While removing domes and the crescent moon and star symbols from mosques, the CCP intensifies control over imams and speeds up their “ideological transformation.”
by Gu Xi
Transformation through indoctrination
According to an imam from Qinghai, a landlocked province in northwestern China, the CCP frequently demands imams to undergo political training. Most of the instructors are university professors who teach CCP history, policies, and regulations, international relations, and similar topics. Each training session lasts about ten days. After every class, imams must write an essay on what they had gained from learning. As a rule, participants receive a certificate of completion after each training.
“I have a lot of such certificates, a whole stack,” the imam told Bitter Winter. “The government basically tells the professors to indoctrinate us. After we complete our training, we have to spread in mosque what we have learned during training and propagate it among congregations. This is how the state is infiltrating us with its ideology.”
What is being said by imams in mosques is controlled by the authorities everywhere in China. As Bitter Winter has reported, all authorized Islamic places of worship in central China’s Henan Province held a contest for admonitions in May. Based on the evaluative criteria – application of the core socialist values, promotion of traditional Chinese culture, adherence to ‘sinicization’ of Islam, and amalgamation of scripture studies with Chinese studies – the Henan chapter of the China Islamic Association was entrusted with selecting ten best preachers who had to go on a province-wide lecture tour.
Many imams feel extremely helpless under the stifling conditions imposed on them by the state. “There are surveillance cameras in mosques now. The local Public Security Bureau monitors every move we make. If we don’t give sermons according to the government’s requirements, we will be punished,” an imam from Henan’s Sanmenxia city said helplessly. At the end of June, he was forced to go to a “red education base” to study the achievements of revolutionary heroes. When giving lectures on scripture, he was also required to promote the CCP ideology and policies, including the notion of “obeying and following the Party.”
“Every day, we have to say, ‘The Communist Party is good and great.’ Otherwise, we’ll get in trouble with the government!” said an imam in Manzhouli city in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Muslims suppressed for rejecting a government-approved imam
The “transformation through indoctrination” policy used on imams has sparked discontent among some Muslims in Qinghai Province, who believe that imams who have completed government training speaking like government officials, some even distort the classic scripture and teachings of Islam.
“We must do whatever the Quran says we should do. If the government changes those things, is that still Islam?” wondered a local Muslim elder.
The Muslims’ discontent not only didn’t change anything but even resulted in more suppressions. On August 9, the government shut down a mosque in Xining city during Friday prayers, citing trumped-up charges of “inadequate fire control measures.” According to the congregation, the real reason was that they refused to accept the government-appointed imam.
“Even if we are not allowed to go to the mosque to pray anymore in the future, we still want to be led by an imam whose views on faith are consistent with ours,” one of the mosque’s believers said.
It is unlikely that his wishes will materialize. According to an imam from Xining, “Preaching certificates are managed by the government, and only imams who are recognized by the state can receive one. If an imam is deemed to have inadequate political awareness, their preaching qualifications will be revoked.”
Multiple mosques “sinicized”
Alongside the drive to “transform” imams, the CCP continues its efforts to “sinicize” mosques and dismantle Islamic symbols.
In July, domes and the crescent moon and star symbols were removed from at least eight mosques in Henan’s cities of Pingdingshan and Xinxiang.
A government official from Huixian, a county-level city under the jurisdiction of Xinxiang, explained to local Muslims that there are 56 ethnic groups in China, and none can fall behind. “They must all obey the Communist Party. Those that don’t will be destroyed. If any ethnic group causes trouble for the Party, we will eliminate you,” the official threatened.
In mid-May, a crescent moon and star symbol, onion-shaped spires, and other tower-like structures were removed from the top of a mosque in Dingbian county, under the jurisdiction of Yulin city in the northwestern province of Shaanxi. The mosque’s gate and windows were also changed from a peach-shaped design into a rectangular one.
According to local sources, the government spent more than one million RMB (about $ 140,000) to “transform” the mosque. “This is a national policy, and no one can do anything about it,” a local believer commented angrily. “Government officials wield power, and the emperor has the final say. The government will build or demolish anything on a whim. They do whatever they want.”