The biggest Communist nation in the world we know as China is famously atheist. Their founding father Mao Tse Tung was quoted that religion is the “poison for the masses”.
The leader might be dead and China may be shifting towards a capitalist economy, but when it comes to religion, they are sticking to Mao’s guns.
In the north-western province of Xinjiang, where millions of Muslim Uyghurs live, the Chinese authorities have told them to hand in their Korans and prayer mats or face harsh punishment.
It is no surprise that this order comes a few weeks before the annual Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing when rules are abided to a much stricter level.
Radio Free Asia has reported the clampdown: “Officials at village, township and county level are confiscating all Korans and the special mats used for namaaz (prayer). Pretty much every household has a Koran, and prayer mats.”
The province of Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, has always posed problems for China. The 15 million Uyghurs regularly protest and demand autonomy, and terrorist attacks against authorities are nothing new.
2013 and 2014 were especially tense with many attacks (In May 2014 two cars crashed through a market and explosives were tossed into the crowd: 31 people died. In July 2014 a gang of knife-wielding thugs attacked a police station and several government offices, leaving 96 people dead). China has since sent large military contingents to the region and things seemed to have calmed down.
But this latest crackdown is surprising to many.
Mr. Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman Uyghurs: “The announcements say that people must hand in any prayer mats to the authorities, as well as any religious reading matter, including anything with the Islamic moon and star symbol on it. They are requiring people to hand in these items of their own accord.”
Mr. Raxit confirmed that the Kashgar, Hotan and other regions had been instructed to do likewise: “We received a notification saying that every single ethnic Uyghur must hand in any Islam-related items from their own home, including Korans, prayers and anything else bearing the symbols of religion.”