Clearing misconceptions regarding China’s Muslims

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  • Detractors have led the faithful astray long enough

At the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang’s regular press conference on September 25, 2018, a question was raised that reportedly, Pakistan’s minister for religious affairs met with Chinese ambassador in Islamabad last week and raised concerns about China’s restrictions on Muslims in Xinjiang. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson was forthright in his response, when he confirmed that on September 19, Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing met with Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Qadri, during which the two sides had good communication on China-Pakistan relations and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese side commends the efforts made by the Pakistani government to promote religious harmony. Both sides share the same position on religious issues. In the information released by the Associated Press of Pakistan on September 19, 2018, the meeting was reported in an accurate way. However, some foreign media made unfounded and distorted reports on the meeting. China is firmly opposed to that.

The Chinese government governs and develops Xinjiang in accordance with the law. A host of policies and measures have been introduced to promote stability, development and solidarity and improve people’s livelihood in Xinjiang, thus safeguarding social stability and lasting peace there. Currently, Xinjiang enjoys social stability and a sound momentum of economic development with people of different ethnic groups living in harmony.

Xinjiang is China’s western province, which has the largest area and is also blessed with the highest number of Muslims. In the past, China’s eastern provinces enjoyed greater opulence and a higher rate of development perhaps because of being closer to the coastal region and ports. However, this disparity caused Xinjiang’s population to face a sense of deprivation, which was manipulated by China’s detractors, who tried to incite the Muslim population, ethnic Uyghurs, into insurgency.

President Xi Jinping quelled the insurgency with a two prong policy. Security forces cracked down on the troublemakers with an iron hand, while development projects with the inclusion of Uyghurs ushered an era of prosperity. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the New Silk Road, which promises a new age of affluence, has Xinjiang as its focal point. The flagship of BRI, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) terminates at Xinjiang’s ancient city of Kashgar, which was a major city of the ancient Silk Road and has become the launching pad of BRI into Central Asia and beyond.

From a sleepy backwater of the 1970s, Urumqi has become a sprawling metropolis, with high-rise buildings, busy roads

The steps taken by both the central government and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to dispel a sense of deprivation, promote conventions of religious beliefs and conduct an era of harmony are remarkable.

This scribe has been visiting Xinjiang for the last four and a half decades and is a witness to the various stages of development. From a sleepy backwater of the 1970s, Urumqi has become a sprawling metropolis, with high-rise buildings, busy roads, marketplaces and shopping malls. A network for underground metro trains and high-speed railway is reaching the final stages of completion.

My last tour of Xinjiang was in June 2018, on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, as a guest of the BRI to delve deep into the core and feel the pulse of this massive project. A detailed tour of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and discussions with Adudulrekep Tumniaz, president of the Institute and deputy director of Xinjiang Islamic Association, was very reassuring. The Institute is 28 years old and has come a long way. My previous visit was in 2011 and since then, a new campus with modern class rooms, an impressive mosque, well equipped library, cozy dormitories and state of the art sports facilities, has been completed in 2017, which can compete with any modern western university.

Chinese constitution ensures freedom of religion and Islam is no exception, however, western critics and detractors of China have been spreading rumours about the practice of Islam being curtailed. Since extremists have been distorting the tenets of Islam, quoting verses out of context and leading the faithful astray with their particular brand of religion to fulfill their heinous designs, the Islamic Institute has picked up the cudgel to produce scholars and religious teachers, who can become Imams in various mosques and university professors and teachers as well as research scholars to guide the faithful and protect them from extremism.

The bachelor’s degree being conferred upon the Islamic scholars from the Institute, which numbers around 1,200 per year is spread over five years. Imbibed with the knowledge of Islam, equipped with the wherewithal to take up the responsibility of guiding others, these graduates have an open mind and are well versed with science technology, social studies, current and international affairs, to meet the challenge head on.

The scourge of extremism, which had hit Xinjiang in 2009 and later in 2014, is now diminishing because of the measures taken by the central government of China and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which are bearing fruit. Security is tight; vigilance is efficient and more effective because the physical, financial and moral wellbeing of the citizens is being guarded. More opportunities for education, vocational training, employment opportunities and religious freedom are producing healthy students. Young boys and girls especially from the less developed and impoverished regions are being afforded the opportunity to study in state of the art boarding schools, where they are being provided quality education, mastery over arts, sciences, languages and extracurricular activities at state expense to complete high school and gain admission in inland institutions of higher learning. A social discourse with various students, revealed that majority of them is Uyghurs, who have been enrolled in the boarding schools along with members of other communities including the majority Han. They are learning the basic principle of live and let live. These children receive a stipend from the government, and are turning out to be confident youth, adept in conversing in at least three languages. If their academic performance is up the mark, they are encouraged to get admission in institutions of higher learning backed by government scholarships.

The facilities for practicing religion are also being enhanced. Modern and well equipped mosques, slaughter houses where halal meat can be procured or the Eid-ul-Adha rituals practiced and support in pilgrimage are paying rich dividends. The government is ensuring that pilgrims for Hajj and Umrah are provided logistic support, while spiritual education and respect for the rights of the faithful is maintained. Medical facilities, which were redundant in Xinjiang once upon a time, have now been established to a level which is unprecedented. Traditional as well as conventional medicine is offered to the urban as well as rural dwellers with the additional advantage of telemedicine, on concessional or gratis basis.

A stroll through the market area and some traditional trading centers, without the company of my hosts gave me the opportunity to converse with some Muslims, a few of them of Pakistani origin, who have married there with Chinese girls, have grown up children and are enjoying normal lives devoid of any tension, as being propagated by some mischief mongers.

With such a heavy investment, financially, spiritually and morally, there is no way the detractors of China can lead the faithful astray any longer.