| Welcome to Global Village Space

Monday, May 20, 2024

Struggle for religious pilgrimage amidst tightened controls in China

China's citizens defy surveillance and obstacles to pursue religious pilgrimages, amidst tightening government controls

In a remarkable display of determination and faith, a group of six Chinese Muslims embarked on a covert pilgrimage to Mecca, defying the strict surveillance and restrictions imposed by the Chinese government on their religious practices. This journey sheds light on the extraordinary lengths to which believers are willing to go to fulfill their religious obligations.

Obtaining Travel Documents and Passports

The journey begins with the challenge of obtaining travel documents. China’s estimated 20 to 30 million Muslims face hurdles in obtaining passports, with restrictions being especially stringent in the northwestern province of Qinghai. Authorities there have ceased issuing new passports to Uyghurs and Hui Muslims, echoing similar controls seen in Xinjiang since 2016. Even those who manage to secure passports are subjected to strict conditions that prohibit completing the Hajj.

Read More: India and China agree to resolve border issue

Crackdown on Private Pilgrimage Tours

Undeterred by these obstacles, the group sought to organize their pilgrimage privately, bypassing the state-approved tours. However, Chinese authorities had been arresting private tour leaders, making this approach increasingly risky. Arrests of tour leaders like Ma Yanhu, who had been leading Hajj tours for two decades, exemplify the challenges faced by those seeking independent pilgrimage.

Navigating the Surveillance

With passports in hand, the group set off, wary of the watchful eye of the Chinese authorities. To avoid suspicion, they took a circuitous route, avoiding direct flights to Saudi Arabia. The group’s diligence was driven by reports of security officers stationed at airports, tasked with identifying potential pilgrims based on regional accents. The travelers’ determination to remain incognito prompted them to shed their prayer caps and headscarves for casual athletic wear, a move symbolic of their commitment to overcoming adversity.

Finding Refuge Abroad

After navigating several domestic airports, the group arrived in Malaysia before reaching Saudi Arabia. Even abroad, their journey was not free from intimidation. Chinese authorities continued their surveillance, making threatening phone calls to pressure them to return. Their smartphones, potential tracking devices, were rendered powerless with removed batteries, enabling them to evade detection. They even found solace at a Kuala Lumpur mosque, a place that resonated with their faith and offered respite from their harrowing journey.

Completing the Hajj

Despite the odds stacked against them, the group triumphantly completed the Hajj, an accomplishment that stood as a testament to their unwavering faith and resolve. Circumambulating the Kaaba—the focal point of the annual pilgrimage—represented the culmination of their spiritual journey. Yet, with the pilgrimage accomplished, they now face the daunting prospect of returning to China, uncertain of the repercussions that await them.

Read More: US admits ‘concern’ over Russia-China relationship

The pilgrimage of these six Chinese Muslims exemplifies the indomitable human spirit, the lengths individuals are willing to go to uphold their religious commitments, and the challenges they face when navigating a restrictive environment. Their story sheds light on the perseverance of believers amidst adversity and the complexities of religious freedom in the modern world. As they return to China, they carry with them the experiences of their pilgrimage and a hope that their journey will inspire others to stand firm in the face of hardship.