Muslims in China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) are increasingly becoming more aware of their Isamic heritage, thanks to more liberal policies followed by the Chinese government in the last three decades, according to an on-the-ground report from David Brown, the Consul General of Chengdu in Sichuan, a province adjoining the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
However, like those of the other religions in the region, the Government keeps a tight watch on what is going on inside the Mosques through own representatives in management committees and even the Friday prayers.
In a cable written in February last year, Brown detailed his impressions from two visits to Mosques in Lhasa, the capital of TAR, including details gleaned from a conversation with Hamidullah, the Imam of Lhasa’s ‘small’ Mosque. Lhasa, he noted, had five mosques, including a Big Mosque, a Small Mosque and three smaller ones.
The mosques had been shut down by the Chinese government, but were allowed to be re-opened as part of China’s liberalization policy in the 1980s and 1990s. The Mosques were rebuilt or repaired with state funds, he noted, though new Mosques are not allowed to be set up.
“Dulla explained that the mosque’s DMC [Democratic Management Committee] consisted of seven members, three of whom were retired cadres, and two of whom were from the RAB ( Religious Affairs Bureau of the Government]. Every week, two RAB officials also observe Friday prayers…
“The mosque also receives regular “guidance” from the TAR government regarding e.g. how to promote social stability, ethnic solidarity, and religious harmony. Finally, RAB officials periodically carry out special “official” education campaigns, e.g. before big festivals,” Brown wrote.
According to the Imam’s estimates, there were around 7,000 to 8,000 Muslims in Lhasa city, many of whom had relatives in India’s Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh provinces or in Nepal.
Unlike Mosques in most other parts of the World, the ones in Lhasa don’t provide Koranic and Arabic education to the children, the Consul General noted. As a result, in-depth religious education had to be obtained from Nepal, Kashmir or Saudi Arabia.
“The mosque does not have a school to teach Arabic or the Koran. When asked why, Dulla explained that most member-parents of the mosque feel that if their children spent their time learning Arabic, they would have less time to study Chinese, and therefore less opportunity to find a good job,” the cable, released by Wikileaks, said.
Brown, however, added that the Chinese-Tibetan government is “nervous” about allowing setting up of Koranic schools or Madrasas. In comparison, virtually all the Mosques he visited in Yunnan — a province adjoining Myanmar, had such schools.
Despite the restrictions, the Imam felt that Muslim youth in Tibet had a much stronger “self-identification as Muslims” now than 10-20 years earlier.
“The Imam also felt that the parents had an increasingly stronger self-identification as Muslims, which in turn was made possible in part because of more relaxed policies toward religion by the PRC government in recent years,” he said.