China destroys mosques and Uighur culture

The ornate gatehouse building of the Keriya Etika Mosque in western China is gone, replaced by a patch of dirt.

GIF with aerial images and text showing loss of mosque gatehouse (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson/Images © 2019 Google, DigitalGlobe)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

The mosque is one of at least 31 mosques and two Uighur holy sites that the Chinese government has demolished or partially torn down since 2016 in China’s Xinjiang province. That conclusion comes from the Guardian and Bellingcat, two British investigative journalism groups, based on analyzing satellite images.

The findings are the latest evidence of the Chinese government’s ongoing campaign against Chinese Uighurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities.

The Communist Party leadership is methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said June 3.

Since April 2017, more than 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other Muslim ethnic minority groups have been held in camps in Xinjiang province. Inside the camps, prisoners are reportedly beaten, tortured and forced to renounce Islam.

Uniformed security personnel walking past a mosque (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)
Security patrol near Id Kah Mosque in China’s Xinjiang region in 2017. China has damaged other mosques nearby. (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)

“Nothing could say more clearly to the Uighurs that the Chinese state wants to uproot their culture and break their connection to the land than the desecration of their ancestors’ graves, the sacred shrines that are the landmarks of Uighur history,” Professor Rian Thum of the University of Nottingham told the Guardian.

Waitress walking out of door (© Thomas Peter/Reuters)
A waitress carries drinks out of a bar operating in what used to be a mosque in Xinjiang, China. (© Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Details about specific mosques are hard to confirm due to the Chinese government’s prison-like control over the people in Xinjiang.

Reports from Xinjiang indicate that China has converted mosques into communist propaganda centers, entertainment halls or bars that serve alcohol, which Muslims consider haram (forbidden). People living in Xinjiang can’t talk about the elimination of mosques directly out of fear of the authorities, said Rushan Abbas, head of the advocacy group Campaign for Uyghurs. People there “don’t say, ‘Look, this mosque became a bar,’ but they will say, ‘Oh, we have a new bar here, which was the old mosque. How wonderful,'” Abbas said. “But we get the message.”

On a recent trip to Xinjiang, Wall Street Journal reporter Eva Dou found that the downtown mosque in Aksu had been shut down and repurposed as a morgue.

In 2014, the mosques in Xinjiang were full, Darren Byler, a lecturer on socio-cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, said in April at the Conference on the Uyghur Human Rights Crisis, sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Some of the mosques are “still open,” Byler said, “but there are checkpoints at the front of them, so no one is entering.”