China’s Muslims: The Dragon and the Crescent

Muslims in China are free to practice their faith — as long as it’s on the government’s terms

By Arfa Shahid & Leila Hatoum for Newsweek

In a country where over 21 million citizens constituting up to 1.5 percent of the population practice the Islamic faith, one wonders why the world hears so little about China’s Muslims, unless there are reports of abuse or terrorist attacks and even then, those reports are mainly carried by foreign media outlets.

Newsweek Middle East has spoken to Uyghurs and other Chinese Muslims as well as experts on the history of Islam in China, to get a clearer picture of the state of religious freedom in the country. It is worth noting that reports on the treatment of Muslims in China have been subjected to much inaccuracy. Western media bias towards China has often meant that the issue of religious practice has been reported with an alarmist perspective, lacking detail of what is a complex situation.

History of Islam in China 
The issue of religious freedom, particularly that of Chinese Muslims, goes far beyond a crackdown on Islam. It is a complex issue with nuances of ethnic identity, separatist movements and minority rights at its core.

To understand the present day scenario of China’s diverse Muslims, one has to examine the arrival of Islam in the region. The religion came to China approximately 20 years after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) passed away, during the rule of Othman, the third Muslim Caliph, in the year 651. It was concentrated mainly in Western China, which is home to a large Uyghur population.

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