China is reportedly engaging in the closure, destruction, and repurposing of mosques, as indicated by a recent report from Human Rights Watch (HRW). This crackdown is characterized as a “systematic effort” to control the practice of Islam within China. Despite China officially being an atheist state that claims to allow religious freedom, there has been a noticeable increase in the suppression of organized religion, with Beijing aiming for greater control.

The HRW report reveals instances where mosques in the Muslim-majority village of Liaoqiao in Ningxia have been stripped of domes and minarets, with others having their main prayer halls destroyed. Satellite footage obtained by HRW also documented the replacement of a mosque’s round dome with a Chinese-style pagoda. Approximately 1,300 mosques in Ningxia have been closed or converted since 2020, representing a third of the total number in the region.

The Chinese government contends that the consolidation of mosques, often occurring when villagers are relocated or combined, aims to alleviate the economic burden on Muslims. However, some Hui Muslims believe it is part of an effort to redirect their loyalty towards the Communist Party. Residents who oppose these “Sinicisation” policies have faced challenges, with many being detained or jailed over the years.

The closure or demolition of mosques involves the removal of external elements, followed by the elimination of facilities essential for religious activities, such as ablution halls and preacher’s podiums. Local governments then exploit decreased attendance as a pretext to close the mosques, according to Hui activist Ma Ju.

The “Sinicisation” campaigns have drastically limited the space for practicing Islam in China, aligning the state with a specific vision of patriotism and religious observance. This has led to a more Islamophobic stance, requiring Muslims to demonstrate patriotism above all and viewing any foreign influence as a threat.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director, Elaine Pearson, urges Arab and Muslim leaders worldwide to ask questions and express concerns regarding China’s treatment of ethnic and religious minorities affected by these campaigns.

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