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Recent Articles on Islam in China

Last week Brent wrote about a Christian serving among China’s Muslims who joined in the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. Given the fact that we are now at the halfway point of the month of fasting, I thought it would be a good time to highlight some recent articles and resources about Islam in China.

As is the case with other religions in China, good data on the numbers of Muslims is hard to come by.  The International Religious Freedom Report for 2015, published by the US Department of State says,

According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 21 million Muslims; unofficial estimates range as high as 50 million. Hui Muslims are concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces. Uighur Muslims live primarily in Xinjiang. The State Council’s 2015 White Paper on Xinjiang reports Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uighur, and other ethnic minorities constitute 14.63 million residents in Xinjiang, or 63 percent of the total population.

A scan of the news stories out of China regarding Islam seems to indicate that this has been a difficult year for Muslims in China. As the government’s fear of political Islam grows, its attempts to quash any potential foothold among the Muslim population have become more and more stringent.

According to The Guardian, last month authorities in Xinjiang went so far as to ban “overtly religious names” such as Mohammed, Quran, or Jihad.

Officials in the western region of Xinjiang, home to roughly half of China’s 23 million Muslims, have released a list of banned baby names amid an ongoing crackdown on religion, according to a report by US-funded Radio Free Asia.

Names such as Islam, Quran, Saddam and Mecca, as well as references to the star and crescent moon symbol, are all unacceptable to the ruling Communist party and children with those names will be denied household registration, a crucial document that grants access to social services, healthcare and education.

A full list of names has not yet been published and it is unclear exactly what qualifies as a religious name.

The article also reports that adults are being required to attend political rallies to demonstrate their loyalty to the Communist Party.

In March, the South China Morning Post published a story about the growing anti-Muslim sentiment that is growing online in China.

The growing popularity of anti-Islamic rhetoric, which is seldom challenged by state media or subject to the censorship for which China’s internet is famous, has sparked concerns that, left unaddressed, these tensions will spill over into real world conflict.

Commenting on this phenomenon in that article, Australian scholar James Liebold says that,

. . . while such religious hatreds are often denounced by left-wing media and advocacy groups in the West, alternative voices are seldom heard in China’s closed society.

“The inevitable result is it creates a deeper divide between the Han majority and Chinese Muslims,” Leibold said. “At present it might be chiefly an online phenomenon, but it has the potential to spill over into the real world and result in violence.”

Many of these harsh new restrictions have come as part of new anti-terrorism legislation designed to counter radical Islam in Xinjiang. According to CNN, some of the specific restrictions imposed in the province include:

  • Advocating or propagating extremist thoughts; 
  • Wearing or forcing others to wear full-face coverings;
  • Hyping up religious fanaticism through growing beards or choosing names in an abnormal way;
  • Not allowing children to receive state education, interfering with state education;
  • Deliberately interfering or harming the implementation of family planning policies;
  • Publishing, downloading or reading articles, publications and audio-video material containing extremist content;
  • Rejecting or refusing state products and services that include radio and television programming.

Finally, one of the most comprehensive articles on Islam in China was published in March by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Titled “The Chinese Approach to Radical Islam,” the report details the experience of Muslims, particularly in Xinjiang:

According to statistics difficult to verify, officially there are roughly 22 million Muslims living in China today. They are divided into the Hui, the majority Muslim group in China, totally integrated at all echelons of Chinese society, and allowed to practice their religion with almost no interference from the authorities. Other Muslim minority groups are Kazakhs, Dongxiangs, Salar, Tatars, Bonans, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Utsul, Kyrgyz, Tibetans, and the dominant minority group, the Uyghurs, a Sunni Turkish-related population who speak a Turkish dialect and live in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

To learn more about the Muslim populations of China, check out these excellent resources:

Image credit: Preston Rhea, via Flickr.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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