China orders all Mosques to raise national flag to ‘promote patriotism’

Mosques in China must raise the national flag to promote the spirit of patriotism, the country’s top regulatory body for Islam announced over the weekend.

The government-affiliated China Islamic Association issued a statement directing Muslim clerics to display the five-starred red flag at prominent positions in mosques. It also proposed the “four advances” campaign specifically in five regions – Ningxia, Beijing, Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang. This step is part of the latest efforts by the Communist Party of China (CPC) to control and “sinicise” religion in the country.

In a letter published on its website, the association urged nationwide Islamic associations and mosques to raise national flags all the time and in prominent positions.

Associations and mosques should also study the Chinese Constitution, socialist core values and traditional classical Chinese culture, state-run Global Times quoted the letter as saying.

The China Islamic Association is a government-affiliated body and has the sole power to accredit imams. China recently released a “white paper” on religion, directing the faithful to support the CPC’s leadership and remain subordinate to the interests of the nation and its people. The document, titled ‘China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief’, said that the country’s 200 million believers should “actively guide religions in adapting to socialist society…”

The country has around 20 million Muslims spread across 10 ethnic minority groups, it added. But restrictions on them are intensifying, particularly in the northwestern province of Xinjiang which is home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, where there are bans on beards and public prayers.

Tens of thousands of Uighurs have been sent to shadowy detention and re-education centres for perceived offences and can be held indefinitely without due process. China blamed the growing incidents of violence on the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

Some internet users questioned whether raising a national flag at a religious site was a violation of the principle of separation of politics and religion, the report said.

China officially recognises five religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Taoism and Islam. As the white paper reiterates, the country’s constitution guarantees religious freedom and protects it by law.