Pagodas and inscriptions praising the Party: the 'Sinicisation' of the Najiaying Mosque

The authorities have completed the transformation of one of the most symbolic places of Chinese Islam. The minarets have been torn down, while a sentence at the entrance invites obedience and gratitude to Beijing. A change that also affects other mosques in the area, where a large Hui Muslim community lives. As for the churches, children are forbidden to enter.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - "Obey the party. Be grateful to the party. Follow the party." The process of the "Sinicisation" of religions imposed by President Xi Jinping is not sparing Islam, as has recently emerged from events involving the mosque of Najiaying, in Yunnan, the scene last year of clashes between worshippers and police.

The authorities have in fact demolished part of the structure, erasing the characteristic minarets, to give it a shape more "in keeping" with the ideology of the Communist Party. It is accompanied by an inscription on the outside, posted on social networks and online, which 'rewrites' the dictates of the Muslim faith.

A resident of the area named Ma, interviewed by Radio Free Asia (Rfa), reports on the reopening of the building after months of work that distorted its image: "It has been renovated," he says, "and the dome has been transformed into a Chinese-style building following its demolition.

This radical change not only concerns the place of worship in Najiaying, but has involved all the mosques in the area where there is a large Hui Muslim community that is the victim of profound upheavals aimed at changing its identity. And to transform the 'submission' to Allah and the prophet Mohammed expressed by the word Islam, into blind obedience to the dictates of Beijing and its leader Xi Jinping.

The destructions, part of the 'Sinicisation' policy, reached their peak in 2017, turning into open, nationwide repression that affected Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Tibetan activities and places of worship.

The Najiaying Mosque dates back to the 13th century and was a Muslim place of worship inspired by a Chinese-style temple. The current building is the result of a renovation in 2004, with the construction of an Arabic-style dome and four towers, capable of holding up to 3,000 people for prayer.

Today, the mosque is an important place of worship for the local Muslim community, not only for the faithful but for the authorities themselves, who wanted to restore it to its former Chinese style as part of a broader project of "sinicisation" of places of worship and religions.

The policy  triggered the revolt of the faithful in the area who, last May and on several occasions, engaged in extremely harsh clashes with the police, but which failed to protect the ancient structure.

'About 90 per cent of the mosques in the area,have already changed' in the name of the policy imposed by the party concludes Ma (who did not want to give his surname for fear of being identified).

According to Ma Ju, a Muslim scholar of Chinese origin who lives in the United States and has well-established ties with the Islamic community in Nagu, the authorities' intrusion in religious affairs in Najiaying has not been limited to the mosque's external structure. There have also been pressures and impositions from the authorities aimed at organisational and management changes at the place of worship.

"The authorities have also used the reconstruction process to reorganise the democratically elected management committee of the mosque," Ma Ju accuses. "There are now no democratic elections, but appointments made directly by the government office for Religious Affairs and the United Front Labour Department," which, under the leadership of the party, is in charge of "correcting" the course of external organisations and groups to follow the official line.

"Several schools connected to the mosque," the Islamic scholar concludes, "have been banned and children [as happened in other areas for Christian churches] are not allowed to enter. He is echoed by current affairs commentator Guo Min according to whom the signs remind Muslims that in China the Communist Party is the 'supreme power'. 'The Communist Party,' warns the expert, 'now requires all believers to love their country and religion and claims that patriotism is part of Islam'.