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China working to 'erode' Utsuls religious identity

ANI | Updated: Feb 16, 2021 20:55 IST

Sanya [China], February 16 (ANI): With the new restrictions imposed on the Utsuls residing in the Chinese city of Sanya, it is clear that Beijing is "working to erode the religious identity of even its smallest Muslim minorities".
According to The New York Times (NYT), the Utsuls, a community of no more than 10,000 Muslims in the Chinese city are among the latest to emerge as targets of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) campaign against foreign influence and religions.
"The new restrictions in Sanya, a city on the resort island of Hainan, mark a reversal in government policy. Until several years ago, officials supported the Utsuls' Islamic identity and their ties with Muslim countries, according to local religious leaders and residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid government retaliation... Their troubles show how Beijing is working to erode the religious identity of even its smallest Muslim minorities, in a push for a unified Chinese culture," NYT reported further.
While the CCP claims that the restriction imposed on the Islam and Muslim communities are aimed at "curbing violent religious extremism", The Beijing authorities have used this rationale to justify its clampdown on religious minorities in in Xinjiang.
The tightening of control over the Utsuls "reveals the real face of the Chinese Communist campaign against local communities," said Ma Haiyun, an associate professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland who studies Islam in China as quoted by NYT.
"This is about trying to strengthen state control. It's purely anti-Islam," Haiyun added. The news outlet reported that the Chinese government has repeatedly denied that it opposes Islam. But under Xi Jinping, its top leader, the party has torn down mosques, ancient shrines and Islamic domes and minarets in northwestern and central China.
Its crackdown has focused heavily on the Uighurs, a Central Asian Muslim minority of 11 million in Xinjiang, many of whom have been held in mass detention camps and forced to renounce Islam.
Yusuf Liu, a Malaysian-Chinese writer who has studied the Utsuls, said that the group had been able to preserve a distinct identity because they were geographically isolated for centuries and held firm to their religious beliefs. He noted that the Utsuls were similar in many ways to the Malays, according to NYT.

"They share many of the same characteristics, including language, dress, history, blood ties and food," Liu said.
In the past two years, even in Sanya, the authorities have "pushed to limit" over expressions of faith and links to the Arab world.
NYT further reported that local mosque leaders said they were told to remove loudspeakers that broadcast the call to prayer from the tops of minarets and place them on the ground -- and, more recently, to turn down the volume as well. Construction of a new mosque was halted in a dispute over its imposing dimensions and supposedly "Arab" architectural elements; its concrete skeleton now gathers dust. The city has barred children under 18 from studying Arabic, residents said.
Utsul residents said they wanted to learn Arabic not only to better understand Islamic texts but also to communicate with Arab tourists who came to their restaurants, hotels and mosques before the pandemic hit.
Some residents expressed frustration with the new restrictions, saying they called into question China's promise to respect its 56 officially recognized ethnic groups. A local religious leader said the community had been told that they were no longer allowed to build domes.
"The mosques in the Middle East are like this. We want to build ours like that so they look like mosques and not just like houses," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because some residents had recently been briefly detained for criticizing the government.
In September last year, Utsul parents and students protested outside schools and government offices after several public schools forbade girls to wear headscarves to class. Weeks later, the authorities reversed.
The ethnic minority of Utsuls of Hainan Island in China is facing increased surveillance and religious crackdown similar to that of the Uyghur Muslim minority of Xinjiang, which has recently become the focus of global condemnation.
A United Nations report shows that about 10 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps across China. However, the Chinese Government has repeatedly 'justified' its treatment of Uyghurs by accusing them of terrorist attacks. (ANI)