East Turkestan: Road to Mecca Blocked
Chinese officials have imposed severe restrictions on Uyghur muslims intending to conduct the Hajj, effectively ‘screening’ for pilgrims that the authorities deem suitable.
Below is an article written by Jane Macartney for The Times:
Muslims are flying into
In the streets of Khotan, where the aroma of roasting mutton kebabs and cardamom tea fill the bazaar, one young Muslim merchant was despairing. His parents made the pilgrimage several years ago – before officials introduced character checks on would-be pilgrims. He said: “Now the Government is afraid that when we go abroad we will say bad things about them. So they want to be careful who they allow.”
Merchants in embroidered skull caps drift into the main mosque. In the streets, bakers slap nan bread slabs into wood-fired ovens. Only a few ethnic Han Chinese are to be seen in this town on the fabled
The first aircraft carrying pilgrims on this year’s Haj flew out of the western city of
An elderly cleric murmured: “Children aren’t allowed to come to the mosques to pray. Not until they are 18 and they have a better understanding.” The imam said that he had no anxiety that such restraints would dilute religious fervour.
Children learnt about Islam from their parents in the home. “And when the young come here, we are remote and the police turn a blind eye,” the cleric said. He was less confident of his chances of visiting
He said that he must meet five criteria, including providing proof that he has never been involved in antiChinese violence and that he has no links to independence groups. Only then can he be allocated one of the precious places in the government-organised groups to
Religious officials in Xinjiang declined to reveal the conditions to which Muslim pilgrims must conform. One said: “This is a state secret.” Some of the faithful were more candid. One said: “We have to give as much as 20,000 yuan (£1,300) to the police or to a powerful friend to get on the list.”
Tureali Haji, a businessman, is one of the lucky ones. He made the trip in 1999, before the Government implemented rules in 2004 requiring everyone to take part in a state-organised group. This year, Khotan will be allowed almost 600 places on the Haj, up from the limit of 400 last year.
The young merchant smiled shyly when asked about antiChinese unrest in the region. “As long as they allow me to go to