-e-Sufaid, operation Zarb-e-Azb are examples of controlling violent Islamic groups. Now operation Radd-ud-Fasad is at full throttle.
In order to stop Islamic militants from using Pakistani soil, a border management system had to be introduced by erecting fences along the Pak-Afghan border. America is doing the same at the Mexican border. The entire world is united in efforts to wipe out Islamic groups like ISIS, Taliban and Al-Qaeda to establish peace.
China has toughened measures against Uyghurs running the terrorist organisation known as the ‘Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party’ (ETIP) to maintain peace and progress. But the international community is averse to this clampdown. It does not make any sense that if stringent steps done by world to suppress violent Islamic militant groups are appreciative but if same are executed by China, it is called draconian by the West. These double-standards, frankly speaking, championed by international community has put world peace in peril.
During my 10-day tour in various parts of China, I observed that moderate Muslims face no difficulty in living their life according to the edicts laid down in the Quran and Sunnah.
If Muslims freedom in China is observed, one understands that Islam made quick progress in China. In 996 during the Liao Dynasty, Beijing saw the development of Niujie Mosque. It is believed to be the first mosque in the region. It got three big renovations since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The Yuan Dynasty witnessed the fastest growth of Islamism after the influx into China of a great number of Muslims. The famous Dongsi Mosque was constructed during the Yuan Dynasty. Islam blossomed greatly in the Ming and Qing dynasties, during which 30 new mosques were built in Beijing. Huashi Mosque, The Nan Douya Mosque, Haidian Mosque, Dewai Mosque, Jinshifang Street Mosque, Changying Mosque, Madian Mosque, Dongzhimen Mosque are among the famous mosques in the capital. Today there are over 39,000 mosques in China and among 25,000 of them are located in Xinjiang.
Islam is doing quite well in China and it may be judged by new research by the US-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Muslim population. It shows an increase in the Muslim population from 1.8 percent to 2.1 percent till 2030 that mean number of population will rise up from approximately 23.3 million to around 30 million.
China banned a book titled ‘Xing Fengsu’ (Sexual Customs) which insulted Islam in 1989. In anticipation of the “Year of the Pig” in 2007 portrayal of pigs was banned from state-run channels ‘ to respect Muslim minorities’.
In response to the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting after Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), state-run media stood behind Muslims and criticised the infamous caricatures. Although religious education for children is officially forbidden by law in China, Muslims except Uyghurs, violent Islamic separatist group, are allowed to send their children in religious schools (madaris). Similarly leaving aside Uyghurs, outlawed terrorist Islamic section, there is no ban on having beard and wearing veils by Muslims.
Muslim communities are allowed separate cemeteries. Muslim people have their marriage as per Islamic norms. Muslim workers cherish holidays during major religious festivals. Chinese Muslims are also permitted to perform Hajj. More than 45,000 Chinese Muslims have done so in recent years. Uyghurs are allowed to enjoy all religious freedom if they renounce terrorism, separatist movement and violence. China’s government has already set up the China Islamic Association which aims to help the spread of the Qur’an in China and oppose religious extremism.
Yasir Habib Khan is a senior journalist working for China Radio International Online, China Plus. He also writes for local and international print media. He is a fellow of ICFJ and a recipient of China friendly Netizen 2017.