Adapting Islam to local conditions best course for development in Chinese society: head of Islamic association
Sinicization in practice
Published: Feb 08, 2021 06:23 PM

Yang Faming, president of the China Islamic Association photo: Li Hao/GT

Editor's Note:

Over the decades, China has made great efforts to provide care to Muslim citizens and ensure their normal needs are met. However, some hostile forces in the West have used every means to smear China's efforts in protecting Muslims and kept making groundless accusations including accusing China of infringing on Muslims' religious freedom. What's the real situation of Muslims in China? What does the government do to protect and improve their life? How is the sinicization of Islam going? Global Times reporter Xie Wenting (GT) interviewed Yang Faming (Yang), president of the China Islamic Associationto find answers. 

GT: How many Muslims now live in China? What efforts has the Chinese government made to ensure the normal needs of Muslims?

China now has more than 20 million Muslims. The Chinese government cares about and ensures the normal religious needs of Muslims which is reflected in the following five aspects. First, China supports the publication of religious books. The Koran and other Islamic scriptures have been translated, published and distributed in Chinese, Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz and other languages.

Second, the Chinese government protects normal religious activities. Religious activities such as praying and fasting carried out by Muslims in mosques and at their homes in accordance with religious customs are protected by law. Since 1996, the government has arranged chartered flights for pilgrims every year (which was suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic) and provided high-quality services including medical treatment, catering, transportation and accommodation to ensure the safety and orderly activities of the pilgrims. The convenient travel arrangements for pilgrims have also won praise from abroad. 

Third, the Chinese government supports the publication of religious cultural works and relevant media outlets. The government supports the China Islamic Association in publishing its magazine China Muslims in both Chinese and Uygur languages, and in opening websites in both Chinese and Uygur languages to explain the basic knowledge of Islam and guide Muslims in their faith and practice.

Fourth, the government supports the training of high-level religious personnel. The government has approved the establishment of 10 Islamic institutions to cultivate high-level religious personnel.

Fifth, the government helps improve the infrastructure of places for religious activities. Water, electricity, gas, communications channels, radio and television, and cultural libraries in mosques have been installed in these places to improve the condition for believers to practice their religion. 

Pedestrians walk past the Id Kah Mosque in Kashi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. File photo: Xinhua

GT: What's the latest development of the five-year plan for the sinicization of Islam? Why is the sinicization of Islam important?  

Yang: In order to ensure the healthy development of Islam itself and the better adaptation of Islam to the socialist society with Chinese characteristics, the China Islamic Association has drawn up the outline for the five-year work plan (2018-22) for the religion's sinicization in China. The outline laid out scientific plans for promoting patriotism, building a system of Islam classics with Chinese characteristics, improving rules and regulations in the field of Islam, strengthening the construction of Islamic culture, engaging in public welfare and charity activities, and training high-quality Islamic personnel. At present, the work is progressing smoothly in all aspects and remarkable results have been achieved.

The localization of religion is the basic practice of the development of religion worldwide. Only by respecting and complying with this practice can religion move forward in the right direction. Looking back at a millennium of the development of Islam in China, its sinicization is the only way to follow the practice of religious localization and the road to prosperity. 

After Islam was introduced into China, after a long period of integration, it has gradually integrated with Chinese characteristics. The course of the development of Islam in China is the course of the continuous sinicization of Islam. We believe that the sinicization of Islam is the foundation for the better development of Islam in Chinese society. It is the only way for Islam to take root and develop in a healthy way in China. That is to say, only by adhering to the sinicization of Islam can Islam keep pace with the times, the development of contemporary Chinese society, and inherit and develop in a more stable and healthy way.

GT: Some countries and Western media outlets recently hyped that the installation of cameras in mosques violated religious freedom. What's your take on this? Could you elaborate on what have the renovation projects at the mosques brought to general public?

Take Xinjiang as an example, the installation of cameras in mosques is aimed at protecting the safety of local religious figures and believers, guarding against fire and theft, and preventing and cracking down on violent and terrorist crimes. It is supported by local religious figures and believers. 

Xinjiang now has 20,000 mosques, accounting for more than half of the country's 35,000 mosques in total. In Xinjiang, there are a large number of mosques built in the 1980s and 1990s or even earlier. Some of these mosques were originally adobe buildings, some were small, and some were in disrepair or even dilapidated. During winds and rains, these mosques could not host religious activities. In addition, the layout of some mosques was unreasonable, which was inconvenient for Muslims to carry out religious activities. 

In recent years, with the development of urbanization and the construction of new countryside, the government has stepped up efforts to repair those mosques, which has solved the problem of dilapidated buildings and made their layout more reasonable. The conditions of mosques have generally been improved, and some ancient mosques have also been well protected and repaired.

GT: The US government claimed that China is "eliminating" Islamic culture and religion. What's your take on this accusation? 

This accusation is totally politically biased. The religious belief of Muslims is respected and protected. China fully implements the constitutional principles guaranteeing citizens' freedom of religious belief, and respects both the freedom to believe in and the freedom not to believe in any religion. We will continue to uphold the principle that all religions are equal, treat all religions as equal, do not favor or discriminate against any particular religion, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of the religious community in accordance with the law.

The normal religious activities of Muslims are protected by law. Taking Xinjiang as an example, since 1996, more than 50,000 Muslims of various ethnic groups in Xinjiang have made pilgrimages to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In recent years, Xinjiang has published a series of religious knowledge books in the languages of different ethnic groups, and set up websites for Muslims in Xinjiang. 

In September 2017, the government invested hundreds of millions of yuan to build a new campus for the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and set up eight branches of the institute in Xinjiang including Ili, Kashi and Hotan. Currently, there are 1,100 students at the schools. Facts have proved that freedom of religious belief is fully protected in China.