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China orders halal restaurants and food stalls to remove Arabic script and symbols associated with Islam from their signages

This cultural revolution in China has gained momentum since 2016. The repression is a part of the push to “Sinicise religion” – a policy introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 to bring religions in line with Chinese culture and the absolute authority of the Communist party.

In an attempt to “Sinicise” the Muslim population in China, authorities in the capital city Beijing has ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to remove Arabic script and symbols associated with Islam from their signboards, reports Reuters.

Employees of around 11 restaurants and shops in Beijing selling halal products said that Chinese officials have asked them to remove images associated with Islam. Speaking to Reuters, which visited these shops recently, they asserted the officials have told them to remove images including the crescent moon and get rid of the word “halal” written in Arabic from signs.

A Beijing noodle shop was asked by government workers from various offices to cover up the “halal” in Arabic on the shop’s sign. To ensure that instructions were followed, the officials watched him do it. “They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” manager of the noodle shop told Reuters on conditions of anonymity.

According to the Meituan Dianping food delivery app, Beijing is home to at least 1,000 halal shops and restaurants and is spread across the city’s historic Muslim quarter as well as in other neighbourhoods. However, it is still unclear whether every such restaurant in Beijing has been told to cover Arabic script and Muslim symbols.

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A food stall in Beijing with Arabic script on its sign covered

Several shops visited by Reuters have replaced their signs with the Chinese term for halal – “qing zhen,” while others opted to cover up the Arabic and Islamic imagery with tape or stickers.

This cultural revolution in China has gained momentum since 2016. The repression is a part of the push to “Sinicise religion” – a policy introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 to bring religions in line with Chinese culture and the absolute authority of the Communist party.

As the ruling Communist Party tries to “Sinicise religions”, Islamic decor and Arabic signs are being taken off the streets of China. Along with banning “Arab style” mosques, which have large onion shaped domes, the Chinese government is also converting some of the existing ones to look like Chinese temples.

Earlier, throughout Ningxia, a small autonomous region in north-central China, Islamic decor and Arabic signs have been taken off the streets. Similarly, on the pretext of noise pollution, calls to prayer have also been banned in Yinchuan.

Halal sign covered with QR and bar code stickers

Moreover, books on Islam and copies of the Koran have been removed from various souvenir shops. Some mosques have also been ordered to cancel public Arabic classes. A number of private Arabic schools have been told to shut down, either temporarily for “rectification” or for good.

However, Muslims are not the only ones who have come under the Communist government’s radar. Authorities have shut down many underground Christian churches, and torn down crosses of some churches deemed illegal by the government.

Muslims have, particularly, been hit hard since a riot in 2009 between minority Uighur Muslims and majority Han Chinese in the far western region of Xinjiang, home to Uighurs.

Despite facing intense criticism from Western nations and rights groups over its policies, China says its actions in Xinjiang are necessary to destroy religious extremism. Officials have warned about creeping Islamisation, and have extended tighter controls over other Muslim minorities.

“Arabic is seen as a foreign language and knowledge of it is now seen as something outside of the control of the state,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington who studies Xinjiang.

“It is also seen as connected to international forms of piety, or in the eyes of state authorities, religious extremism. They want Islam in China to operate primarily through the Chinese language,” Byler added.

Meanwhile, the Beijing government’s Committee on Ethnicity and Religious affairs declined to comment on this particular order meted out to Halal restaurants and shops, stating the order regarding halal restaurants was a national directive.

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