GUANGHE – The Chinese government has imposed a new ban on Muslim students from joining religious education in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province.
“Such bans had been conveyed verbally in recent years. But, implementation was uneven and often ignored. The more forceful rollout this year shows authorities are serious about enforcement,” Li, a citizen from Linxia city, told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
Two weeks ago, the Chinese education officials from the local government in Guanghe county, which is a heavily-Muslim area in the prefecture, banned children from attending religious education during the Lunar New Year break.
This break lasts for several weeks around the weeklong public holiday period that started last Thursday, February 15.
The officials didn’t specify whether this is a temporary ban or it will continue after the holiday. Yet, it appears to conform to new national regulations that took effect on February 1, aiming to increase oversight over religious education.
In a response on the matter from the prefecture’s government, the publicity department of Linxia said in a fax to Reuters: “Religious affairs management … adheres to the direction of the Sinofication of religion, and firmly resists and guards against the spread and infiltration of extremist religious ideology.”
The official fax continued that: “Maintaining legal management is the greatest concept in the protection of religion.” However, at the same time, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs didn’t respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
The new regulation affects Muslims living in the prefecture which is populated by four Muslim groups: ethnic Chinese Hui and Dongxiang, in addition to ethnic Turkic Salar and ethnic Mongol Bonan.
This ban comes in parallel with what the state media there has reported on the removal of loudspeakers used to broadcast calls to prayer from mosques in Hui regions, ostensibly to prevent noise pollution.
“Local officials were misapplying Chinese President Xi Jinping’s policies. Families are afraid to teach their children to have faith for fear it will bring them trouble,” a Hui man leaving afternoon prayers at Linxia’s New China Mosque said.
“How can cultural traditions be passed down like this?”
Various sources estimate that Muslims range from 1 to 3% of the total population of China, which is dominated by a special mixture of non-religious spiritual beliefs of Confucianism, Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, and Chinese folk ideology, along with atheism.
The largest Muslim group in China are Hui, whose population numbers about 9.8 million according to the 2000 census. They are followed by Dongxiang, who constitute around 514,000, then the Salar, who form about 105,000m and the Bonan with 17,000 people.
These Muslim Chinese communities are different from the Muslim Uyghurs who live in the Muslim republic of Uyghurstan East Turkestan which has been occupied by China since 1949.