CHINA: Xinjiang - Imams and mosque education under state control
The imam of the central mosque in the town of Turpan, north east of China's Xinjiang region, admitted to Forum 18 News Service in early September that the Chinese authorities name all imams to local mosques. Imams also have to attend regular meetings of the national religious committees at their town administration, where they are told what they can do and are ordered to preach peace and condemn terrorism in their sermons. Local adult Muslims, mainly ethnic Uighurs, can learn about their faith only in certain mosques where the imam has gained special approval, while children are banned. "The authorities instruct us to tell parents that their children must complete their education before they can start to attend mosque," the imam reported, though Forum 18 observed some children in Turpan's mosques at Friday prayers.
The imam-hatyb of Turpan's central Janubikuk mosque, Sirojdin Abdurakhim, admitted to Forum 18 that all the imams are appointed by the authorities. The imam-hatybs also have to attend regular meetings of the national religious committees (which are responsible for work with religious believers) at the town administration. "At the committee we are told what mistakes are allowable at a mosque," he told Forum 18 in Turpan on 10 September. "We are ordered to preach the concept of peace to believers and to explain to them what harm is done to Muslims by the terrorists who operate in the name of our religion."
Although, unlike in the south-western city of Kashgar, Forum 18 did not find any posters in mosques banning young people under the age of 18 from attending, Abdurakhim admitted to Forum 18 that children are not allowed to attend mosques. "The authorities instruct us to tell parents that their children must complete their education before they can start to attend mosque," he told Forum 18. However, this order is not observed too rigorously and Forum 18 observed several children in Turpan's mosques.
Abdurakhim also admitted that children are not allowed to study Islam. Even adults may only study the faith in mosques where the imam-hatybs have received specific authorisation from the authorities, though Forum 18 did see posters in a number of mosques stating that instruction in Islam was permitted in them.
Separatist tendencies are far less developed among Turpan's Uighurs than among fellow-Uighurs in Kashgar and in other cities of south-western Xinjiang such as Hotan. Speaking to Forum 18, local Uighurs themselves ascribed their relative loyalty to Beijing mainly to the fact that Turpan is much closer to central China than are the cities of south-western Xinjiang and that it therefore fell under Beijing's influence earlier.
Nevertheless, Turpan's Uighurs, like their fellow-Uighurs in the south-west, prefer to pursue a policy of voluntary "apartheid" towards the Chinese. Local Uighur men hardly ever marry Chinese women. They also refuse to eat in Chinese-owned restaurants because the food is not prepared in accordance with Muslim law. At the same time, Uighurs in the Turpan area are far less devout than those in the south-west. Even during Friday prayers Forum 18 counted no more than 50 believers at Turpan's Janubikuk mosque. In south-western Xinjiang, around 30 per cent of married women wear the Islamic veil, but Forum 18 saw no woman with her face covered in Turpan.
It is worth noting that, as local Muslims told Forum 18, between 1983 and 1996 underage children were not prevented from attending mosque or from studying Islam. Forum 18's sources maintained that during this period, Muslims faced almost no restrictions from the authorities. It is possible that Beijing has stepped up its policy against Muslims because the Chinese authorities have concluded that religion is clearly an underlying cause of Uighur separatist sentiment.
For more background information see Forum 18's Xinjiang religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of China (including Xinjiang) is available from http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=china
13 September 2004
While ethnic Mongolian Buddhists in China's Xinjiang-Uighur autonomous region say they can generally practise their faith without serious government pressure, some told Forum 18 News Service in the Bortala-Mongolian autonomous prefecture that maintaining contact with fellow Buddhists abroad is almost impossible. They said all visits by lamas from Mongolia require special permission, while they cannot visit foreign Buddhist centres. They added that portraits of the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, are banned in temples.
9 September 2004
Kazakhstan-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr Vianor Ivanov had visited China's north-western Xinjiang region to serve the local Orthodox who have no priests, but in December 2003 was detained by Chinese customs, was interrogated for a week, had his religious literature confiscated and was deported. "They questioned me for five hours a day. The special services representatives proved to be amazingly well-informed," Fr Ivanov told Forum 18 News Service. Local Orthodox told Forum 18 in Xinjiang in early September that virtually all the Orthodox believers in the city of Ghulja were questioned by the security services about Fr Ivanov's activity. In Ghulja the Orthodox can at least meet for prayers in church without a priest, but in another Xinjiang town, Tacheng, local Russian Orthodox have had no success so far in applying to rebuild their church.
21 July 2004
Chinese web-users are denied access to a range of religious sites based abroad, Forum 18 News Service has found after a two-month survey of how far the Chinese government's Golden Shield firewall, used to censor the internet, affects access to religious websites. Sites blocked include those related to the persecution of Christians and other religious faiths, the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong religious movement, the Muslim Uygurs of Xinjiang and a number of Catholic sites, including the website of the Hong Kong diocese and the Divine Word Missionaries in Taiwan.