China: Muslims surround mosque to prevent authorities from removing its dome

Thousands of ethnic minority Muslims surrounded a mosque in southwestern China to prevent what they said was an attempt by authorities to remove its dome and minarets, CNN reported.

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, according to CNN.

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 Communist Party.

Authorities have in recent years, 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, as per CNN.

But the push has faced a fierce backlash from local residents.

Videos posted on social media 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.

A local witness told CNN: “This is our last bit of dignity. 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.

“After arriving at the mosque, we realized that they had driven the cranes into the compound and were ready for the forced demolition,” the source said, adding that scaffolding had already been erected around the mosque.

At around 1 pm, tensions escalated, with worshipers demanding to enter the mosque for noon prayers, the source said. They said they saw police officers hitting the crowd with batons, which prompted some residents to clash with police.

Dozens of protesters were arrested by police at the scene, the source said. Ma Ju, a prominent Hui activist who now lives in the United States and has kept close contact with Najiaying residents, said about 30 people were arrested.

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