The Muslim community is going through a lot of pain and does not understand why the government is planning this demolition.

In a rare stance against the Chinese government’s anti-religion move, thousands of Muslims, most of which belong to the Hui ethnicity – a Muslim minority – gathered at the Grand Mosque in Weizhou, northwestern China, to protest the mosque’s planned demolition.

It was reported that the government had initially proposed the mosque be altered so that it would look “more traditionally Chinese.” However, the Muslim community did not agree to this proposal. On August 3, authorities notified the community that since the building does not have the required permits, it has to be taken down.

72-year-old Ma Sengming, who is one of the protestors, said the community is going through a lot of pain and does not understand why the government is planning this demolition. The construction of the mosque was just finished last year, which only adds to the pain of the minority community. People at the protest were crying and shouting slogans such as “Love the country, love the faith!” and “Protect faith in China!”

Protestors gathered at the mosque from Thursday night to Friday. Over a hundred police officers were present, but they did not try stopping the peaceful protest. A local official even came to the mosque and urged the protestors to go back home, but they refused and stood their ground, determined to protect their place of worship.

This is one of the latest moves in a string of activities the Chinese government has conducted to turn the population into the ruling Communist Party’s atheist beliefs. Until now, Christians have been prosecuted, churches shut down and burned and Bibles have been seized. It’s not only Christians and Muslims who are targeted. Even Tibetan children have been forcibly transferred to schools from their Buddhist temples.

Weizhou resident Ma Zhiguo says the Communist Party secretary of their town even delivered a congratulatory speech when the mosque was opened last year. It’s still in perfect condition and was built on donations made by the community. Besides, a total of about 30,000 Muslims visits the Mosque to attend prayers, so it makes no sense to demolish it.

It is said that many Arabic classes as well as Hui religious schools have been shut down by the Xi Jinping administration, with reports of children being restricted from participating in Islamic activities.

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