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Muslims in China

Islam is an officially sanctioned religion, and Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution nominally ensures freedom of religious belief and "normal religious activity" for Muslims in China. Reports regularly surface, however, of government-imposed restrictions on Muslim religious activities. According to these reports, Chinese officials censor the sermons delivered by imams, limit the ability of Muslim communities to build mosques, and discourage Muslims from wearing religious attire. Chinese government policy also prohibits teaching Islam to those under 18 years old.

According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 21 million Muslims in the country. Independent estimates range as high as 50 million or more. According to SARA there are approximately 36,000 Islamic places of worship in the country (more than half of which are in the XUAR), more than 45,000 imams nationwide, and 10 Islamic schools. The government subsidizes the construction of state-sanctioned places of worship and religious schools.

There are 10 predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the country. Certain Muslim communities have adopted the practice of designating separate mosques for female worshippers. According to media reports, the Islamic Association of China (IAC) licenses female imams. The 2000 census reported a total of 20.3 million members of Muslim nationalities, of which again 96 percent belonged to just three groups: Hui 9.8 million, Uighurs 8.4 million, and Kazakhs 1.25 million. Hui Muslims live throughout the country but are concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Qinghai, and Gansu Provinces. Uighur Muslims live primarily in the XUAR.

The Uighurs and the Hui, China's dominant Muslim groups, have distinct ethnic, cultural, and historical backgrounds, and Chinese authorities treat the two groups differently. The Uighurs, who are of Turkic descent, face harsh religious restrictions and repression, since Chinese authorities associate the group with separatism and terrorism in western China. The Hui, who are related ethnically to the Han Chinese majority, enjoy greater freedom to practice Islam than Uighur Muslims.

In the XUAR, the Chinese government concerns over "separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism" have contributed to repressive restrictions on religious practices by Uighur Muslims. Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities. It remains difficult to determine whether particular raids, detentions, arrests, or judicial punishments targeted those seeking political goals, the right to worship, or those engaged in criminal activities. In contrast, Hui Muslims in Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan Provinces engaged in religious practice with less government interference.

Following the July 2009 unrest, the XUAR government increased political training for imams, tightened restrictions on the religious activities of government workers, teachers, and students, and suppressed "unauthorized" religious activities. Authorities reportedly confiscated the passports of some Uighur Muslims which made it impossible for them to travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. Authorities closed some mosques temporarily and restricted construction on some others. The Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences held a mandatory training course for all imams in the XUAR, which included political issues.

China passed a five-year plan to sinicize Islam at a meeting on 05 January 2019 with representatives from China's eight Islamic associations. During the meeting, participants agreed to guide Islam to be compatible with socialism and implement measures to sinicize the religion. This is China's important act to explore ways of governing religion in modern countries.

The news captured widespread attention in Western media. Some people connected it with the country's efforts to address extremism in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, accusing China of violating freedom of religious belief. In today's world, modern countries are generally all facing a revival of religion, including Western countries. As the revival accelerates, immigrants of different religious beliefs have more or less caused social conflicts on different religious borderlands.

Governing religion is a common challenge faced by all modern countries. The main purpose of China's five-year plan to sinicize Islam is to seek governance that tallies with Chinese practice, and it is not only limited to Islam. Such governance should be suitable for all religions in China.In Xinjiang, religious extremism has been effectively addressed. Peace and order have been restored to the region.

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Page last modified: 08-01-2019 12:03:10 ZULU