‘Muslims can practice their religion freely’
Paper Edition | Page: 11
China might be officially an atheist, communist state, but it has more Muslims than Malaysia — a Muslim majority state in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, can Muslims practice their religion freely in a communist country?
Earlier this month, several international media outlets, including the Global Times, ran stories on how the Chinese government discouraged several Muslims in the West Xinjiang region from fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan. The government’s intention was reportedly to encourage people to “eat properly for study and work”.
In a quite contrast to the reports, Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Liu Jianchao hosted a break-the-fast event for Indonesian journalists at his residence on Tuesday. “We have more than 20 million Muslims in China. One-fifth of the 56 ethnic groups in China adhere to Islam,” Ambassador Liu said during a round table briefing prior to the event.
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2011 report on the global Muslim population, China has 23.30 million Muslims in 2010, who mainly came from 10 ethnic groups, meaning that 1.8 percent of the country’s total population of 1.33 billion people was Muslim.
According to Liu, Islam came to China in the 7th century, much before the world’s fastest growing religion of 1.7 billion people came to Indonesia sometime in the 13th century. “Muslims can freely practice their religion in China. Currently, we have 30,000 mosques and 40,000 imams in China. Last year 40,000 Muslims performed a haj pilgrimage,” Liu said.
China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun also echoed a similar view recently. “They [Chinese Muslims] are important members of the Chinese nation. Their religious beliefs and cultural traditions are fully respected,” Zhai said at the international congress entitled “China and the Muslim World: Cultural Encounters” in Beijing in June this year.
“The Chinese government is firmly committed to the policy of freedom of religious belief and the system of regional ethnic autonomy and encourages the positive role of religious believers in promoting economic and social development.”
Islam, Liu said, was recognized as one of five official religions. The other four religions were Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Catholicism. China handles all religious matters through its Cultural and Religious Affairs Ministry.
Recently in May, a delegation of Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) representatives visited China to enhance relations between Muslims in the two countries and met with Chinese Culture and Religious Affairs Minister Wan Chou An. In a reciprocal move in early August, China’s Vice Minister for Religious Affairs Zhang Lebin visited Indonesia to foster friendship and cooperation between the two countries in religious matters.