Chinese state media has defended the planned demolition of a mosque in the country’s northwest, saying that no religion is bigger than the law even as thousands of ethnic Hui Muslims continued sit-in protests against the plan. Thousands of protesters thwarted attempts by officials in Wuzhong city on Thursday to demolish parts of the Weizhou Grand Mosque in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region for alleged violations during its recent renovation. The sit-in reportedly continued towards the weekend as the protesters stayed put in the mosque. They refused to leave and the appearance of large cooking stoves and large supplies of food and water last evening suggested many of them were in for the long haul, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
“The officials have not given us a clear answer. And we plan to carry on until the government makes it clear that it won’t make any changes to the mosque,” the Post quoted a protester as saying.
Chinese officials say the mosque authorities which carried out a renovation in 2015 made it look like a typical mosque from the Middle East and they want its “Arab style” domes to be replaced with Chinese style “pagodas”. This was deemed unacceptable by most members of the community.
“After taking down the domes, the mosque can no longer be an icon of Islam,” said a local man who declined to give his name. “Changing it to a traditional Chinese style is as incongruous as putting the mouth of a horse on the head of an ox,” he told the Post.
While there was no official reaction yet to the act of defiance by the Hui Muslim community, which unlike the Uygur Muslims from Xinjiang province, has a peaceful reputation, state media said no religion can be above the law.
“Chinese people enjoy religious freedom protected by the Constitution of China, the country under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). No religion shall have the privilege over laws and regulations of the country,” an op-ed in state-run Global Times said today.
“All religious activities should abide by the country’s laws and all religions shall be treated equally,” it said, adding that “to effectively solve the issue, local authorities need to stick to the law and take local people’s feelings and interests into consideration,” it said.
Blaming local officials for allowing the construction, the report said “they need to admit their mistakes and inform the area’s Muslims why it is necessary to take corrective actions in regard to the illegality of the ungranted (unapproved) expansion”.
“When an issue such as this does arise, it is important for Chinese citizens to uphold the authority of the government’s laws and to achieve unity in society. They should also be vigilant against the intervention of foreign forces,” it said.
According to an official white paper released in April, China has about 20 million Muslims with Uygurs and Hui Muslims making up about 10 million each.
China is currently carrying out a massive crackdown against the militant East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in the volatile Xinjiang province where the majority Uyghurs are restive over increasing settlements of Han Chinese. Compared to Uygurs who are of Turkic origin with ethnic ties to Turkey, Hui Muslims are ethnically Chinese in origin. Most of them speak Mandarin, and apart from the white caps and headscarves worn by the more traditional members of the ethnic group, they are indistinguishable from the majority Han Chinese.