Authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region are confiscating all Qurans published more than five years ago due to “extremist content,” according to local officials, amid an ongoing campaign against “illegal” religious items owned by mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghur residents.
Village chiefs from Barin township, in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture’s Peyziwat (Jiashi) county, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that hundreds of the Islamic holy books printed before 2012 had been seized since authorities issued an order recalling them on Jan. 15.
The Qurans were appropriated as part of the “Three Illegals and One Item” campaign underway in Xinjiang that bans “illegal” publicity materials, religious activities, and religious teaching, as well as items deemed by authorities to be tools of terrorism—including knives, flammable objects, remote-controlled toys, and objects sporting symbols related to Islam, they said.
Emet Imin, the party secretary of Barin’s No. 1 village, told RFA that authorities had confiscated 500 books in the recent campaign sweep of households beginning in January, “most of which were Qurans published before 2012.”
“They can keep Qurans that were published after August 2012, according to an order from the top, but they are not allowed to keep any other versions,” Imin said.
“Other versions should be recalled entirely, even if they were published by the government.”
Imin said that according to the order he received from his superiors, there were “problems” in the earlier version of the Quran related to “some signs of extremism.”
“Therefore, we issued a notice on Jan. 15 urging residents to hand over older Qurans and warning them they would bear the consequences if banned versions were found in their homes,” he said.
“As a result, most of them brought their Qurans to us. We gathered all [the books] at the village office and [earlier this month] we took them to the office of United Front Work Department,” he added, referring to a Communist Party agency responsible for handling relations with China’s non-party elite.
Only materials signed off on by official religious organizations endorsed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party are considered legal to own and use for worship in China, and Imin did not explain how a state-sanctioned version of the Quran might have been deemed “extremist” by authorities.
Imam Rishit, the party secretary of Barin’s No. 2 village, said that while the recall was only issued for Qurans published prior to 2012, residents of his village turned in every version of the Quran they owned, “most likely to [do whatever they can to] stay out of trouble.”
“We collected 382 of them and they will be taken to the township government,” he said.
“The type of work we are doing right now is meant to discourage residents from reading older versions of the Quran by warning them that they will be contaminated by extremist ideas. Therefore, the Uyghurs have been bringing their Qurans to us—even the ones they inherited from their grandparents.”
Rishit said authorities in his village had also confiscated “plates and decorative items with the inscriptions ‘Muhammed’ and ‘Allah’ on them” during the sweep of homes since January.
Overseas Uyghurs slammed the Quran ban as merely another bid by Chinese authorities to exert more control over the Xinjiang region by linking their ethnic group’s cultural traditions to terrorism and promoting more government-friendly versions.
“The real objective of the Chinese government is to alienate Uyghur people from the true belief of Islam,” said Turghunjan Alawudin, Religious Commission chairman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group.
“China is attempting to justify its wholesale repression of the Uyghur people by distorting the teachings of the Holy Quran, Hadith [the sayings of the Prophet Muhammed] and Islamic theology passed down to us by our forefathers.”
Alawudin said that Beijing is working to ensure that the “accepted” version of the Quran legitimizes its “repressive policies” in Xinjiang and teaches the Uyghur people to “submit.”
“In Islam, we must follow Allah and the teachings of Muhammed, but the Chinese government is distorting the Quran by adding passages about submission to authorities so that Uyghurs will acquiesce to its illegitimate and dictatorial rule over our homeland,” he said.
“China’s goal is to use the new translated Quran to confuse the minds of believers and to serve its own political purposes.”
Alawudin denounced any version of the Quran that had been translated from the original Arabic into the Uyghur language by “atheists or communists,” saying only “learned Islamic scholars and true believers” are worthy of translating the holy book.
WUC spokesperson Dilxat Raxit echoed Alawudin’s concerns over what constitutes a legitimate version of the Quran.
“Only independent Islamic researchers and highly-trained religious scholars—not the atheistic Chinese government—should have the authority to pronounce which version of the Quran is correct,” he said.
“Instead of changing the Quran—the Holy Book of all Muslims—China should change its anti-Islamic policies against the Uyghur people disguised as anti-extremism.”
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for “terrorist” attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.