China Bans Children in Hui Muslim Region from Religious Events During Winter Break

Chinese Hui Muslim students during an exercise session on the campus of the Ningxia Islamic Institute in Yinchuan, China's Ningxia province

Education authorities in China have stepped up their suppression of religious freedom by banning Muslim children from attending religious events over the winter holidays.

The Chinese education bureau has declared that pupils in Linxia county in Gansu province, home to a strong Muslim Hui ethnic minority, must not enter any religious building during the break, nor may they read Islamic scriptures in classes or in religious buildings. The notice also urged pupils and teachers to increase political indoctrination and the use of propaganda.

The restrictions are notable for targeting the Hui, which Beijing typically considers moderate Muslims. The most severe restrictions on Islam fall on the Uighur ethnic minority, far west from Gansu in Xinjiang province.

The rules appear to be an attempt to impose communist rule over a Muslim population that is increasingly concerning to the Communist Party. Islam is one of China’s largest religious minorities. 1.8 percent of citizens identify as Muslim, approximately 2.5 million people.

Chinese law technically allows for religious freedom, although organized religion remains a point of concern for the ruling Communist Party, which enforces strict rules on religious education to ensure the focus remains on their communist ideology.

At last year’s Chinese Communist Party Congress, officials introduced additional regulations on religious affairs to come into effect this February, which aim to exert greater control over children’s religious education as part of the governments broader strategy of political unification.

Last September, Muslims in China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang claimed police had confiscated their Qurans, stating that the Islamic Holy Book contained “extremist content,” although the Chinese Foreign Ministry later denied the allegations as “groundless allegations and rumors.”

However, in an attempt to prove their commitment to religious tolerance, Chinese authorities have also made efforts to crack down on so-called “Islamaphobia.” Last month, Chinese blogger Li Zhidong was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “inciting ethnic hatred” based on China’s 2016 Cybersecurity Law, which criminalizes actions deemed contrary to national unity, including “ethnic hatred, discrimination, and spreading violent and obscene content online.”

China has also made extensive efforts to combat any outbreak of potential Islamic terrorism, as noting that ISIS and al-Qaeda have urged Uighur Muslims to join the jihad. The U.S. has also confirmed that terrorist activity, mainly stemming from Pakistan, has “become more frequent and high profile.”

Authorities have responded by sending troops to bolster security in Uighur areas, and have mandated that all cars in the Muslim-dominated area of Bayingol be fitted with government-issued tracking devices so that authorities are aware of the locations of all cars in at all times.

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