China maintains a strict policy on religion throughout the country, which is exemplified by banning all children under the age of 18 from practicing their religion. The state vies to maintain the status quo of irreligion by recognising only those religious organisations and communities that accept subservience to the state. When anyone mounts a challenge to their religion’s subordination to the state, the historical iron fist is summoned.
Even so, the Chinese constitution does allow freedom of religion to all adults. But it clearly states that this freedom is limited to “normal religious activities”. The ambiguous verbiage of the constitution allows the state to curb religious freedom when any particular community becomes a threat to “normalcy”. One particular community has been feeling the anti-religion heat more so than anyone else, and has been suffocated into shunning its religious obligations: the Uighur Muslims.
In the past 15 months, Uighur militants have butchered 24 people in a knife attack in Turpan Prefecture; crashed a car into a crown in Beijing killing 5; rammed a car carrying explosives into police cars in Aksu Prefecture; killed 29 in Kumming with another knife attack and massacred 34 through a combination of car explosion and knife attacks in Urumqi. On July 29, the Islamists attacked government buildings in Yarkand leaving dozens of Chinese citizens dead.
As retaliation to the Yarkand attack, the Chinese government barred citizens with long beards, veils, headscarves or any clothes that had the Islamic symbol of the crescent and star, from boarding public buses in Karamay as the town hosted a local sports event till August 20. The move came in addition to the government banning state officials and students from fasting in Ramzan. All these state actions highlight an apparent state-sanctioned suffocation of Islam in China. However, another Chinese Muslim community is doing just fine.
While the Uighur Muslims’ religious freedom is being squeezed, the Hui Muslims with an 11 million population – 3 million more than their Uighur counterparts – continue to flourish as a well-off Chinese community that openly practices its religious duties without any state resistance. Not only are the Hui Muslims thriving economically, they are also perceived as the religious face of Muslims in China. And the reason behind this is simple: integration and moderation.
With Uighurs being primarily populated in the Xinjiang province, the Hui are well spread out throughout the country. They openly embrace themselves as Han people without quelling their Muslim identity. The Hui mosques, which are an elegant blend of Han culture and Islamic heritage, manifest the community’s pride in both its religious and ethnic origins.
This in turn has resulted in the state not only protecting the Hui Muslims’ religious freedom, but also endeavoring to bring the Hui into prominence so as to showcase the difference between a ‘good Muslim and a bad Muslim’. The double standards in dealing with the Uighur and Hui Muslims stem from the threat that the stereotypical ‘bad Muslims’ pose, regardless of their percentage in the overall Muslim population.
The state’s double standards on Islam don’t owe themselves to anti-Muslim bigotry, cultural insensitivity or the much touted Islamophobia, the double standards are an endavour to earmark the moderates who believe in interracial integration as the ‘true representatives’ of the Muslim community instead of the fundamentalists who believe that their religion supersedes the state’s authority. The Chinese government wants to highlight ‘moderate Islam’ as ‘true Islam’, not because of any pro-Islam sentiments but because it has become a question of security. The barefaced discrimination against the Uighur Muslims is the corollary of the state’s counterterrorism policy. And the biggest victims of this policy are the moderate Uighur Muslims.
Why should all Muslim men sporting long beards face discrimination just because Islamist terrorists support similar beards? Why should a Muslim woman be barred from covering her head or wearing a veil just because that particular dress is conveniently used by terrorists to blow places up? Why should any person be forced to abandon their religious obligations that do not interfere in anyone else’s life, just because religion is a motivation behind terrorism?
It is impossible to convince the sufferers that this discrimination is actually a counterterrorism endeavour. It is impossible to convince them that their religion isn’t being openly targeted by the state.
[quote]For China ensuring the security of its citizens is more important than any medals of religious and cultural sensitivity[/quote]
The Chinese state is openly bartering allegations of Islamophobia with a reduction in Islamist terrorism. For China ensuring the security of its citizens is more important than any medals of religious and cultural sensitivity. Whether the Chinese counterterrorism policy is just or not is debatable, but what is indubitable is that its biggest victims aren’t the ones that the state is vying to target, despite the Islamists’ manouevres being relativity nullified in Xinjiang.
What makes the situation worse for the moderate Uighur Muslims is the community’s refusal to vociferously condemn Islamist terrorism. And there’s a lesson here for Muslims everywhere.
The Muslim communities in China and around the world can play their part in ensuring that Muslims don’t suffer from bigotry, by disassociating themselves from Islamist terrorists. The Uighur militants like the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Isis in Iraq have managed to spiral out of control owing to the local Muslim population’s accepting them and portraying them as anything ranging between religious leaders and freedom fighters.
The reason why Muslims suffer from a global bias more than any other religious community is because the tendency of Muslims toeing the fundamentalist narrative and accepting the terrorist organisations as their representatives is more than any other religious group. The Muslims’ refusal to integrate with other communities is more prominent than other communities as manifested by the suffering of minorities in the Islamic world and the tendency of Muslims to separate themselves from other groups in multi-cultural countries.
As long as the reformists from the Muslim world refuse to acknowledge religion’s role in fueling terrorism, and instead prefer to highlight the terrorists’ misinterpretation, the world’s ostensible double standards on Islam will persist. Until an overwhelming section of the Muslim population condemns Islamism the apparent anti-Muslim bigotry will persist. As long as the fight against Islamism is being dubbed a war on Islam, the problem would remain unresolved.
The burden to transform the Muslims’ global outlook lies with the Muslims and not with anyone else. As long as they persist on turning a blind eye to the role of religion on Islamist terrorism or refuse to acknowledge that Islamists continue to enjoy popular support, the world’s ostensible double standards on Islam are inevitable.