China Cracks Down on Formerly Tolerated Hui Muslims

Chinese Hui Muslim men wait on a carpet before Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of the
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Thursday reported on the sad state of affairs for the Hui Muslims, the “other Muslims” of China whose more comfortable existence was often presented by the Chinese tyranny as a defense against allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated on the Uyghur Muslims. 

The Hui were supposedly a model of how Islam could be observed in harmony with Chinese Communism, but now Beijing is destroying Hui religion and culture with its merciless campaign of “Sinicization.”

In 2016, for example, as outrage over the Uyghur genocide was mounting around the world, China comically “investigated” itself and pronounced itself a model of religious tolerance because the Hui were allowed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This sham religious freedom report used the Hui to argue that the Uyghurs were only treated poorly because they were a separatist security threat.

A report released by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) on Wednesday noted that the Uyghurs still aren’t allowed to observe Ramadan – their villages are actually monitored with a system of informers and spot home inspections to ensure none of them are fasting, as required by the traditional Ramadan observance – and the centuries-old Hui community has not fared much better over the past few years.

According to the report, Chinese dictator Xi Jinping soured on the Hui, and grew more hostile to religion in general, during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. The Hui are now targeted by a “Sinicization” program that co-opts their religion, turns mosques into dispensaries of Chinese Communist propaganda, keeps them under extensive surveillance, and restricts their behavior to eliminate “signs of extremism.”

“Will the Hui Be Silently Erased?” the report asked in its title. Some of the erasure is quite noisy indeed. For example, Chinese provincial governments have decided the Hui have too many mosques, so dozens of these houses of worship have been “consolidated”, i.e. bulldozed. The mosques that don’t get “consolidated” are “rectified,” which means distinctive Arabic features like domes and minarets are demolished. 

The Hui are also getting a taste of China’s “ethnic unity” program, which basically forces Han Chinese people into minority households to pressure them into abandoning their cultural and religious practices. Uyghur women have been forced to accept Han Chinese men into their households while their husbands are imprisoned in re-education camps.

The “ethnic unity” agenda includes a “poverty alleviation” program – a euphemism for shipping members of oppressed minorities off to distant regions of China, where they will be isolated from those who share their faith and culture, and forcibly assimilated into Han Chinese cities.

“Hui throughout China have also faced discrimination in education, the job market and the workplace, and this discrimination has worsened because of the stigmatizing effect of the government campaigns marginalizing and criminalizing Hui religious and cultural practices,” CHRD said.

Speaking of the Uyghurs, the report said they are once again suffering heavy oppression after a few months of relative peace, with mass arrests of religious figures picking up and strong measures taken to discourage Ramadan celebrations. Chinese officials confirmed that fasting during Ramadan has been prohibited for government employees and school children.

The Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) noted in March 2021 that restrictions on the Hui Muslims were “increasingly similar to restrictions experienced by Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities,” including Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. CECC noted that until now, the Hui have been permitted to engage in acts of Islamic worship and culture that were “severely restricted and even criminalized for Uyghurs.”

The Diplomat quoted a Muslim activist around the same time who used the time-honored “frog sitting in warm water that will eventually boil” metaphor to describe the slow-boil repression of the Hui. 

The Hui are a large (10 million-plus) and relatively prosperous group, they have a high proportion of Mandarin Chinese speakers, and not all of them are Muslims, so the Chinese government was content to tighten the screws on them slowly, especially when the Hui were politically useful as cover for the Uyghur genocide. Also, Beijing saw the Hui as much less of a security threat because they had no tradition of longing for a separate homeland, as the Uyghurs do.

The Diplomat suggested the fortunes of the Hui shifted because Beijing felt less need to rely on them as a diversion from its abuse of the Uyghurs, and because the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly inclined to see Islam as an inherent threat to security and the authority of the Chinese government.

According to CHRD, the slow-boil repression of the Hui has landed more than 100,000 of them in re-education centers, and the crackdown is intensifying as the Hui push back against Sinicization.


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