ANI special report
THE ethnic minority of Utsuls of Hainan Island in China is facing increased surveillance and religious crackdown similar to that of the Uyghur Muslim minority of Xinjiang, which has recently become the focus of global condemnation.
Utsul Muslims, a small community-based in Sanya, a city on the island province of Hainan with a population of just 10,000 is being targeted for wearing traditional dress in schools and government offices and the authorities have imposed a ban on the same. “The official line is that no ethnic minority can wear traditional garments on school grounds but other ethnic minorities [in Sanya] don’t wear traditional garments in their daily life so it makes no difference to them but to us, the hijab is an integral part of our culture, if we take it off it’s like stripping off our clothes,” said an Utsul community worker who requested anonymity, South China Morning Post reported.
The order of banning hijabs, a religious symbol of Muslims, was met with protests where a group of girls was seen wearing headscarves and reading textbooks outside Tianya Utsul Primary School while being surrounded by the police. Besides the hijab, the traditional long skirts worn by Utsul women were also banned.
Utsul Muslims, Chamic-speaking East Asian ethnic group are unrecognized ethnic groups in China. A UN report shows that about 10 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are being held in internment camps across China. However, the Chinese Government has repeatedly ‘justified’ its treatment of Uyghurs by accusing them of terrorist attacks. For the Utsuls, there is no law in place banning the hijab as opposed to the legislation passed in Xinjiang in 2015 which banned the veil and “any other clothing that promotes extremist religious thought” South China Morning Post reported. The Utsuls have simply been told that the hijab is “disorderly”.
However, a Communist Part document from last year, seen by the South China Morning Post and verified by the community worker suggests that the ban is the latest manifestation of a concerted campaign to Sinicism in the handful of neighbourhoods where Utsuls live, eat, and pray, South China Morning Post wrote.
Huixin and Huihui, the two neighbourhoods in Sanya, where most Utsuls reside are also facing a religious crackdown.
Measures include a reduction in the size of Mosques upon rebuilding, banning of structures with “Arab tendencies” and removal of Arabic scripts from storefronts. Additionally, Mosques now must have a communist Party member present for monitoring purposes.
Another drastic step was taken in 2018, when China’s State Council issued a classified directive, entitled “Reinforcing and Improving Islam Work in the New Situation,” which was intended to remove any Arabic features from mosques and other added measures, due to which mosques outside Xinjiang had their domes covered or replaced.
According to the community worker, the ban on wearing hijabs led to massive protests during which hundreds of students from three schools refused to remove the veil, and due to this, the ban was lifted last Tuesday, though temporarily.
China’s largest Muslim group, the Huis has also been targeted despite them largely speaking Mandarin. An associate professor of history at Frostburg State University in Maryland, Ma Haiyun said that Xinjiang was a “laboratory” for repressive policies against Islam that are now being emulated all across China, South China Morning Post reported.
He added that there was a clear double standard in attitudes towards traditional clothing. Ma also said that targeting Utsuls could create problems where none existed before, to which the community worker said “What our religion dictates is that girls who have not menstruated do not have to wear the hijab but they wear it because of habit, it’s just a custom, I don’t understand why this issue has to be mixed up with religion.” The local officials mischaracterized the custom as “religion being imposed upon minors”, they added.
Targeting Utsul’s could potentially damage China’s relations with Southeast Asian Nations, even though their number is small as compared to Uyghurs and Huis. “By just beating up on this small group of 10,000 Utsuls (local authorities) can ruin China’s image among the Southeast Asian people, which could encourage their governments to become more populist and incite hatred against the Chinese diaspora,” Ma concluded. However, two major Muslim countries Malaysia and Indonesia have been building ties with the Utsuls in recent years. (ANI)