Authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur region (XUAR) in northwest China have been asked to use an updated list of signs of religious extremism to identify separatist-minded Muslim Uyghurs, Radio Free Asia reports.
A person can now be detained because he puts his hands on his chest during prayer or colours his hair with henna, keeps a large amount of food at home, prays outside the mosque, wears a watch on his right hand, wears short trousers, grows long hair despite being a man, etc. The early version of the list indicated 75 features; however, the radio station did not specify the updated number.
A Chinese policeman watches Muslims attend morning prayer on Eid al-Fitr at the Id Kah mosque in Kashgar (XUAR). 26 June 2017. Photo by AFP
"They [separatist Muslims] have an organisation there, they recognise each other because of dyed hair," said the Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the Hotan Prefecture.
"Otherwise they would not have done it."
"If a person does not greet a party representative, if he refrains from alcohol—all this is now also considered a sign of religious extremism," said another party official.
Surprised by the logic of the Chinese authorities, Fergana News offers to make some important distinctions.
The colouring of hair, including by men, is a customary and traditional act in Islam. For example, one of the prominent Hanbali scholars of the 8th century, Ibn Muflih al-Maqdisi, spoke of the need for careful hair care and claimed that the prophet Mohammed censured those who neglected such withdrawal. In addition, according to some Islamic authorities, the prophet himself painted his beard and the hair on his head.
Reproaching Uyghurs with dyed hair sounds especially strange when even Han men are known to thoroughly groom their hair—often curling and tinting it. An attempt to ban the colouring of hair among the Chinese ethnic majority could lead, if not to excitement, then at least discontent.
The same applies to the long hair of Uyghurs, which too may simply be a sign of caring for beauty or maintaining good looks. This is not a political matter, but rather a mundane one. In the Ming and Qing dynasties of China, long and loose hair were the sign of bandits and demons; they were often depicted in this form.
Of course, now that western fashion has taken over, in Chinese cities you can see a number of long-haired men. However, such fashion is still condemned in the villages. It cannot be discounted that Chinese officials are using their aesthetic tastes to enforce law.
Folding arms in front of the chest during prayer is also a traditional gesture of the Muslims. It may be, of course, that some believers place their hands in a special way, different from the generally accepted ones, but they are immediately visible. And if the sign of an accomplice is thus served, then this is a very bad way to hatch a conspiracy.
Chinese Muslims in prayer. Photo by People's Daily
Short trousers are also a very dubious way of identifying an extremist. For example, Muslims living in the south of China traditionally wear short trousers, and it does not bother anyone. This habit could easily have been followed in Xinjiang. Again, if it is a signal to identify accomplices, then it is obvious and visible to all, and not just to specific one group or ethnic identity.
Refusal of alcohol is a daily practice followed among Muslims, and everyone knows this. However, in China, some Muslims, especially in the south, allow themselves such liberties as booze, and some even consume pork. Therefore, strict adherence to the norms of the Sharia is a sign of extremism for Chinese authorities—but then some Chinese Muslims do consume alcohol.
As for coming to the job dressed in religious clothing, it is generally not welcomed in China and applies to all cults and faiths, and not just to Muslims. By the way, the same can be said about many tolerant Western countries.
The ban on storing a large amount of food dates back to the times of Mao Zedong, when food was scarce and only speculators could keep it. Now it has a very practical explanation—a food reserve can be created for people or groups that hide from the law.
As for the refusal to greet representatives of the party and the clock on the right hand—there's nothing to talk about. To attribute this type of fashion to extremism would be unconditional stupidity.
On the whole, it is obvious that according to this logic, everything that can be somehow incompatible with the Chinese official's scheme of existence can be attributed to signs of extremism. That is why we can assume that it is not even a directive that has been issued from above, but is a result of the zeal of local officials willing to break their necks to show their loyalty to party lines.
Commenting on these developments, the representative of the World Uyghur Congress (an organisation based in Germany), Turgunjan Alavudun, suggested that the authorities are looking to neutralise the Islamic faith of the Uyghurs. "They think that if the Uyghurs become atheists, it will be easier to assimilate them."