Experts worry religious extremism is infiltrating major Chinese cities
Educating extremists
Published: Aug 02, 2016 09:33 PM Updated: Aug 02, 2016 11:58 PM

Women in Kuqa county, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, stage a play on January 9 to discourage their peers from wearing extremist religious garb. Photo: IC

Religious extremism is spreading in China faster than before, and its impact is greater than ever, affecting Chinese cities and even students on campus, experts warned.

A young man from Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region died in Syria after he was recruited by the Islamic State group, a religious expert told a seminar held in Shanghai Tuesday.

The seminar was co-organized by Nangyang Technology University's Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, the Shanghai Association of Religious Studies, and the Institute of Religious Studies under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. With the theme of "Religious extremism and heresy in a pluralistic society," the event was an academic exchange between religious experts from Singapore and China.

Ge Zhuang, vice president of the Shanghai Association of Religious Studies, revealed the death of the Uyghur man when he spoke of the influence of religious extremism on Chinese campuses. Ge told the seminar that it is particularly affecting female students from southern parts of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and that radicalized students are being taught how to avoid detection by the authorities.

Experts shared their opinions on dealing with the ever-changing problem of religious extremism.

Yan Kejia, president of Shanghai Association of Religious Studies and Institute of Religious Studies, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

I'd like to talk about two ways religious extremism manifests itself in today's society. One is the brutal evidence of religious extremism, such as in the Middle East. Some there distort Islamic teaching to justify their brutal activities. However we should also be aware of the hidden manifestation of religious extremism. These extremists pretend to be superficially similar to the established religions by copying skillfully the teachings of other religions but they take away their followers' money, brainwash their followers and commit other anti-rational, anti-social deeds which have caused a lot of damage to society. For example in China we have cults like Falun Gong and the Eastern Lightning Cult. At the religion conference held in April this year President Xi Jinping made a clear instruction that we should prevent the harm caused by extreme religious ideas. What are extreme religious ideas and how we guard against such manifestations of religious extremism are questions worth thinking about and discussing within the academic communities. 

Mohammad Alami Musa, Singapore's non-resident Ambassador to the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria

I agree with Yan Kejia. Religion has come back. It has come back in a big way. There are positive aspects with the comeback of the religion to the world today but there are also negative aspects. One of the negative aspects is religious extremism. There are a few characteristics of religious extremism. One is the literal reading of the sacred text, which means that religious extremists do not incorporate the interpretation and the meanings of sacred text for the present situation or context of the society. They are stuck in an area which is very much in the past. They are people called the rejectionists. They simply are not likely to accept the good or positive developments of current times they reject. They have the sense of righteousness. They want everybody else to feel and to be like them. Therefore they can't appreciate diversity in the current society. So they are people with a sense of insecurity and because of that they pose a threat to all society, to our country. Singapore faces this problem and we are doing our best to cope with it. 

In Singapore we find ways to mix students around in the class room, in the lecture hall and in discussion groups. We have the Islamic society, the Buddhism society, the Christian society which join activities and dialog to talk to each other. It is not easy to do but we have to identify the leader. If the leaders come the followers will come. 

Ge Zhuang, Vice President of Shanghai Association of Religious Studies

We have been stepping up our actions and have seen positive achievements. It is hard to get rid of religious extremism since it has existed for a long time. For many young people the difficult thing is that they can't make a distinction between religion and religious extremism. In many cases I think it's also difficult for teachers and administrators since they are not very familiar with religious issues. They themselves have to be educated first to handle issues concerning young Uyghurs in big cities. Possible solutions include: Internet bars close to universities should be more strictly supervised; training school staff; helping Uyghurs blend into urban life as early as possible; promoting special education among young people so that they can have a good understanding of religion. 

Doctor Rozlan Giri, Principal Coordinator, Rajaratanam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

In defending against extremism the state is very important. But equally important are communities because we are talking about religion. The state will not be able to deal with religion as effectively as a community can. In Singapore we cooperate with religious teachers in the community. 

In Singapore the community has developed the right Islamic instruction from young people of three to four years old through 20 plus years old. So in the last ten years Islamic instruction is localized. But the Internet is a big challenge as young people are exposed to social media. We can regulate it but not totally. So we ask the community to help us to monitor it. 

When we identify some young people who follow the extreme videos on the internet we give them counseling with religious teachers. Most of them respond positively at the counseling. For those who are stubborn and do not listen there are security measures. 

Huang Haibo, Research Professor, Institute of Religious Studies of SASS

Speaking of extremism people will often reflect on Islam. But there are also other extreme religious ideas. 

It seems that we all have a very clear idea of the destructiveness of extreme acts but on the other hand we find that there are many other hidden manifestations of extremism. We call them cults. Their influence may not be so far-reaching yet I think they should be dealt with effectively. 

These cults are also very destructive for our social order.