Volume 23 Issue 5, June 2019


By S. M. Hali

There are reports of the Communist Party of China (CPC)’s efforts to Sinicize Islam by 2022.

The dictionary definition of the word ‘Sinicize’ is to modify by Chinese influence.
Various forms of western propaganda have taken to condemning China in its alleged Islamic Sinicization, which calls for millions of Uighur Muslims being interred in re-education camps to pledge their first loyalty to the Party. Sinicization is being propagated as an infringement on the right to religious freedom of Chinese Muslims.
Such propaganda, emanating from countries — whose own track record of Islamophobia is pathetic — cannot be taken seriously.

I visited China and toured the length and breadth of Xinjiang, home to the Uighurs and Ningxia, where the Hui reside. Apart from conducted tours, I undertook visits to Muslim populated areas in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, Kashgar, Korla and Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia.

Before presenting my first-hand observations, let us examine the allegations against the CPC. A five-year plan is being projected for the "Sinicization" of Islam to redefine the practice of the religion and align the beliefs of Muslims with the CPC’s policies and traditional Chinese culture. There are reports about plans that will focus on requiring mosques to uphold core values of socialism, traditional culture, laws and regulations to "guide, mobilize and inspire" Chinese Muslims. This will be done with lectures and training sessions on topics that uphold the spirit of a Sinicized Islam by using examples of notable figures. The Islamophobic elements have labeled the plan as a “cultural genocide” of the Chinese Muslims and consider it “utterly coercive.”

I have been visiting China regularly since 1974 and I am witness to China’s tremendous development. I have authored four books on the subject. In my latest visit in January, the Sinicization question was discussed with Xinjiang authorities, Uighurs and even Pakistanis having Uighur spouses, residing in Xinjiang for over three decades. It is a fact that for ages, the opulent eastern provinces of China had presented a stark contrast with the underdeveloped western provinces but with the advent of the BRI, this disparity has been removed. It is only that the sense of deprivation of the underprivileged Uighurs has been exploited by China’s disparagers to coerce an insurgency and give rise to violent extremism. Progenitors of the propaganda machinery have included Uighurs settled in the West. They have been using social media to incite Uighurs in Xinjiang to demand certain rights, indulge in violence and spread fundamentalism. Numerous acts of violence did erupt in 2009; since then there have been sporadic incidents of extremism.

The Chinese government has dealt with the issue boldly. It has removed the sense of deprivation, if any, of the Uighurs by providing them opportunities of better employment, higher education and vocational training so that they could be gainfullyemployed in the mushroom growth of jobs springing up under the BRI umbrella.
Simultaneously, the authorities have cracked down hard on the troublemakers.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) has been an area of serious study by the US in the wake of the 9/11 catastrophe and incidents in Britain, France, Germany and many Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. There has been a spate of violent attacks. Each country has adopted various methods and strategies to deal with violent extremism. Information and literature is available on the modus operandi of the West


and even that of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the successful implementation of their plan. As for China, its methodology is its internal matter though it merits discussion.

It must be understood that China thinks issues thoroughly before evolving a strategy to resolve them. Professor Zunyou Zhou, a Germany-based Chinese scholar whose paper was published in the Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence in 2017, finds Chinese CVE strategy to be based on multiple methods, including Western CVE approaches that were examined before evolving the Chinese model. The approaches include ‘five keys’, ‘four prongs’, ‘three contingents’, ‘two hands’ and ‘one rule’.
Viewed together, these approaches point to legal, religious, cultural, ideological, and scientific aspects of the de-radicalization effort, implemented by government agencies, public institutions and non-government organizations in the region.

The Xinjiang government has developed several programmes aimed at different groups of people, including those who are ‘radicalized’ as well as those who are not but are considered vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. The five ‘keys’ — ideological, cultural, customary, religious and legal — give a long-sustaining solution to terrorism. The ‘four prongs’ refer to a combination of four methods: ‘squeezing by correct faith’; ‘counteracting by culture’; ‘controlling by law’ and ‘popularizing science’.

‘Squeezing by correct faith’ refers to clarifying people’s understanding of Islam while ‘counteracting by culture’ means seeking effective and practical solutions to thwart extremism and guiding people towards secularization and modernization. The ‘three contingents’ refer to the policy of reinforcing three main groups of people the government can count on to maintain stability and security. The ‘two hands’ refer to the one ‘firm hand’ that cracks down on terrorists, and the other ‘firm hand’ that educates and guides Uighur people while the ‘one rule’ means the policy of ruling Xinjiang according to the law.

Nowhere was any evidence found of the Chinese government renouncing Islam or urging the faithful to avoid practicing their religious duties. Indeed, a policy document entitled 'Several Guiding Opinions on Further Suppressing Illegal Religious Activities and Combating the Infiltration of Religious Extremism in Accordance with Law' was issued by Xinjiang’s CCP Committee in May 2013. The policy document was also referred to as ‘No. 11 Document’, and described the borders between ethnic customs, normal religious practices and extremist manifestations.

The 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 Xinjiang Islamic Institute has picked up the cudgels 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.
To date only Turkey has criticized Sinicization of Islam, perhaps because the Uighurs are of Turkic origin. In this backdrop, it is unfair of the West to besmirch the Sinicization process.

The writer is a practicing journalist. He contributes to the print media, conducts a TV show and produces documentaries. He can be reached at sultanm.hali@gmail.com

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