This two-part post may come as a surprise to many in the West that believe there is no religious freedom in China.
In fact, China handles religious freedom similar to how Singapore does, and Singapore is seldom if ever criticized in the Western media for this practice.
The U.S. Department of State says that Singapore’s government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and handicap political opposition, which it uses. One of those restrictions is a limited freedom of religion.
However, the Constitution for the Republic of Singapore offers the same fundamental liberties China and the US does, which includes freedom of speech, assembly and association and freedom of religion.
For example, Singapore bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church by making public meetings illegal. The Falun Gong has also had problems in Singapore.
China, on the other hand, recognizes five religions — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism but has banned certain new religious movements that are considered cults. China does not recognize cults as religions.
In the video embedded with this post, Al Jazeera follows Chinese Muslims as they prepare to undertake the hajj pilgrimage.
The ancient city of Xian in Shaanxi province is home to about 60,000 ethnic Chinese Muslims.
Xian claims it has a Muslim history going back thirteen hundred years when Islam was first introduced to China in 650 AD.
In fact, the oldest mosque in China was built in 685-762 AD in Xian during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.
Chinese Imam Ma Yi Ping speaks both Chinese and Arabic. He studied at the Islamic University of Medina and has made the hajj several times. He was taught to be a devout Muslim by his parents during Mao’s time when the mosques in China were closed.
Despite the persecutions that took place during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), Islam survived in China.
Ma Yi Ping says that after Mao and the Gang of Four were gone and China opened for trade with the world, he did not have to study the Quran in secret anymore.
Since the 15th century, Xian Muslims have been going to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
In the past, during the ancient days of the Silk Road, these journeys started and ended in Xian’s Muslim quarter. Today is no different.
Continued in A Road to the Hajj from China – Part 2
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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