China is waging an unprecedented war on religion.
Over the past year alone, China has detained Muslims because of their faith, forced Buddhists to pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, and coerced Christian churches to take down their crosses or shut down.
The sinicization of religion
The Party, which is officially atheist, has for decades attempted to control religious organizations to maintain its dominance.
Its State Administration for Religious Affairs, set up in 1951, allows five religious organizations to exist under the state’s control: a Party-sanctioned form of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.
The state controls these groups’ personnel, publications, and finances. Technically, citizens are free to practise religion freely, as long as their sect is officially sanctioned by the government.
Party officials in 2015 introduced the term “sinicization” into official government lexicon, in which they called on Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian leaders to fuse their religions with Chinese socialist thought.
Roderic Wye, a former first secretary in the British Embassy in Beijing, told Business Insider: “The party has always had trouble with religion one way or another, because often religious activity tends to imply some sort of organization. Once there are organizations, the party is very keen to control them.”
But under the presidency of Xi Jinping, the government’s crackdown appears to have increased at an alarming scale.
‘They want to … cut off Islam at the roots’
Many detainees said they were arrested for showing distinct markers of Islam, like wearing a veil or growing a long beard.
The majority-Muslim Hui people, who are scattered around China, also fear that the government will extend its crackdown to them.
In the northern city of Yinchuan, home to the largest concentration of Hui Muslims in the country, authorities have banned the daily call to prayer because it apparently created noise pollution, the South China Morning Post reported.
One unnamed imam in Linxia, central China, also told Agence France-Presse in July: “They want to secularize Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots. These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: Only in communism and the party.”