Removal of Islamic Motifs Leaves Xinjiang’s Id Kah Mosque ‘a Shell For Unsuspecting Visitors’

Observers say despoiling the region’s most important mosque signals ‘an effective ban on the Islamic faith.’

Removal of Islamic Motifs Leaves Xinjiang’s Id Kah Mosque ‘a Shell For Unsuspecting Visitors’

Since 2016, the Chinese authorities have been systematically destroying mosques, cemeteries, and other religious structures and sites across the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Last year, the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) published a report detailing this campaign, titled “Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghurs Mosques and Shrines”; the report was referenced in the 2020 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The report uses geolocation and other techniques to show that anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 mosques, shrines, and other religious sites in the XUAR were destroyed between 2016 and 2019. In some cases, only the domes and towers were destroyed from certain structures, while in others, characteristically Islamic elements such as stars and crescents, domes, and scripture plaques were removed. In some cases, entire mosques have also been felled.

China has made no official response to the report or to claims about the large-scale and widespread destruction it has undertaken. However, the Chinese authorities have continued to bring international visitors to mosques such as Id Kah in Kashgar, as well as to other religious sites around the region, and to publish articles depicting the mosque in state-run media, all in support of the official line that Uyghurs enjoy religious freedom in the region.

Id Kah is the largest and oldest mosque in the XUAR and the largest mosque in all of China. Uyghurs have long regarded Id Kah as a symbol of Islamic culture and a representative of Islamic architecture in the region. While the mosque is still standing mostly intact today, there are some very alarming signs that it is merely a shell of what it used to be. In 2018, authorities removed the star-and-crescent structures from the tops of the mosque’s dome and minarets, along with the colorful scriptural plaque that long hung above its front entrance. As of 2020, those features appear not to have been restored to the mosque. The plaque, which dates to hijra 1325 (1908 C.E.) contains Quranic scriptures along with information about the construction of the mosque and the identity of the artist who made the sign.

Ahead of Eid al-Fitr, which on May 23 will mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, RFA’s Uyghur Service spoke with Turghunjan Alawudun, director of the Religious Affairs Committee for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, and Henry Szadziewski, a senior researcher with the UHRP, about the significance of the missing plaque.

A close up view of the plaque adorning the front entrance of Id Kah mosque, taken before its removal. RFA
Alawudun: The disappearance of the scriptural plaque from the entrance to Id Kah is one aspect of the Chinese regime’s evil policies meant to eliminate the Islamic faith among Uyghurs, to eliminate Uyghur faith, literary works, and language—and Uyghurs themselves. This scriptural plaque above the door into Id Kah, like the [mosque’s] minarets, has an Islamic character and is a symbol that has been there from the founding of the mosque until today. The Chinese regime can’t bear this, it can’t stand it, and the inner hatred they feel toward Uyghurs has boiled over such that they had the plaque removed.

They’ve left Id Kah [itself] there for the international community, as part of a bid to fool the world. By taking visitors from Islamic countries there every once in a while to see it, showing it to international visitors who come to investigate [the situation in the region], and sharing it in the media every now and then, they’re pursuing policies that deceive the world. Even so, we can still see that the cruel things that China is doing—the destruction by the Chinese regime of things connected to Uyghurs, Uyghur culture, symbols of the Uyghur people, expressions of Uyghur culture—are signs of the Chinese regime’s horrible plan to eliminate the Uyghurs.

Szadziewski: Religious freedom is not a reality for Uyghurs. Across their homeland, mosques, shrines, and other sacred spaces have been bulldozed into history. In the camps, Uyghurs are indoctrinated into the supposed evils of religion. Id Kah in Kashgar has remained standing. Its disappearance would cause outrage given its importance. The significance of its existence to the Chinese authorities is to demonstrate to the world observance of Uyghurs' religious freedoms. However, the removal of Islamic motifs from the building tells a different story. It tells us Id Kah is being stripped of religious meaning to become a shell for unsuspecting visitors. There is no reason to remove Islamic motifs from the building other than to demonstrate to Uyghurs that belief in Islam belongs to the past. As such, the despoiling of Id Kah signals a move toward an effective ban on the Islamic faith.

Reported by Bahram Sintash for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated and written in English by Elise Anderson.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Vietnamese Military Shelters Remain in Disputed Border Area Despite Cambodian Diplomatic Protest

Cambodia lodged a complaint more than a week ago, but 28 structures are still standing.

Vietnamese Military Shelters Remain in Disputed Border Area Despite Cambodian Diplomatic Protest

Vietnam has yet to dismantle a string of military shelters set up in a disputed area along its border with Cambodia more than a week after Phnom Penh lodged a diplomatic protest through its embassy in Hanoi, Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Kuy Kong said Friday.

The dispute stems from the April 26 discovery of nine shelters, housing from five to six armed Vietnamese soldiers each, by Cambodian police patrolling the border in Kandal province, who asked that the tents be taken down.

Across the border, which has been closed since mid-March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, authorities in Vietnam’s An Giang province later said troops had been deployed to guard the area against illegal entrants who could potentially cause an outbreak.

Since then, Kuy Kong said, Cambodian authorities located a total of 31 shelters in what he said are Kandal’s Koh Thom and Leuk Daek districts, prompting Cambodia’s embassy in Hanoi to issue a May 13 diplomatic dèmarche, demanding that the structures be taken down.

Only three were removed, he said, while the other 28 remain “in violation of the border treaty ratified in 1985 and other bilateral treaties.”

“The Vietnamese side said they put their forces there to prevent people from illegally crossing the border, but if they had built their shelters on their land, we would not have sent a letter of protest,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“When they built [shelters] in non-demarcated areas we had to protest.”

Vietnam has yet to issue an official response to the claims of border encroachment.

Cambodian border activist Mean Prum Moni confirmed that Vietnamese soldiers had not pulled out of the disputed border yet, adding that Vietnam’s government “is using the coronavirus as a pretext to intrude on Cambodian territory.”

He welcomed the government’s move to diplomatically protest the encroachment, but said that if the issue isn’t resolved soon, it should file complaints with international courts and signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Accord that ended a war between Cambodia and then-occupier Vietnam.

“We want the government to file complaints to Paris Peace Accord signatories if Vietnam continues to violate Cambodia’s territorial sovereignty,” he said.

Long-running border issues

Last month, former opposition party lawmaker Um Sam An, who once served a prison term for his Facebook postings criticizing government handling of the border issue, said Cambodia should clearly define its border using a map prepared by former colonial power France.

“We want the Vietnamese to remove their tents, and we need to demarcate the border using the French map,” he said. France was the colonial ruler of both countries from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.

Unresolved border issues between Cambodia and Vietnam have sparked incidents in the past, with the construction by Vietnam of military posts in contested areas quickly challenged by Cambodian authorities in Phnom Penh.

In June 2015, activists from Cambodia’s now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were attacked by Vietnamese villagers when they went to inspect an area in Svay Rieng province where they said a road built by authorities in Vietnam’s Long An province had encroached into Cambodian territory.

A joint communique signed by Cambodia and Vietnam in 1995 stipulates that neither side can make any changes to border markers or allow cross-border cultivation or settlement pending the resolution of outstanding border issues.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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