Asianbangla Desk : Authorities in northern China delayed the demolition of a massive mosque on Saturday after thousands of people demonstrated to stop its destruction, local residents said, amid a nationwide government drive to tighten restrictions on religious activities.
Across China, officials have sought to limit religious freedoms for Muslims as part of a widespread attempt to bring believers in line with the dictates of the ruling Communist Party.
Protesters began gathering Thursday ahead of a deadline to demolish the grand mosque in the town of Weizhou in the northern Ningxia region, local residents said.
Videos posted on social media in recent days showed protesters gathering in front of the building as police with riot shields stood by. Holding Chinese flags, they sat quietly on the building’s steps and milled around a large plaza, before heading to Friday night prayers, according to the videos, which could not be verified by AFP.
“The government said it’s an illegal building, but it’s not. The mosque has several hundred years of history,” a restaurant owner surnamed Ma told AFP.
People had come hundreds of kilometres from other Muslim regions to show support and bring food to those in Weizhou, locals said.
The mosque was rebuilt over the past two years, according to government documents, but the licensing process was not carefully managed. In the process, the facade was changed from its previous Chinese style — featuring sweeping tiled roofs similar to a Buddhist temple — to what is often described in China as an “Arab” design, with domes and crescents.
Islam is one of five officially recognised religions in China, home to some 23 million Muslims.
China’s top leaders recently called for the “Sinicization” of religious practice — bringing it in line with “traditional” Chinese values and culture — and new regulations on religious affairs came into effect in February, sparking concern among rights groups.
The measures increased state supervision of religion in a bid to “block extremism”, and in areas with significant Muslim populations, authorities have removed Islamic symbols, such as crescents, from public spaces.
In the far western region of Xinjiang, things have gone much farther, with Muslims being harshly punished for violating regulations banning beards and burqas, and even for the possession of unauthorised Qurans.