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Mosque in China remodeled with pagodas, communist slogans

The dome and minarets of historic Najiaying Mosque were demolished last May triggering clashes between police and Muslims
The historic Najiaying Mosque in Nagu in China’s Yunnan province is seen March 20, 2007.

The historic Najiaying Mosque in Nagu in China’s Yunnan province is seen March 20, 2007. (Iceway12 via Wikipedia)

Published: February 22, 2024 10:26 AM GMT
Updated: February 22, 2024 10:47 AM GMT

The authorities in a Muslim-majority town in southwest China have revamped a popular mosque with Chinese-style pagodas and billboards praising the Communist Party despite strong opposition from local Muslims, says a report.

The government team demolished the dome and minarets of the historic Najiaying Mosque at Nagu town in Yunnan province last May, triggering clashes between local residents and police, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Feb. 21.

Dozens of residents were arrested following the clashes.

Sources confirmed to RFA that the mosque has been refitted in line with the Communist Party’s ‘sinicization’ of religions policy.

The destruction was part of the "sinicization" of religion under President Xi Jinping that ushered in a nationwide crackdown on Muslim, Christian and Tibetan Buddhist religious activities and venues in 2017, RFA reported.

The mosque, run by Hui Muslims, had recently expanded its minarets and dome, a move that was ruled illegal by a court in Yunnan's Tonghai county.

A Muslim who lives close by the mosque and only gave the surname Ma for fear of reprisals said the building is now open again after receiving a Chinese-style makeover.

"It's open now," Ma said. "It was renovated, and the dome changed into a Chinese-style building following the demolition."

Residents shared photos of a signage outside the Najiaying Mosque, which read: "Obey the Party. Be grateful to the Party. Follow the Party."

Ma said all mosques in the area, which is home to a large Hui Muslim population, are undergoing similar changes.

"They all have to be changed. Most of them already have," he said. "Around 90 percent of local [mosques] have been changed."

The Najiaying Mosque was first built in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty and has been rebuilt many times over the centuries.

The Arabian-style mosque building was completed in 2004 and boasted four minarets and a dome, with enough space for thousands of worshipers.

Ma Ju, a Chinese Muslim scholar living in the United States who remains in contact with many Muslims in Nagu township, said that it wasn’t just the building that got an overhaul.

He said the mosque had also been forced to undergo organizational changes.

"The authorities also used the reconstruction process to reorganize the democratically elected management committee for the mosque," Ma Ju said. "Now, there are no longer democratic elections, but appointments made directly by the government's religious affairs bureau and the United Front Work Department."

Under the control of the Communist Party, the United Front has the task of getting minority groups and organizations outside of the party-state to toe the line.

"Several schools linked to the mosque have been banned, and children aren't allowed to enter the mosque," Ma Ju said.

Tonghai County Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau did not respond when RFA contacted for comments.

Current affairs commentator Guo Min said the signs remind Muslims that, in China, the Communist Party is the supreme power, a claim that Muslims in Hong Kong say goes against the core tenet of their religion.

"The party controls everything, and they insist that we love the party, and highlight their supreme leadership over any religion," Guo said. "Religious belief must be predicated on loving the party."

"The authorities will never allow anything to deviate from that."

China’s “sinicization of religion” policy has led churches in mainland China to display portraits of Xi and prompted local officials to forcibly demolish domes, minarets and other architectural features in mosques around the country.

The Communist Party now requires all religious believers to love their country as well as their religion and claims that patriotism is a part of Islam, RFA reported.

In October 2023, some Muslims in Hong Kong spoke out against the raising of the Chinese national flag in formal ceremonies at Kowloon Mosque in honor of the anniversary of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, seeing them as a challenge to the Islamic doctrine of the supremacy of God.

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