Thousands of ethnic minority Muslims surrounded a mosque in southwestern China over the weekend in a last-ditch effort to prevent what they said was an attempt by authorities to remove its dome and minarets, as a crackdown on religious freedoms widens.
The apparent alteration of a mosque belonging to the Hui ethnic group in Najiaying village, Yunnan province comes amid a sweeping campaign unleashed by China’s leader Xi Jinping to “sinicize” religion.
The policy aims to purge religious faiths of foreign influence and align them more closely with traditional Chinese culture – and the authoritarian rule of the officially atheist Communist Party.
In recent years, authorities have removed overtly Islamic architecture – destroying domes and tearing down minarets – from more than a thousand Hui mosques across the country, Hui activists say, with the Najiaying mosque being one of the last holdouts.
Now, the “sinicization” campaign appears to be finally coming for Najiaying – a historic home to the Hui and an important hub for Islamic culture in Yunnan, an ethnically diverse province on China’s borders with Southeast Asia.
But the push has faced a fierce backlash from local residents.
Videos posted on social media and geolocated by CNN show residents clashing with lines of police officers in riot gear, who blocked off the entrance to the mosque and pushed back the crowd with shields and batons.
Residents shouted back in anger, with some hurling water bottles and bricks at the police, the videos show.
“This is our last bit of dignity,” a local witness told CNN. “It’s like coming to our house to demolish our home. We can’t allow that to happen.”
The source, who declined to be named over fears for personal safety, said thousands of Hui residents – including men and women, elderly and children – had gathered around the mosque on Saturday, under the close watch of more than 1,000 police officers deployed nearby.