Evidence of China's Mission to Eliminate Islamic Religious Identity from the Country

Satellite imagery reveals large-scale destruction of Muslim sites

The Guardian collaborated with the open-source journalism Bellingcat website to suggest that China may have engaged in large-scale Islamic site destruction located in Xinjiang province to the west of the country. The province has a substantial Muslim minority population like the Uighurs. Beijing follows strict, repressive policies when it comes to this province.

The collaboration used satellite imagery and discovered that 31 mosques along with two significant shrines among the 91 religious sites identified suffered terrible structural damage from 2016 to 2018. Among those affected, 15 structures were razed to dust and others having defining features like minarets and domes have them removed. Nine separate buildings used as mosques but did not have the typical design are indicate they may have destroyed. Two of the many religious structures destroyed was Imam Asim shrine and Kargilik Mosque. The former was an important pilgrimage site. The list of demolished structures includes the Yutian Aitika mosque located near Hotan. It was a historic structure, being built back in the 1200s. The place was an important congregation point for local Muslims during their religious holidays.

The Chinese Government on the pretext of controlling religious extremism has overseen the increasing intrusiveness into the life of its citizens and policing the minorities. The Uighurs are the most affected. The Turkic speaking ethnic group living in the western part of China has more kinship with neighboring Central Asian countries compared to the dominant Han Chinese. Per reports, 1.5 million Uighurs along with other Muslims have been sent to re-education or internment camps. Beijing rejects such accusations.

Researchers and campaigners believe the Chinese authorities have bulldozed at least hundreds, if not thousands, of mosques during the campaign. The problem to quantify the damage is due to lack of records concerning these sites, most of which are small village mosques. The Chinese police surveil researchers and journalists traveling independently in the country, and specifically in Xinjiang. Since the state also surveils its citizens, it is difficult to confirm any destruction.

The United States has denounced Beijing’s actions. China has defended its moves by saying this is the only way to combat terrorism and the internment camps are “vocational training centers.” Experts believe the Chinese Government is doing this to erase any Islamic religious identity among its citizens.

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter