When China takes care of religion

When China takes care of religion

Once upon a time, former US President Jimmy Carter asked Deng Xiaoping three questions: “Do the Chinese have religious freedom? Deng replied, “Of course.” The second question, “Can Christians print and distribute the Bible?” Deng replied confidently, “No problem.” However, for the last question: “Will the Chinese government allow (foreign) missionaries to China to perform religious missions?” Modern China’s reform leader firmly said, “No!

The above dialogue snippet is an illustration of how the Chinese government is crafting a plan (plan) their policy towards the existence of religions in the most populous country in the world. Deng’s response represents what is provided for in the Chinese Constitution.

Xianfa and the recognition of religious freedom

Despite its communism, China regulates religious freedom for its people. In fact, when the country was only founded in 1949 and did not yet have an official constitution and was still in the form of a proto-constitution in the form of a general program (Joint program), the freedom to embrace religion within the framework of human rights has been recognized.

In 1954, the Xianfa (Constitution of China) was formed and despite several amendments (1975 and 1978), until 1982, the issue of religious freedom remained regulated.

Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution stipulates that every Chinese citizen should enjoy freedom of religion. There is no organ of the state that can force citizens to believe or not to believe in a religion. The state should also not discriminate against citizens who believe or do not believe in any religion. The state will protect religious activities that are normally conducted and no one can use religion to conduct activities that may disrupt public order, disrupt public health, or interfere with the state education system.

Although the Chinese Constitution has regulated the issue of freedom of belief, its implementation has had its ups and downs. In the 1950s, religious life in China was going normally. In fact, on several occasions, Indonesian and Chinese Muslim envoys have visited each other. China also managed to send its pilgrims directly to Saudi Arabia for the first time in 1956 although in previous years they had to go through a third country (Pakistan).

During the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), initiated by Mao Zedong, religious life in the “Land of the Bamboo Curtain” experienced a period of obscurity. During this period, all religious activities were banned, places of worship were closed and even converted. Since Mao’s death in 1976, the Cultural Revolution he initiated has also collapsed and Chinese society has entered a new stage in their socio-religious life.

Gaige Kaifang and the new wind of religious life

Deng Xiaoping is the second generation supreme leader in China who ruled from 1978 to 1989, and is known to have succeeded in making China what it is today, with its open door policy (Gaige Kaifang). Deng breathed new life into the development of religions in China.

Economic reform policies and open door policy what Deng does requires two things. First, the need for national unity of all ethnic groups (including ethnic Muslims) to jointly build the Chinese economy. Second, China should promote more open cooperation with the outside world to advance its economy. Countries that will conduct economic cooperation with China, whether through capital investment or technology transfer, on average have a dominant global religious base.

At the end of 1979, Deng authorized the reopening of churches and mosques as well as temples in what Fenggang Yang (2004) called put religious life back on the public scene (bringing religious life back into the public sphere).

Just months after Deng’s policy was implemented, the Chinese Muslim community held its 4th congress after decades of hiatus. From April 6 to 15, 1980, the Chinese Islamic Conference was held, attended by 256 delegates from all over China. The congress was chaired by Burhan Zahidi, a Mao-era Muslim activist, and government officials also attended.

Ministry of Religion and the implementation of Hajj

In 1979, Deng Xiaoping revived the Guojia Zongjiao Shiwu Ju or State Bureau of Religious Affairs of the People’s Republic of China which was an organ under the Guowuyuan (State Council).

The Chinese Ministry of Religion was established in 1951, two years after the founding of the PRC, and ceased to function during the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese Ministry of Religion deals with five state-recognized religions: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Protestantism, and Catholicism which are not affiliated with the Vatican. According to the records of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, China currently has more than 30,000 mosques and more than 40,000 ahong (scholar / priest).

According to Qianfang Zhang (2012: 154), the Ministry of Religion of China is an affiliated office (zhishu jigou), having the function of enacting rules in the religious field which are independent even if they come under the Council of State as holder of the highest executive power of the State. In 2010, Chinese Minister of Religion Wang Zuqan visited Jakarta and met with Indonesian Minister of Religion Suryadharma Ali.

In addition to establishing rules and overseeing the implementation of religious activities, the Ministry of Religion of China coordinates the implementation of the pilgrimage, which is organized annually by the Zhongguo Huijiao Xiehui (Islamic Association of China).

In 2016, the Chinese government released a progressive policy in the form of National Human Rights Action Plan 2016-2020, including the improvement of Hajj services (improvement of the organization and services for Islamic hajj). As part of the follow-up to the action plan, on August 28, 2017, Xi Jinping’s government sent officials to meet with Saudi Minister of Waqf and Hajj Affairs, Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Al Banten.

Hajj services in China are provided by the Chinese Islamic Association, from registration, Hajj rituals, departure services, services in Saudi Arabia, until return to their country of origin. The Hajj registration process in China begins with registration in local mosques scattered throughout Chinese cities with a minimum age of potential pilgrims over 18 years old. If you are over 70 years of age, you must complete a form regarding the ability to maintain good health while worshiping. If the administration is complete, the process will continue with health checks of potential pilgrims.

If all administrative and health requirements are met, Zhongguo Huijiao Xiehui (Islamic Association of China) will take care of the preparation of future Hajj pilgrims, rituals, visa processing and other additional needs such as insurance. The cost of departure for the Hajj in China is around 40,000 RMB (US $ 5,998), covering the cost of rituals, health insurance, round-trip tickets to China and Saudi Arabia, including the cost of accommodation in Saudi Arabia. Refunds of the remaining money will be given to the pilgrims upon their return to China.

In 2020, the Chinese government adopted new and stricter regulations regarding the implementation of the Hajj pilgrimage, which involved eight authorities, including the Ministry of Religion, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and registration of potential pilgrims was carried out at local religious affairs offices.

Compared to Hajj services in Indonesia, which can queue for decades, the wait time for departure to the holy land in China is on average one year from check-in. Each year, the Chinese government sends around 12,500 to 14,000 pilgrims (of which a quarter are Uyghurs on average) with charter flights direct from Beijing to Medina up to nearly 100 times.

The indigenization of Islam

Two years ago, Deutsche Welle TV presented William Yang’s report with the catchy headline: What does China want to accomplish by “changing Islam”? (what is China trying to achieve by ‘changing Islam’?). The report responds to a new policy issued by the Chinese authorities regarding the “Islamic sinification” program (Sinification of Islam 2018-2022), which aims to align Islam with Chinese cultural norms.

Many people criticize this xingzheng fagui (administrative regulation) as a form of xenophobia towards something Islamic amid the widespread news about the plight of the ethnic Uyghur in Xinjiang. However, the Xi government believes that it is necessary to create a new atmosphere for the spread and development of religions in China, including Protestantism and Catholicism (Foreign police, March 2019).

The 2018-2022 Islamic Sinification Policy, the discussion of which involved Islamic associations from eight provinces of China, contains a historical context related to the arrival of Islam in China which began under the Tang dynasties (618-907). and Song (960-1279). In fact, during the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), there was a special agency responsible for Islamic religious affairs, both within the local and central government.

The face of “Chinese Islam” began to appear under the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties with the establishment of a community system of mosques (sifang) and learning (jingtang jiaoyu), as well as the use of Confucianism as a means of interpreting the writings which became the source of Islamic teachings.

If you read a few paragraphs of the politics of sinification, which wants to bring positive traditions of Islam, in order to absorb Chinese cultural values ​​and socialism in the name of love of country and religion, it is quite difficult not to say that this program parallels KH Abdurrahman Wahid’s reflections on the indigenization of Islam.

For Gus Dur, the contextualization of Islam is very important so that Islamic values ​​can be anchored taking into account cultural diversity and the needs of the community without changing the doctrine of its teachings. Finally, whoever agrees or disagrees with this policy of Islamic sinification, we must understand the statistics. Al Islamu shalihun li kulli era wa eat (Islam is relevant anytime and anywhere), including in China, right?

Wallahu a’lam bi ash-shawab.


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