Imam and Religious Believers in Xinjiang Answer Questions from the Press
Q: Respecting and protecting freedom of religious belief is a long-term state policy of the Chinese government. How is this freedom guaranteed in Xinjiang?
A: Hello, everyone. My name is Abdussiker Hothemudura. I graduated from the Xinjiang Islamic Institute. I am now the Vice President of The Islamic Association of China. I have been serving as the Imam of Baida Mosque in Tianshan District of Urumqi for 18 years.
Indeed, as you said, respecting and protecting freedom of religious belief is a long-term basic state policy of the Chinese government. China's Constitution provides citizens with freedom of religious belief. No government agency, public organization, or individual may compel citizens to believe in, ornot to believe in any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe or do not believe in any religion. The State protects normal religious activities. The Law on Regional National Autonomy, the Education Law, the Labor Law, and other provisions stipulate that citizens' rights shall not be differentiated or discriminated on the basis of religious belief, including the rights to vote and stand for election, to receive education, to enjoy equal employment and more.
I was born in a Muslim family and had some firsthand experience on the government's policy of religious freedom. Religious belief is someone's personal choice, a private matter. It is up to the individual to decide whether he believes in a religion or not. As far as I know, no one has suffered unfair treatment or discrimination because of their religion.
In Xinjiang, mosques are protected by law. The Religious Affairs Department of the government issued the Land Use Certificate, House Property Certificate, and Registration Certificate for Places of Religious Activities to mosques. For example, the Baida Mosque where I work has the full set of three documents, covering an area of more than 2,000 square meters and a building area of more than 3,200 square meters. In recent years, with the strong support of the government, public service facilities such as water, electricity, gas, heating, and medical care have been significantly improved in Baida Mosque, greatly facilitating the Muslims' religious activities. We are all very happy. Other mosques across Xinjiang have also received help from the government to improve their public service conditions.
In Xinjiang, normal religious activities are guaranteed. These activities of Muslims of all ethnic groups are conducted entirely in accordance with their own wishes and never interfered with by anyone. Following the religious doctrine, Sunnah and other traditions, followers chant, pray, preach, fast, and celebrate Islamic festivals in mosques and in their own houses. As far as I know, tens of thousands of Muslims from Xinjiang have made pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia in recent years. The customs and practices of Muslims of all ethnic groups in food, festivals, marriage, and funeral rituals have been fully respected, and the government has allocated special land for cemeteries for Muslims burial. In the face of COVID-19 pandemic, to protect our normal religious activities, the government arranges staff in the mosques to provide medical services, giving out masks to Muslims, measuring temperatures, distributing medicine, conducting regular disinfection, and promoting scientific knowledge. None of the places where religious activities take place in Xinjiang had any outbreak or virus infection.
In Xinjiang, the publication and distribution of Islamic classics is guaranteed. Xinjiang has set up a special Islamic Religious Affairs Steering Committee, of which I am a member. In recent years, we have translated and published Islamic classics such as the Quran and the Essence of the Hadith of Buhariin four languages, including Mandarin, Uygur, Kazak, and Kirgiz, which have been distributed free of charge to Muslim clerics and mosques.
In Xinjiang, the building of Islamic talent team has been guaranteed. There are now 10 Islamic colleges and universities in Xinjiang, namely the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, its 8 branches, and the Xinjiang Islamic Scripture School. The government has helped religious institutions improve their operating conditions, training nearly 1,000 new clerical personnel every year.
In Xinjiang, the right of people from religious circles to participate in and discuss state affairs is fully guaranteed. People's Congresses and Political Consultative Conferences at all levels in Xinjiang shall supervise and inspect the implementation of the policies, laws, and regulations on freedom of religious belief. Overall, more than 1000 religious figures of all ethnic groups serve as representatives or committee members in the People's Congresses and Political Consultative Conference to participate and perform democratic supervision rights. They would present opinions, proposals, or recommendations in government related work, especially involving the religious sector, to fully protect the legitimate rights and interests of the religion and religious believers and meet our reasonable needs.
At the same time, on the basis of mutual respect, equality, and friendship, we have actively strengthened communications and exchanges with countries and Islamic organizations in the Islamic world, continuously deepened relations, and promoted mutual learning among civilizations. Since 2016, we have invited well-known Islamic figures, experts, and scholars from Arab think tanks to Xinjiang for field visits. After witnessing the real situation of Muslims in Xinjiang, they have expressed their appreciation for the efforts made by the Chinese government to care for Muslims.
Facts have proved that the policy of freedom of religious belief has been fully implemented in Xinjiang, and the right of freedom to religious belief has been guaranteed in accordance with the law.
Q: Some US and Western media believe that "the Chinese government is eradicating Islam, and detaining some religious figures not recognized by the government." What is your response?
A: Hello, everyone! My name is Esbiton Saimahdi. I am from Gongliu County (Tokkuztara County), Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. I am the Imam of the Oshakand Mosque in Gilgrang Township.
The so-called "Chinese government's eradication of Islam" is nothing but nonsense and slander against China. On the contrary, the Chinese government has been doing a lot to promote the healthy development of Islam. As a member of the Islamic clergy, I have the best say.
As far as I know, the so-called "religious figures detained by the government" actually are not clerics. They are criminals who, in the name of Islam, promote extremist religious ideas and engage in separatist, destructive and violent terrorist activities. Taking advantage of the simple religious feelings of Muslims, they spread extremist thoughts, wantonly distort the doctrine and Sunnah of Islam, deny all secular concepts and achievements of modern civilization, advocate the concept of "martyr for jihad to paradise," and kill "infidels" and "apostates." Some religious figures of moderate faith are rejected, persecuted and even killed by them. For example, under the influence of religious extremism, thousands of violent terrorism cases occurred in Xinjiang in the past, killing a large number of innocent people. Even a group of respected figures of Islam, such as Aronhan Haji, Yunus Stik Mawla and Jüme Tahir, were brutally murdered. These extreme acts have brought untold sufferings to the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, including Muslims, and greatly damaged the image of Islam.
China is a country under the rule of law. The government cracks down on all kinds of illegal and criminal activities in accordance with the law, including those involving the misuse of religion. In the fight against crime, it has never targeted any particular religion. Religious extremism is not a religion; it is anti-human, anti-social, anti-civilization and anti-religion. In my view, the purpose of combating religious extremism is to better protect legitimate religions.
There have been no violent or terrorist attacks in Xinjiang in nearly four years. Religious activities of Muslims in Xinjiang are carried out normally. The Ili Branch of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute recruits more than 60 students every year to train future Islamic clerics. All this proves that Islam is not being eradicated in Xinjiang but has robustly developed.
Q: Just now, the host introduced the teachers from the Xinjiang Islamic Institute present here today. I would like to know how Xinjiang trains its Islamic clerics.
A: Hello, everyone! My name is Baishpi. I am the Imam of the Nianzigou Mosque in Saybag District of Urumqi and a religious teacher employed by the Xinjiang Islamic Institute.
Xinjiang attaches great importance to the training of Islamic clerics. In 1982, the Xinjiang Islamic Institute was opened, and in 2017 it set up eight branches in Ili, Changji, Urumqi, Turpan, Aksu, Kizilsu, Kashgar and Hotan. Xinjiang Islamic Institute and its 8 branches have a total enrolment of 3,000 students. According to the principle of "targeted, quantitative and needs-based training," the Xinjiang Islamic Institute is mainly responsible for the recruitment and training of undergraduate students and college students, while 8 branches are mainly responsible for the recruitment and training of secondary school students.
The school offers three kinds of courses: first, religious knowledge as found in Islam, the Hadith, Quran recitation, Arabic, etc; second, China's constitution and laws, such as the Civil Code, the Regulation on Religious Affairs, and the Regulation on De-extremification; third, culture and history, such as the history of Xinjiang, Islamic history and culture, computer skills, standard spoken and written Mandarin and so on.
In school, the government gives each student a monthly allowance of 600 yuan for food. In addition, the college also provides financial aid and scholarships to students in need. Ninety percent of the students can enjoy scholarships or grants of at least 4,000 yuan per academic year, with the highest amount up to 8,000 yuan.
In the process of teaching, I integrate the patriotic tradition of Islam from start to end, enabling a comprehensive understanding of patriotism, peace, unity, the middle path, tolerance and good will. Thus, our students receive a proper national outlook, cultural perspective, and accurate historical and religious viewpoints, thereby adhering to the sinicization of Xinjiang Islam. Many of the students I have taught have graduated and served as imams or Hatifu in mosques across Xinjiang, providing services to Muslims and meeting their religious needs. They have also made positive contributions to promoting ethnic unity, religious harmony and social stability in Xinjiang.
As a cleric, I was honored and proud to be hired to teach religion at the school and to cultivate the next generation of Islamic talents.
Q: Some international media have suggested that "religious freedom is restricted in Xinjiang." I would like to ask whether there have been any restrictions on the rights of Xinjiang ethnic groups to practice their own religion?
A: Hello, my name is Musa Asan, and I am the Imam of the Aksu Reste Mosque.
Firstly, as far as I know, there have been no restrictions on religious freedom in Xinjiang. Taking the mosque I serve in as an example, there are about 100 people coming here every single day for their 5 daily prayers. The number of people will exceed 300 during Jumah. A lot of people gather here for holiday celebrations, and they are all local residents.
Secondly, according to the guideline of pandemic prevention for religious services put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have carefully disinfected and ventilated our venue, asked the congregation to wear masks, and taken their temperature before entering, all with the aim to protect our community. We have ensured local communities and residents can continue practicing their religion in a safe way during the pandemic.
When local Muslims get married here, the couple invites me home to preside over the Nikah Ceremony. When someone passes away, I would go to the funeral services center for Muslims to preside over Janazah for the deceased, whom would be later interred at a local cemetery.
These are some of my duties as a religious leader. I feel no restrictions have been placed on our freedom of religion at all. I am saying this with earnest conviction, the "restrictions on religious freedom"that has been suggested by some international media are completely a lie, and this is a slander.
Q: Where do you acquire the knowledge of religion?
A: Hello, my name is Suleiman Mahsum. I am the Khatib in JumahMosque, located in Jilangde Village, Qiarlong Township, Aketedu County, Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture.
There are several ways of acquiring the knowledge of religion. Traditionally we learn from the elders in the family, or learn from the religious professionals in mosques, or learn from reading Islamic Classics like The Quran and Hadith. Now we have more options for learning. We can study at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, including itseight schools. We can also study via new media, such as on the website of the China Islamic Association and other websites for Muslims. We can also acquire knowledge through Wechat, Weibo or TikTok.
Take myself for instance. I graduated from the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in 2016 with a Bachelor Degree. I have systematically studied the doctrines and laws of Islam. I can recite the Quran, and I know how to deliver Waez's Speeches. When I deliver Waez's Speeches at the mosque, I also disseminate knowledge of Islam and explain the significance of The Quran, Hadith and other Islamic Classics to those in attendance. I will speak about our great traditions of love of country and religion, patriotism, peace, solidarity, moderation, tolerance, and beneficence. I guide our worshippers to be upright and reject extremes.
I have a dream, which is to take the Xinjiang Islamic Institute's graduate entrance exam next year. I would like to seek further knowledge of my religion to better serve my fellow believers.
Q: Some American and western media claim,"There are many religious people in Xinjiang persecuted by the government."Is thistrue or not?
A: Hello, my name is MemetMemetmin. I graduated from the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in 2018, and I am the Imam in Kuonashir Mosque, located in Qinaiba Street, Karakax County.
As a young religious professional, I witness the harmony present in the religious community, the religion freedom of all ethnic groups, and the orderly proceeding of religious activities in Xinjiang. The local governments at all levels of Xinjiang sincerely support and care forreligious professionals. All religious people are brought into the social security system, enjoying medical insurance, endowment insurance, insurance for serious diseases, and personal accident insurance, as well as a free health check-up per year. During the Eid al-Fitr and Corbanfestivals, leading officials visit us religious people, visit our mosques, and befriendus. Some officials build partnerships or form relationships as though they are ourrelatives, helping to resolve our problems and worries.
Xinjiang todayis stable and harmonious. People live and work in peace. The benefits brought by the fight against terrorism and extremism have beenimpressive and widely accepted by itspeople. All ethnic groups, including Uyghur, have more and more sense of gain, happiness and security. Many of my schoolmates at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute have moved into new houses and purchased cars. They are living better lives.
Some American and western media claim, "There are many religious people in Xinjiang persecuted by the government," which is a complete fabrication and distorts the facts. I think they have an ulterior motive to put a wedge between the religious community and the government, and create conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, all in a bid to destroy the harmony and stability of our lives. We will surely not get taken in, and we will not go back to apast filled withfrequent violence and acts of terror!
I would like to plead with our friends in media to ignore rumors. I would like to invite you to pay avisit to Xinjiang, especially to the southern region, to look and walk around, and experience the great changes there in person. Come here and witness the good life of all Xinjiang's ethnic groups, and feel the warmth and unity of our big multi-ethnic family.
Q: Some news outlets in other countries claim, "Mosqueshave been forcefully demolished in Xinjiang." Is this true?
A: Hello, my name is BekriYaqub. I am 71 years old, and serve as the director of Yanghang Mosque Democratic Management Committee in Urumqi.
I have never heard of "forced demolition of mosques" in Xinjiang. To my knowledge, many mosques in Xinjiang were built in 1980s-1990s, or even before. Most of them are made of adobe, some are narrow and decrepit;others are in desperate need of repair and have become dilapidated. During bad weather,religious activities cannot proceed accordingly.Furthermore, the safety of the worshippers at some mosques would be under serious threat in the event of an earthquake.
In addition, some worshippers live a great distance away from the nearest mosque. In recent years, with the development of urbanization and the building of a new countryside, at the request of worshipperslocal governments havebuilt new mosques or renovated others to accommodate those who have moved into cities or relocated from impoverished regions or during the rebuilding of shantytowns.Local governments alsorebuilt and consolidated thosemosques that could not meet seismic resistance measures, thus alleviating potential safety hazards and providing a better layout to meet the needs of worshippers.
Besides guaranteeing our need for prayer, the government has also helped improve the conditions of the mosques. In hot days, we have air-conditioners,while in cold days we have hot water in the ablution area. We are truly content. Soon, the 156th production team in Saybag District, Urumqi will build a new mosque. The blueprint is beautiful. We Muslims are going to have yet another splendid and spacious mosque.
Our local mosque was built in 1897, and is the venue for religious activities for Muslims from all ethnic groups, including Uygur and Hui. There are also Muslims from other countries who visit for prayer. In recent years, with the support of government, the conditions in our mosque have greatly improved.Muslims from home and abroad who visit here for prayer are truly satisfied.
Q: Does Xinjiang forbid Muslims from fasting as western media reported?
A: Hello, my name is Niyaz Abiti. I am a Muslim living in Gobi Community, Hongxing Area, Yar Town, Gaochang District.
As far as I know, there is no such a thing as "restrictions on fasting during Ramadan for Muslims." We are free to decide to fast or not. The government respects our beliefs and never interferes.
Ramadan fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. In Xinjiang, fasting by worshippers in mosques or at home is a regular religious activity protected by law. During the month of Ramadan, some Muslims decide whether to fast or not according to their own personal needs. The sick and travelersmay excuse from fasting.I have never heard of government staff interfering in fasting by Muslims.
In the month of Ramadan this year, many Muslims in our community have fasted. The government assigned medical staff to provide services in mosques, and offered tea, naan, fruits, and other food when the fast ended. We have no complaints.
Q: Some internatiaonl press reported that "Id Kah Mosque in Yutian County, Xinjiang, was demolished", are these claims true?
A: Hello, my name is Metkurban Metsedi. I am a Muslim living in Mubanqiao Community, Old City Street, Yutian County, Hotan Prefecture.
Some people have said that the Id Kah Mosque in our Yutian County had been demolished, which is a total lie. I live near the mosque, and I have grown up with the mosque in my life. This mosque has a history of over 800 years, and has been designated as a cultural relics site under the protection of the state. The government has spent a lot money in repair and restoration. The mosque is in good condition, and it's most certainly still in use.
In the past, my grandfather and father prayed in this mosque. Now, the Muslims nearby and I also pray in this mosque. I have never received any news saying that the mosque is going to be demolished.
I have no idea why some people would say that the Id Kah Mosque would be demolished. If they really care about us, why not pay a visit here in person in order to see the truth for themselves?