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China losing battle against extremist Islamic teachings: official

Efforts to curb Muslim influence in Xinjiang has incited violent resistance

China losing battle against extremist Islamic teachings: official

The Id Kah mosque in Kashgar in the Xinjiang province of China. (Photo by Sophie James / reporter, Beijing

March 30, 2015

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China may be losing the ideological battle against Islamic extremism due to a lack of “respected” religious leaders, a leading Muslim official in restive Xinjiang province said on Monday.

A lack of state-sanctioned Islamic leaders means too many of Xinjiang’s 12 million Uyghurs have turned to extreme interpretations of the Qu’ran, Adudulkrep Tumniaz, deputy director of the Xinjiang Islamic Association, told the state-run China Daily newspaper.

“If the religious leaders compete with the extremists on Islamic knowledge, I cannot guarantee that they would win. That’s what worries me,” said Adudulkrep, who is also head of the state-run Xinjiang Islamic Institute.

“The extremists often start by teaching people about the parts of the Qu’ran — Islam’s holy book — that have never been mentioned by their imams and then inject violent thoughts in people by misinterpreting doctrines,” he said.

In a bid to counter what the government views as extremist Islamic teaching, last year the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in the regional capital Urumqi began a US$48 million expansion with the aim of teaching 1,000 students by 2017, including future religious leaders.

It remains the only school in China legally permitted to teach in the Uyghur language.

“Our institute aims to prepare respectful, knowledgeable religious leaders who can lead the Muslims of Xinjiang in the right direction,” said Adudulkrep.

As violence has escalated in Xinjiang — at least 500 people were killed due to Xinjiang-related attacks last year — authorities have tried to eliminate all forms of non-state sanctioned Muslim teachings for Uyghurs.

Security forces raided underground madrassas and “rescued” more than 270 children during operations in and around the regional capital Urumqi in August and September last year, and under-18s were banned from attending mosques in Xinjiang.

Earlier this month, authorities reportedly paraded 25 teachers in handcuffs and shackles at a public trial in a town square for providing illegal Islamic instruction in Hotan prefecture, a hotbed of recent violence on China’s border with Pakistan. All were found guilty of endangering state security.

“The Communist Party has tried to present itself as the arbiter of the correct interpretation of Islam but up until recently that hasn’t been a particularly important task for it,” said David Brophy, a Uyghur-speaking lecturer in modern Chinese history at the University of Sydney.

Critics of recent Chinese government policy have said that stricter rules on Islamic behavior in Xinjiang have placed some Uyghur Muslims within a wider definition of extremism, while inciting others to violent resistance against Beijing’s rule.

A 38-year-old man was sentenced to six years in prison for “provoking trouble” and growing a beard, and his wife received two years behind bars for wearing a veil, the China Youth Daily reported last week following a government ban on long beards and burqas in Xinjiang enacted last year.

“The policies they have adopted towards Uyghur culture and what they define as illegal religious activity has obviously made Xinjiang quite fertile ground for Islamic opposition at the moment,” Brophy said.

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