Contrary to popular belief, Islam in China is flourishing and Chinese Muslims are enjoying complete religious freedom. There are certain misconceptions about religious freedom in China. Normally, the West presents a negative picture and blames the Chinese government of curbing the religious rights of Chinese Muslims.

Time and again, the Chinese government dispelled the unfounded allegations, and drew the world’s attention towards the situation on the ground. Going through the facts, it appeared that the prevailing Chinese laws protect normal religious activities, including attending religious services, fasting, worshiping Buddha, praying, preaching, reciting scriptures, burning incense, attending Mass, being baptised or ordained, observing extreme unction, holding memorial ceremonies, and celebrating religious festivals that believers conduct at venues for religious activities or in their own homes in accordance with customary religious practices.

These activities are protected by law, and no organisation or individual may interfere with them. To ensure successful pilgrimages for believers of Islam, the largest Muslim populated region, Xinjiang adopts a policy of organised and planned pilgrimages.

During the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, whether to close or open halal restaurants is completely determined by the owners themselves without interference. There are mosques with a tradition of having iftar, and a number of religious believers provide free iftar to fasting people. Local governments ensure that all religious activities during Ramadan go on in an orderly manner.

The customs of religious believers are fully respected. State laws protect religious customs, including production, processing, storage, distribution and selling of halal food, supply of special food, setting up of halal restaurants and halal canteens.

During the Spring Festival, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr and other major traditional festivals, all ethnic groups can enjoy statutory holidays and be supplied with special foodstuffs. Special cemetery areas are allocated for some ethnic-minority groups who traditionally bury their dead in the ground. Traditional practices of a religious nature, such as naming a child, funeral pray, burial, and holding Nazer (memorial activities), are respected.

Religious and cultural heritages are effectively protected. A total of 109 religious and cultural sites in Xinjiang, including Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Shengyou Lamasery in Zhaosu and the Kizil Grottoes, have been designated as cultural relics sites under the protection of the autonomous region and the state. The central government has allocated special funds to renovate cultural relic protection sites at the state and autonomous-region levels, including the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Baytulla Mosque in Yining, Jiaman Mosque in Hotan, Yanghang Mosque in Urumqi and the Tomb of the Fragrant Imperial Concubine (Apak Hoja Mazzar) in Kashgar.

Xinjiang now has 24,800 venues for religious activities, including mosques and churches. Among these, 24,400 mosques have 29,000 clerical personnel. There are eight religious colleges, including the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and Xinjiang Islamic School. There are also 112 religious organisations, among which, at the autonomous region level, there is one major organisation, namely, an Islamic association with a committee for Islamic affairs.

The training of clerical personnel has been strengthened. Trainee clerical personnel study under clerical personnel, at scripture schools (classes or workshops), at colleges, and by other means. A training system has been established and improved to provide systematic training programs for in-service clerical personnel. Since 2001, the State Administration for Religious Affairs has held 12 training classes on Islamic scripture interpretation, training more than 500 clerical personnel for Xinjiang.

Channels for believers to gain religious knowledge have been expanded. Religious classics and books have been translated and published, including the Quran and selections from Al-Sahih Muhammad Ibn-Ismail al-Bukhari, in the Uygur, Han Chinese, Kazak and Kirgiz languages. The New Collection of Waez’s Speeches series and the magazine China’s Muslims are compiled and published, with a total circulation of over 1.76 million.

From 2014 to 2015, Xinjiang has distributed 43 Islamic publications in different languages of minority ethnic groups, totalling over one million copies, including over 230,000 copies of new Quran and over 29,000 copies of Basic Knowledge of Islam, both in the Uygur language.

The China Islamic Association provides a Uygur-language version of its website. The Xinjiang Islamic Association publishes the magazine Xinjiang Muslims in the Uygur, Han Chinese and Kazak languages, providing free copies to mosques and clerical personnel. It has also opened the “Xinjiang Muslims” website in the Uygur and Han Chinese languages. Religious organisations hold training classes on religious knowledge and etiquette for believers.

The Chinese government prohibits any organisation or individual from splitting the country, disseminating extremist religious thoughts, inciting ethnic hatred, undermining national unity, disturbing the social order, or impairing citizens’ physical and mental health in the name of religion. The government prohibits any act that impedes the implementation of the systems of state administration, justice, education, culture, marriage, family planning or inheritance in the name of religion. It also prohibits behaviour that violates national security and interests, public interests, and citizens’ legitimate rights and interests in the name of religion. Judicial organs at all levels in Xinjiang combat criminal activities in the name of religion to better ensure the citizens’ freedom of religious belief and normal religious activities. No Xinjiang citizen has been punished because of his or her rightful religious belief.

While adhering to the independence and self-management principle, Xinjiang engages in active communication and exchanges with other religious organisations worldwide on the basis of mutual respect, equality and friendship. Since 2001, Xinjiang has sent more than 70 religious school students and clerical personnel to Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Pakistan’s International Islamic University and other overseas colleges and universities for further study, with a view to improving their religious knowledge and teaching level. The government has visited the students and personnel many times, and established scholarships for them.

As a general practice, Xinjiang government encourages religious organisations and believers to promote patriotism, peace, unity, moderation, tolerance and benevolence through their sermons and preaching, spread the Chinese cultural concepts of advising people to perform good deeds, teaching people morality and being merciful, and lead religious believers in maintaining proper faith and honest deeds, and resisting religious extremism.

Xinjiang cracks down on the propaganda of terrorism and extremism and the incitement of terrorist and extremist activities in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, such as the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China and the Counterterrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese central and provincial governments are continuously engaged in improving the people’s well-being. Xinjiang facilitates its economic and social development, implements livelihood projects, promotes common progress and prosperity, improves the living standard, health care, education, employment and other social aspects of all ethnic groups, prevents the breeding of extremist thoughts, and consolidates the social foundation for resisting religious extremism.

Today, the freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang cannot be matched by that in any other historical period, and is undeniable to anyone who respects the facts. The Chinese government resolutely opposes the politicisation of religious matters and any other country’s interference in China’s internal affairs in the name of religion.

China is now at a decisive stage of comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. As the core region of the Silk Road Economic Belt, Xinjiang will continue its international cooperation and exchanges on the basis of equality, friendship and mutual respect, promote dialogue and exchanges among different religions and civilisations, enhance mutual trust and understanding, and make remarkable contributions to world peace and development as well as to human civilization and progress as a whole.