Large numbers of Hui Chinese Muslims gathered outside the newly rebuilt Weizhou Mosque in Ningxia province, Northwestern China, to protest Government plans to demolish it.
In early August, town officials released a statement ordering the demolition of the mosque, on the grounds that it had not received the necessary permits for its construction, which was completed last year.
The mosque had been rebuilt in a more traditional Islamic style, with domes and minarets, replacing the previous mosque, which itself had been built to replace the Weizhou’s 600-year-old Chinese-style mosque, which was destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution.
This rare protest by the Hui has forced the Government to delay the demolition plans. Ningxia has been a predominantly Muslim province for centuries, with the majority of the Muslims there belonging to the Hui ethnic minority, the third largest ethnic group in China and one of China’s ten Muslim minorities.
Despite the Chinese Government’s increasing hostility towards Muslims in China, the targets have primarily been the Uyghur ethnic group, who reside in Xinjiang, northwest China, and more closely resemble their Central Asian counterparts in appearance, language as well as culture.
In contrast, over time, the Hui Muslims have largely assimilated with the majority Han Chinese, and with the exception of a few more traditional Hui who continue to wear the white cap for men or the headscarf for women,
Hui and Han are near impossible to distinguish on the grounds of appearance, language or culture. Although on paper, China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom to all in China, the reality is very different.
In order to maintain their own cordial Government relations, for decades the well-integrated Hui Muslims have been forced to detach themselves while authorities have curtailed the religious freedoms of the Uyghur Muslims in neighbouring Xinjiang, forcibly detained many Uyghurs in re-education camps, confiscated passports, and banned religious education.
However, recent events have alarmed many Hui Muslims who fear the Sinification crackdown is spreading to other Muslim provinces too, namely their own Ningxia and Gansu.
Recently, more and more Hui mosques are being rebuilt in Middle Eastern styles, replacing the Chinese style mosques that were the norm among the Hui population. The Government views this as Arabisation of Chinese Islam and deems it a threat, turning their hostility on the Hui as well to “Sinicise religion”.
Earlier this year, at least two mosques in Ningxia have had their domes removed, and Arabic signage has been removed from streets across the region. Private Arabic schools in Ningxia have been shut down and mosques have been ordered to cancel their public Arabic classes.
Although hundreds, potentially thousands, of Hui Muslims took to the streets to protest the demolition of Weizhou mosque, the protests appeared to be peaceful. After days of negotiation between religious leaders and the Ningxia Government officials, it was agreed that the mosque would not be completely demolished, but it would be ‘scaled down’ and have eight of its nine domes removed. However, many of the local Muslims are not in favour of this alternative plan and have refused to back down, resulting in a stand-off between the Government and the Ningxia public.
One protester was reported to have said that this new proposal was unacceptable to the Muslims, adding that thousands of people had been attending the prayers conducted at the mosque and that the mosque had been built through donations from worshippers. There has been no comment from Chinese state media.