by Edward Wong
KHOTAN, China: The grand mosque that draws thousands of Muslims each week in
this oasis town has all the usual trappings of piety: dusty wool carpets on
which to kneel in prayer, a row of turbans and skullcaps for men without
headwear, a wall niche facing the holy city of Mecca in the Arabian desert.
But large signs posted by the front door list edicts that are more Communist
Party decrees than Koranic doctrines.
The imam's sermon at Friday Prayer must run no longer than a half-hour, the
rules say. Prayer in public areas outside the mosque is forbidden. Residents
of Khotan are not allowed to worship at mosques outside of town.
One rule on the wall says that government workers and nonreligious people
may not be "forced" to attend services at the mosque - a generous wording of
a law that prohibits government workers and Communist Party members from
going at all.
"Of course this makes people angry," said a teacher in the mosque courtyard,
who would give only a partial name, Muhammad, for fear of government
retribution. "Excitable people think the government is wrong in what it
does. They say that government officials who are Muslims should also be
allowed to pray."
To be a practicing Muslim in the vast autonomous region of northwestern
China called Xinjiang is to live under an intricate series of laws and
regulations intended to control the spread and practice of Islam, the
predominant religion among the Uighurs, a Turkic people uneasy with Chinese
The edicts touch on every facet of a Muslim's way of life. Official versions
of the Koran are the only legal ones. Imams may not teach the Koran in
private, and studying Arabic is allowed only at special government schools.
Two of Islam's five pillars - the sacred fasting month of Ramadan and the
pilgrimage to Mecca called the hajj - are also carefully controlled.
Students and government workers are compelled to eat during Ramadan, and the
passports of Uighurs have been confiscated across Xinjiang to force them to
join government-run hajj tours rather than travel illegally to Mecca on
Government workers are not permitted to practice Islam, which means the
slightest sign of devotion, a head scarf on a woman, for example, could lead
to a firing. . . .
Robert Marquand, "Pressure to
Conform in West China," Christian Science Monitor, September 29,