Beyond Xinjiang: ‘China closing, destroying hundreds of mosques in northern regions’ newsbhunt

The Chinese government’s efforts to shut down mosques have extended beyond Xinjiang, an area long criticized for the persecution of Muslim minorities. This expansion has reached the Ningxia region and Gansu province, areas with significant Hui Muslim populations. As per a Human Rights Watch report , which utilizes public documents, satellite imagery, and eyewitness accounts, indicates that these closures are part of an official strategy termed “consolidation.”
In addition to closing mosques, local authorities have been altering mosque architectures to align them more with “Chinese” aesthetics.This is part of the Communist Party’s broader initiative to exert greater control over religious practices and minimize potential threats to its authority.
President Xi Jinping, since 2016, has advocated for the “Sinicization” of religions, leading to intensified crackdowns, particularly in Xinjiang. This region is home to over 11 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. A United Nations report from the previous year suggested that China’s actions in Xinjiang, including the establishment of extrajudicial internment camps holding at least 1 million Uyghurs, Huis, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz, might constitute “crimes against humanity.”
Human Rights Watch’s findings reveal that mosque closures, demolitions, or conversions for secular purposes are occurring in areas outside Xinjiang as part of a broader clampdown on religious expression. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not immediately responded to inquiries about the report and its policies towards Muslim minorities.
The concept of “mosque consolidation” was first mentioned in an internal party document from April 2018, leaked to US media as part of the “Xinjiang Papers.” This document directed state agencies to control the construction and renovation of Islamic religious sites and discouraged the building of new mosques to reduce their overall number.
Hannah Theaker, a lecturer at the University of Plymouth, along with David Stroup of the University of Manchester, noted that the removal of ablution facilities effectively renders these buildings unusable for worship, without visibly appearing as such. They estimate that around 1,300 mosques in Ningxia, about a third of the total number registered, have been closed since 2020. This figure does not include mosques closed or demolished due to their unofficial status, most of which occurred before 2020.
Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch, criticized the government’s actions, stating that the closures and destruction of mosques represent a systematic effort to suppress Islam in China, contradicting the government’s claim of merely “consolidating” mosques.
In Ningxia’s Liaoqiao and Chuankou villages, all seven mosques had their domes and minarets dismantled, and three main buildings were demolished between 2019 and 2021, as evidenced by online videos and satellite imagery. Additionally, the ablution hall of one mosque was internally damaged.
A March 2018 document from Yinchuan, Ningxia’s capital, also referenced the policy of consolidating mosques. It outlined a strategy to control the number and size of religious venues and encouraged mosques to adopt Chinese architectural styles, suggesting that combining mosques could address the issue of their abundance.
In Gansu province, local governments have documented efforts to consolidate mosques. For instance, in Guanghe County, predominantly Hui, 12 mosques were deregistered, five were closed, and another five were improved and consolidated in 2020, as per the government’s annual yearbook mentioned in the report.
An imam from Ningxia interviewed by Radio Free Asia explained that the mosque consolidation policy requires merging any mosques within 2.5km of each other. He expressed concerns that this policy would lead to a decline in religious participation among younger and middle-aged people, eventually eroding the Islamic faith and leading to the sinicization of Muslims.
There have also been reports of mosque closures or alterations in other parts of China, occasionally sparking public protests. In May, in Nagu town, Yunnan province, residents clashed with police over the planned demolition of a mosque dome.
(With inputs from agencies)

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